April 27, 2013

In-Car Entertainment Screens

Let's face it, screens are part of 21st century life. In our homes we have several screens per occupant. There are screens at the airport gates, at the post office, at banks. Most of us have one in our pocket. And of course, they are in our cars.

It used to be that you needed a first class ticket on a long-haul flight to get the on-demand entertainment displayed on the screen built into the seat in front of you. But now all you have to do is step in the family car and grab a back seat, where the screens are bigger than the one on the dashboard.

Photo Jørgen Larsen

It's a fantastic thing, especially on long trips. You can keep the kids quiet in the back seat for hours. No need to sing with them, or talk to them, or "bond", or any of that touchy-feely stuff. And you don't get distracted by hearing them talking and laughing together. In addition, you save them the great trouble of exercising their imaginations in the quest for a game that you can play using what you can see on the road.

April 22, 2013


I live in a bubble.

You don't know until you go out of your comfort zone and are confronted with the day-to-day reality outside your bubble.

The past two weeks I've been away from home. The first week was spent at a wilderness experience camp with CelloPlayer's class: mostly, they learned to build fires, which was a necessary thing as it was mighty cold all week and those fires were all we had to warm ourselves on. There was no heat in the cabins. It was a beautiful place, hilly, with no cell phone reception. It makes for a close connection to the land, that yielded kindling and wood for those fires, and pine tree tea (loaded with vitamin C). The people who run that camp have a palpable and deep connection to that place; they are warm, capable people, unafraid of anything. Not that they are extreme survivalists; but if civilisation disappeared tomorrow, they would be just fine.

That week on the land was closely followed by an experience which was as far removed as you can possibly get: a road trip I took last week with CelloPlayer and with my dad, who is visiting us for a few weeks. My dad used to build roads through jungles, working under primitive conditions: he has probably slept under bulldozers to stay dry. But now he's 86 and past that sort of thing. So for this trip we stayed mostly at roadside hotels. And we searched for fossils mostly at road cuts: no hiking for miles to get to the treasure.

April 11, 2013

Review: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe

I guess there are good marketing reasons for a car to be named after any city, or this city in particular. What I would like to know is why a car should be designated "Sport" if you can only get it with automatic transmission: what's the sport in that?

Hyundai's "Team" commercial for the Santa Fe shows a mom grimly determined to help her son beat the neighbourhood baseball bullies by rounding up his own superhero buddies. I guess if you have vengeance on your mind you can't be bothered with the "sport" of manual transmission, or other expressions of sportsmanship.

April 9, 2013

Why Am I Doing This?

Why do I choose to be "green"?

How can I do otherwise? The scientific evidence is overwhelming that we are collectively fouling our nest. There are now so many of us doing that, that the planet's many and varied defense mechanisms are at the end of their power. We must turn around the situation before we get wiped out.

Because it is not a matter of saving the planet. The planet will carry on. It won't be the same planet, however: Climate will be different and erratic everywhere. The nitrogen cycle will be significantly different from before we started using fertilisers. Aquatic life will eventually adapt to the oceans we have acidified. Perhaps life forms will evolve that can digest the plastic waste that's swirling around everywhere. Flora and fauna will certainly be different. Cockroaches will thrive - cockroaches are a hardy species and will thrive under the most improbable circumstances.

But humans are not cockroaches: we won't be able to live on a befouled planet. Our agriculture, the basis of our civilisation, was developed within a very narrow range of global mean temperatures. We are about to leave that range, and we don't know how to plant food crops that can live with that deviation. [ GMOs, you say? GMOs may be good at one particular thing, say herbicide resistance, or drought resistance. We don't know how to genetically code for drought and flood resistance simultaneously; and that is what will be required in an erratic climate ].

Already fruits and vegetables in our markets are not what they used to be. For instance, it has been hard to get good bananas this year. And my apple farmer's harvest has been decimated. A sick feeling comes over me when I see apple and cherry trees blossom in December: it's not natural. Come March, there are fewer blossoms on those trees that will eventually ripen into fruit later in the season.

I'm a mom. This is the high-probability sequence that gives me nightmares: Climate change will lead to widespread famine. Famine leads to mass migrations, like that of the 1930's Dust Bowl, but at a larger scale. Mass migrations lead to violence. I fully expect to witness resource wars in my lifetime. The road to extinction will not be pretty.

If you think of it in those terms, it's easy to accept a carbon tax, to steer away from plastic goods, to spend the extra for organic food that was grown without synthetic fertilisers.

Living that way is more expensive, absolutely. But tell me: what is money, in the face of the extinction of the human species?


This post is part of Green Moms Network blog writing challenge.



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April 5, 2013

A Transportation Growth Chart for Your Family

For Earth Day, why not start a transportation growth chart for your family?

In 2013, April 22 is a Monday. No matter: You can get a head start with this family activity on the preceding Sunday when roads are quiet. For Earth Eve, Earth Day, and thereafter, abandon your car as often as you can. Take your family out and challenge yourself and your children to see how far they, and you, can go from your house (and back) on human power.

Take in the air. Enjoy the neighbourhood at ground level and at a human pace, and admire the things you would never even see, hear, or smell, from inside a car: a cool chime, bugs going about their business, the neighbour's cat, the neighbour herself, birds, all the early flowers pushing up everywhere in exuberant colour.

If you go walking, bring a stroller for the youngest ones: when they get tired they have a refuge and can still come along while the older children continue on.

Keep track of your range on a walking growth chart, a two-dimensional version of the door frame where you might notch your children's height as they grow: Take a map of your town; mark your house on it. From time to time, map the farthest place your children have walked to; you will end up with a visual history of their expanding range.

April 3, 2013

Review: 2013 Honda Insight

Surprise! Bucking a persistent trend, the 2013 Honda Insight sold in the US has the smallest engine, 1.3L on the gasoline side. The Japanese Honda Insight Exclusive has a 1.5L gasoline engine. (The electric motor is the same on both).

Insight ZE1; Photo 韋駄天狗

When the Honda Insight hybrid first hit showrooms, in 1999, it was a three-door hatchback (I think the term "subcompact" is a poor choice), just 3945mm (155.3 in) in length. Because it only had two seats, it didn't need any headroom in the rear, and the strongly down-sloping roof made its silhouette closer to that of the aerodynamically optimal fish; the US EPA rated its fuel efficiency at an impressive 53 mpg average (61 mpg on the highway).

Insight ZE2; Photo Corvettec6r

The second-generation Insight, introduced in 2009, had grown to a family car, now with room for five, and 172,3in in length. Its integrated motor assist (IMA) hybrid system gets a quoted fuel efficiency of 42 mpg, but owners report a much higher efficiency. It has been accused of mimicking the style of its hybrid rival, the Toyota Prius, but one could equally argue that the current Insight is a logical extension of the original first-generation two-seater Insight.