September 25, 2016

Getting Ripped Off At The Pump

There's an ongoing debate about whether or not your car really needs premium gasoline (for which you pay premium prices). The American Automobile Association has done helpful research that says that, unless the car is built for premium gasoline, you don't need the more expensive fuel. It's a waste of your money. Apparently Americans collectively pay more than $2bn too much every year for premium gasoline our cars don't need.

Photo by Naotake Murayama

But never mind that: the discussion around super unleaded masks a much bigger rip-off: the one you commit to when you buy your car.

September 24, 2016

Best Ever Car Window Cleaner

My car is now a few years old, and has lost the new car smell. Even so, at the end of the summer there is still a film on the inside of the car windows. It could be residual outgassing from synthetic components still depositing itself on all the inside surfaces, even though you can't smell it any more. It could be simply being on the road.

Whatever it is, it looks kinda disgusting, and what's more, it's dangerous, as the film lights up when hit by sunlight, so you can't look through the windshield.

I didn't really feel like using Windex again, nor was I in the mood for vigorous scrubbing with dishwashing liquid. Internet to the rescue! There's bound to be someone who has figured out a safe way to clean new car gook off your windshield.

It's fun to read people's homemade solutions (no pun intended) and try to figure out the chemistry of what makes it work. I settled on a recipe from Crunchy Betty, who is seriously into clean: clean food, clean toiletries, clean house. By "clean" I mean chemically clean.

This one has water (that's safe to drink); rubbing alcohol (that's not safe to drink but you can handle it with your bare hands); vinegar (I put that in my food regularly); and corn starch (I bake with that). I like it when a cleaner contains only stuff I have in my kitchen anyway, and is free of ingredients I can't pronounce.

September 16, 2016

Typhoon Meranti Bikes

Warmer oceans spawn stronger hurricanes and typhoons: typhoon Meranti is a Category 5 typhoon (and may have been a Category 6 if such a category existed). After battering parts of Taiwan it made landfall in the Chinese province of Fujian. Wind speeds are down from the peak of up to 370 kph (230 mph) but still high enough to wreak plenty of havoc.

Photos are slow to emerge, but the one that caught my eye is of a square in the city of Xiamen: in the middle of the square is a large heap of bicycles that have presumably been blown over by the high winds.

I find it noteworthy for two reasons: apparently in this city of 3.5 million the bicycle is a viable mode of transportation (unlike in, say, Shanghai where they have largely been displaced by cars). As usual, I'm struck by the sheer number of bicycles that can be parked in a medium-sized square. If all those bike owners had come by car, that square would have been hopelessly snarled in car traffic 24/7, and nobody can play, chat, and socialise the way people do on car-free squares.

I'd say that Xiamen is not behind the times, but at the cutting edge of the transportation transition: countless cities and towns are re-thinking their roads and taking them back from the dominance of the car.