April 22, 2014

Google Maps: directions with options

First there was "You can't get there from here", that phrase that country folk love to trot out when a hapless out-of-stater got hopelessly lost in Maine and had to resort asking the natives for the directions. Or so the out-of-staters said.

Then there was the AAA Trip-tik: the set of mini-maps where the friendly AAA representative highlighted the route you were to take to get from A to B. Depending on the trip, you could end up lugging a small library back to your car, of the Trip-tik itself, plus the maps and the AAA guides that went with it. For a cross-country trip we're talking the weight of a small encyclopedia.

Photo by Darren Meacher

Then - oh marvel! - there was the GPS device that was built in or (more commonly) precariously attached to your windshield with a suction cup. Super-expensive versions told you the real-time route, accounting for any detours due to road contructions of traffic jams.

But all that is so twentieth century.

April 21, 2014

The travel bureaus that put Jack Kerouac on the road

I may be the most reluctant automotive writer you've ever met, but I'm still an automotive writer, so it's sort of embarrassing that I've never read the quintessential book on autos and motion, "On The Road", Jack Kerouac's paean to high-speed road travel, women and jazz, that marked and inspired the bohemian hedonism of the Beat generation. So I'm reading it now.

I really can get into (or, as the book would say, I "dig") the rejection of materialism, but I can't say I dig the need for speed, the zipping by countless breathlessly beautiful places this country has to offer those who take the time to really explore. All of that natural beauty is just filler material between the cities with their jazz bars and philosophising friends, something to be got through as quickly as possible.

Because all the characters in the book are living from hand to mouth, even a ride on the Greyhound bus is too much of an expense: they hitch rides if they have to, but their preferred way of getting from place to place is by sharing the drive in a private car.

And what cars these are! The most memorable ones are detailed by Dennis Mansker. The photo above is of a 1947 Cadillac limousine, the kind that in the book was whipped from Denver to Chicago (nearly 1200 miles) in seventeen hours, at the end of which it was delivered to its owner's swanky residence, all dented, covered in mud and with the speedometer busted after the first time it was forced past 110mph.

April 12, 2014

Watch "Years of Living Dangerously" - but not alone

There's a buzz going around about "Years of Living Dangerously", the multi-part climate change documentary. It premieres on Sunday, April 13 on the Showtime channel. You can watch the first episode free at the "Years" website and on YouTube.

But before you settle in to watch it, you may want to find someone with whom to watch it, to discuss it, to digest it. Because while the documentary is a masterpiece of storytelling and will be easy enough to watch, it may be more difficult to absorb the message.

April 7, 2014

"There has been no global warming since 1998" - Or has there?

You hear this statement a lot in discussions about climate change. It is one of the most oft-repeated arguments against global warming: The average global surface temperature has leveled off. And it's true.

Just take a look at this graph, which shows the globally averaged surface temperature rise, from 1997 to 2014, compared to the average temperature in the period 1951-1980. The temperature really hasn't changed that much, if at all.

A careless observer would say, that's it: it's settled, there is no global warming, and we can all go home now (in our big fat SUVs, of course). A climate change denier would take this data and crow in comment threads all over the internet (but never in a scientific journal) that 97% of climate scientists are wrong to say that global warming exists, and wrong to say that humans are causing it.

But that is taking a myopic view of the world. And it's not very scientific.

April 6, 2014

Best of #ReplaceBikeWithCar so far

There's a Twitter fest on this weekend, marked by the hashtag #ReplaceBikeWithCar, where people quote things usually said about bikes and riding but replace them with cars and driving.

Check it out: it's good for a quick pick-me-up. A few of my favourites below

April 5, 2014

Fuel Efficiency and the Jevons Paradox

In the discussion of energy (or rather, how to curb our profligate use of energy), often the topic of energy efficiency comes up. And just as often, someone will say, "Energy efficiency doesn't work. Jevons paradox".

That's glib. A bit like saying, "Food stamps don't work. QED."

While we all know what "QED" means, maybe we should take a closer look at the Jevons paradox. This refers to the idea that, as technology improves the efficiency of a widget, that widget will get used more. A lot more. So much more, that the energy needed to run the widget for everyone is more than the energy needed before the innovation came along.

Jevons based this on his observations on the use of coal during the Industrial Revolution: As the newly invented steam machines quickly became more efficient, the price of coal went down. Economists like Jevons would say such a price decrease in energy encouraged the building of more steam machines, so you ended up with a higher total coal consumption than before, even as the amount of coal needed for each machine was reduced.

Photo Chris Allen