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kottke.org posts about energy

Gallons per mile

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2008

Replacing a car that gets horrible gas mileage with one that gets good gas mileage is preferable to replacing a car that gets good gas mileage with one that gets excellent gas mileage. To that end, kottke.org contributor Cliff Kuang says to the car companies: forget about 100-mpg cars and focus on small, achievable increases in MPG ratings.

My concern is a rhetorical one: What happens when advancements in cars are eternally linked — through marketing and special prizes — with big innovations, rather than tangible results right now? Fuel efficiency gets its urgency sapped: Someone’s working on it, with results TBD. Wait and see.

Oldest lightbulb

posted by Jason Kottke   May 09, 2008

A lightbulb in a firehouse in California has been burning more or less continuously since 1901. You can check on the light’s status on its WWW home page. (thx, john)

How nine cities from around the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2008

How nine cities from around the world are cutting their energy usage.

For cities, the motivation is twofold. All the hand-wringing over climate change has prompted more cities to do their part to contain greenhouse-gas emissions that most scientists believe are causing global warming. In the U.S., more than 700 mayors have signed an agreement to try to follow the Kyoto Protocol’s goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions — even though the Senate has rejected the treaty.

The other major motivation for cities: energy costs, which have more than doubled since 2000. Strapped for cash, municipalities are scrambling to save as much money on energy use as they can.

Map of the world where the size

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2007

Map of the world where the size of the countries correspond to how much oil they have. On this map, the Middle East is just The Middle.

The US Air Force Research Lab has

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2007

The US Air Force Research Lab has come up with an idea for refueling tiny spy planes on long missions: recharging its electric motor by stealing energy while hanging from power lines.

It could even temporarily change its shape to look more like innocuous piece of trash hanging from the cable.

Thunder! Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah,

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 15, 2007

Thunder! Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah! Con Edison is cutting their last direct current line in NYC, ending 125 years of continuous service that started when Thomas Edison set up shop in 1882 and signaling the final triumph of alternating current in the AC/DC wars. (Lesson: Nikola Tesla always wins in the end.)

The last snip of Con Ed’s direct current system will take place at 10 East 40th Street, near the Mid-Manhattan Library. That building, like the thousands of other direct current users that have been transitioned over the last several years, now has a converter installed on the premises that can take alternating electricity from the Con Ed power grid and adapt it on premises. Until now, Con Edison had been converting alternating to direct current for the customers who needed it — old buildings on the Upper East Side and Upper West Side that used direct current for their elevators for example.

This post about the carbon footprint of

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2007

This post about the carbon footprint of wine contains an interesting map at the bottom. It’s a map of the US with a line splitting the country in two. West of the line, it is more carbon efficient to drink Napa wine while to the east of the line it is more carbon efficient to drink French Bordeaux. You can almost see the coastline of the eastern and Gulf states struggling westward against the trucking route from California. The Vinicultural Divide?

Stopping underground coal fires would significantly reduce

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2007

Stopping underground coal fires would significantly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere.

Underground coal fires in China alone produce as much carbon dioxide annually as all the cars and light trucks in the United States.

A coal fire near Centralia, PA has been burning continuously since 1962 and prompted the permanent evacuation of the townspeople.

Determining the amount of energy it takes

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2007

Determining the amount of energy it takes to bring food from farm to table is difficult, but it looks as though shipping in food from afar is, in some cases, more energy efficient than food produced locally and that the transport energy might not matter as much in comparision to the amount of energy it takes to grow the food in the first place. “And it turns out our own part in the chain is often the most damaging, since when we drive to the supermarket, we might come back with only a few of bags of food in the car boot. Such a trip is far less fuel efficient than the one taken by that same food on its way to the supermarket in a truck packed with the assistance of load-optimisation software, which determines how to stack cargo so that barely an inch of empty space is left in the back of the vehicle.”

The Senate voted to increase fuel mileage

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2007

The Senate voted to increase fuel mileage requirements on cars sold in the US. “If the Senate bill becomes law, car manufacturers would have to increase the average mileage of new cars and light trucks to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, compared with roughly 25 miles per gallon today.” According to CNN, SUVs are included under the requirement…it’s about fricking time that loophole was closed.

An average human being gets 400 miles per

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2007

An average human being gets 400 miles per gallon at 3 mph. “A 155 lb human walking at 3 mph will burn 246 kcal/hour, or 82 kcal/mile. Feed that human one gallon of gas in potential energy — 31,548 kcal — and he’ll have enough energy to walk for 128 hours.”

Update: Riding a bike increases the MPG to ~750.

Last 100 posts, part 7

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2007

It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these. Here are some updates on some of the topics, links, ideas, posts, people, etc. that have appeared on kottke.org recently:

Two counterexamples to the assertion that cities != organisms or ecosystems: cancer and coral reefs. (thx, neville and david)

In pointing to the story about Ken Thompson’s C compiler back door, I forgot to note that the backdoor was theoretical, not real. But it could have easily been implemented, which was Thompson’s whole point. A transcript of his original talk is available on the ACM web site. (thx, eric)

ChangeThis has a “manifesto” by Nassim Taleb about his black swan idea. But reader Jean-Paul says that Taleb’s idea is not that new or unique. In particular, he mentions Alain Badiou’s Being and Event, Jacques Derrida, and Gilles Deleuze. (thx, paul & jean-paul)

When I linked The Onion’s ‘Most E-Mailed’ List Tearing New York Times’ Newsroom Apart, I said “I’d rather read a real article on the effect the most popular lists have on the decisions made by the editorial staff at the Times, the New Yorker, and other such publications”. American Journalism Review published one such story last summer, as did the Chicago Tribune’s Hypertext blog and the LA Times (abstract only). (thx, gene & adam)

Related to Kate Spicer’s attempt to slim down to a size zero in 6 weeks: Female Body Shape in the 20th Century. (thx, energy fiend)

Got the following query from a reader:

are those twitter updates on your blog updated automatically when you update your twitter? if so, how did you do it?

A couple of weeks ago, I added my Twitter updates and recent music (via last.fm) into the front page flow (they’re not in the RSS feed, for now). Check out the front page and scroll down a bit if you want to check them out. The Twitter post is updated three times a week (MWF) and includes my previous four Twitter posts. I use cron to grab the RSS file from Twitter, some PHP to get the recent posts, and some more PHP to stick it into the flow. The last.fm post works much the same way, although it’s only updated once a week and needs a splash of something to liven it up a bit.

The guy who played Spaulding in Caddyshack is a real estate broker in the Boston area. (thx, ivan)

Two reading recommendations regarding the Jonestown documentary: a story by Tim Cahill in A Wolverine Is Eating My Leg and Seductive Poison by former People’s Temple member Deborah Layton. (thx, garret and andrea)

In case someone in the back didn’t hear it, this map is not from Dungeons and Dragons but from Zork/Dungeon. (via a surprising amount of people in a short period of time)

When reading about how low NYC’s greenhouse gas emissions are relative to the rest of the US, keep in mind the area surrounding NYC (kottke.org link). “Think of Manhattan as a place which outsources its pollution, simply because land there is so valuable.” (thx, bob)

NPR did a report on the Nickelback potential self-plagiarism. (thx, roman)

After posting about the web site for Miranda July’s new book, several people reminded me that Jeff Bridges’ site has a similar lo-fi, hand-drawn, narrative-driven feel.

In the wake of linking to the IMDB page for Back to the Future trivia, several people reminded me of the Back to the Future timeline, which I linked to back in December. A true Wikipedia gem.

I’m ashamed to say I’m still hooked on DesktopTD. The problem is that the creator of the game keeps updating the damn thing, adding new challenges just as you’ve finally convinced yourself that you’ve wrung all of the stimulation out of the game. As Robin notes, it’s a brilliant strategy, the continual incremental sequel. Version 1.21 introduced a 10K gold fun mode…you get 10,000 gold pieces at the beginning to build a maze. Try building one where you can send all 50 levels at the same time and not lose any lives. Fun, indeed.

Regarding the low wattage color palette, reader Jonathan notes that you should use that palette in conjunction with a print stylesheet that optimizes the colors for printing so that you’re not wasting a lot of ink on those dark background colors. He also sent along an OS X trick I’d never seen before: to invert the colors on your monitor, press ctrl-option-cmd-8. (thx, jonathan)

Dorothea Lange’s iconic Migrant Mother photograph was modified for publication…a thumb was removed from the lower right hand corner of the photo. Joerg Colberg wonders if that case could inform our opinions about more recent cases of photo alteration.

In reviewing all of this, the following seem related in an interesting way: Nickelback’s self-plagiarism, continual incremental sequels, digital photo alteration, Tarantino and Rodriquez’s Grindhouse, and the recent appropriation of SimpleBits’ logo by LogoMaid.

A low wattage color palette for web

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2007

A low wattage color palette for web designers. The palette is based on the Energy Star wattage ratings for colors. (via migurski)

Visualization from the WWF of how much

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2007

Visualization from the WWF of how much exhaust a car gives off during the course of the day. Details here. (via wider angle)

Compared with Snapple, whiteout, and Pepto Bismol ($123.20/

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2007

Compared with Snapple, whiteout, and Pepto Bismol ($123.20/gallon), gasoline is surprisingly inexpensive. “$21.19 for WATER - and the buyers don’t even know the source. No wonder Evian spelled backwards is Naive.”

Update: Rob Cockerham did a more extensive analysis of liquid pricing a few years ago.

Some back-of-the-envelope calculations about the embodied energy

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2007

Some back-of-the-envelope calculations about the embodied energy of bottled water: “the cost to produce and deliver a bottle of imported water is $0.22, leaving $1.28 per bottle profit for the manufacturer and the retail store”.

How many uses does it take for

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2007

How many uses does it take for a reusable cup to surpass a disposable paper or styrofoam cup in terms of energy usage? You have to use a single ceramic cup more than 1000 times in order for it to be more energy efficient than using the same number of dispoable styrofoam cups. Of course, this doesn’t take into account anything outside of the manufacturing or washing processes…like the cost of shipping all these foam cups and what happens to them after you’re done with them. (via thoughtwax)

The headline blares that “NYC Blamed for 1%

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2007

The headline blares that “NYC Blamed for 1% of Greenhouse Gases”, which puts it on par with small countries like Portugal and Ireland, but they buried the lede on this one: “With 2.7 percent of the country’s population — 8.2 million of 300 million — the average New York City resident contributes less than a third of the emissions generated by a typical American.”

Looks like the change in Daylight Savings

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 03, 2007

Looks like the change in Daylight Savings Time in the US didn’t have the intended effect on energy savings. No measurable impact on their business, say the power companies.

Hypermiling

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2007

The most enjoyable and interesting thing I’ve read in a week has to be this article about Wayne Gerdes (via bb). Gerdes is a hypermiler — a person who drives in an obsessive fashion in order to increase his vehicle’s fuel efficiency — and strikes me as someone that Errol Morris would be quite interested in doing a short documentary about. He’s refined his driving technique over the years to wring 59 MPG out of a plain Honda Accord and clocked over 180 MPG with a hybrid Honda Insight. Here’s a taste of how he drives:

“Buckle up tight, because this is the death turn,” says Wayne. Death turn? We’re moving at 50 mph. Wayne turns off the engine. He’s bearing down on the exit, and as he turns the wheel sharply to the right, the tires squeal-which is what happens when you take a 25 mph turn going 50. Cathy, Terry’s wife, who is sitting next to me in the backseat, grabs my leg. I grab the door handle. As we come out of the 270-degree turn, Cathy says, “I hope you have upholstery cleaner.”

We glide for over a mile with the engine off, past a gas station, right at a green light, through another green light — Wayne is always timing his speed to land green lights — and around a mall, using momentum in a way that would have made Isaac Newton proud. “Are we going to attempt that at home?” Cathy asks Terry, a talkative man who has been stone silent since Wayne executed the death turn in his car. “Not in this lifetime,” he shoots back.

At PopTech last year, Alex Steffen of WorldChanging told the crowd that cars with realtime mileage displays get better gas mileage. Turns out that’s how Gerdes got really interested in hypermiling:

But it was driving his wife’s Acura MDX that moved Wayne up to the next rung of hypermiler driving. That’s because the SUV came with a fuel consumption display (FCD), which shows mpg in real time. As he drove, he began to see how little things — slight movements of his foot, accelerations up hills, even a cold day — influenced his fuel efficiency. He learned to wring as many as 638 miles from a single 19-gallon tank in the MDX; he rarely gets less than 30 mpg when he drives it. “Most people get 18 in them,” he says. The FCD changed the driving game for Wayne. “It’s a running joke,” he says, “but instead of a fuel consumption display, a lot of us call them ‘game gauges’” — a reference to the running score posted on video games — “because we’re trying to beat our last score — our miles per gallon.”

If people could see how much fuel they guzzled while driving, Wayne believes they’d quickly learn to drive more efficiently. “If the EPA would mandate FCDs in every car, this country would save 20 percent on fuel overnight,” he says. “They’re not expensive for the manufacturers to put in — 10 to 20 bucks — and it would save more fuel than all the laws passed in the last 25 years. All from a simple display.”

Competition, even with yourself, can be a powerful motivator. I’m not convinced, however, that FCDs would improve gas mileage across the board. There are other games you can play with the display — the how-much-gas-can-I-waste game or the how-close-can-I-get-to-18-MPG game — that don’t have much to do with conserving fuel consumption. Still, next time I’m in a car with a mileage display, I’ll be trying out some of Gerdes less intensive driving techniques, including the ones he shares on this Sierra Club podcast (Gerdes’ interview is about 2/3 of the way through).

“Stewart Brand has become a heretic to

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 27, 2007

Stewart Brand has become a heretic to environmentalism, a movement he helped found, but he doesn’t plan to be isolated for long. He expects that environmentalists will soon share his affection for nuclear power. They’ll lose their fear of population growth and start appreciating sprawling megacities. They’ll stop worrying about “frankenfoods” and embrace genetic engineering.”

Regarding last week’s post about LED lightbulbs,

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2007

Regarding last week’s post about LED lightbulbs, Matt Haughey bought a variety pack of LED bulbs, tried them out, and says “save your money”. “The color is definitely blue and the light is dim. There’s no way on earth these bulbs are worth running out and spending $30+ per bulb on.”

LED lightbulbs are expensive, but they last

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2007

LED lightbulbs are expensive, but they last a long time and use relatively little power. One LED lightbulb costs $35 but lasts 60,000 hours, during which time you’d have to buy 60 incandescent bulbs (at a cost of $40) and the difference in the cost of the electricity over the 60,000 hours is $360 for the incandescent versus $12 for the LED bulb. (via a.whole)

Update: Something to keep in mind…the above comparison is a bit apples and oranges because as the page states, the LED lightbulbs have a “reduced light output” compared to regular bulbs. The featured LED bulb only puts out 31 lumens of brightness while a 60 W incandescent puts out 850 lumens. (thx, kevin)

Circular argument

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 20, 2006

Tariffs on imported sugar and ethanol imposed by the US government keep our sugar expensive and is keeping the US from using more efficient methods of saving energy and, oh, by the way, helping the environment. This excerpt from the last two paragraphs of the piece is a succinct description of what’s wrong with contemporary American politics:

Tariffs and quotas are extremely hard to get rid of, once established, because they create a vicious circle of back-scratching-government largesse means that sugar producers get wealthy, giving them lots of cash to toss at members of Congress, who then have an incentive to insure that the largesse continues to flow. More important, protectionist rules flourish because the benefits are concentrated among a small number of easy-to-identify winners, while the costs are spread out across the entire population. It may be annoying to pay a few more cents for sugar or ethanol, but most of us are unlikely to lobby Congress about it.

Maybe we should, though. Our current policy is absurd even by Washington standards: Congress is paying billions in subsidies to get us to use more ethanol, while keeping in place tariffs and quotas that guarantee that we’ll use less. And while most of the time tariffs just mean higher prices and reduced competition, in the case of ethanol the negative effects are considerably greater, leaving us saddled with an inferior and less energy-efficient technology and as dependent as ever on oil-producing countries.

Maddening. Partisan politics is a not-very-elaborate smokescreen to distract us from this bullshit.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 08, 2006

Not like the 70s

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2006

Some notes on a presentation by Thomas Friedman, who I’ve somehow managed to unconsciously steer clear of. (Doesn’t help that his stuff is behind the NY Times paywall. If he really wanted to make the impact on this green stuff, he’d get the Times to move that stuff out in the open so us proles can link to it and discuss it.) Here are Friedman’s five reasons why “this is not your father’s energy crisis” (ie the 1970s):

1. With our energy consumption in the US, we’re funding both sides in the “war on terror”. Our oil consumption pays for terrorists and our taxes pay for the armed forces, etc.

2. The world is flat, globalization, opportunities to consume at first world levels are available to China, India, Russia, etc. And they’re seizing the day.

3. Clean power and green energy is the #1 growth industry of the 21st century.

4. What Tom referred to as the First Law of Petropolitics: the price of oil has an inverse relationship with the pace of freedom. Oil prices fall, freedom goes up; oil prices rise and Iran starts talking about the myth of The Holocaust.

5. The new economy companies (Friedman namechecked Google and Yahoo specifically) are going to drive clean power and green energy because every time you do a search on the web, it costs them a little bit of power and they are going to want to drive that price down.

He finished by saying that green has been marginalized as being sissy, liberal, and Unamerican, but Friedman says “green is the new red, white, and blue”.

Speaking of ecological footprints, Personal Kyoto lets

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2006

Speaking of ecological footprints, Personal Kyoto lets your track your energy usage and reduce it according to the Kyoto Protocol. It only works for NYC residents…just grab your ConEd bill, punch in your account number, and PK will display your energy usage for the last year, along with averages and your Kyoto goal.

Update: PK’s creator tells me that he’s looking to bring the project to cities other than NYC. Good stuff.

Wal-Mart wants to sell 100 million CFLs (compact

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2006

Wal-Mart wants to sell 100 million CFLs (compact fluorescent lightbulbs) in the next 12 months. “Compact fluorescents emit the same light as classic incandescents but use 75% or 80% less electricity.” Between this and the organic food, Wal-Mart is agressively pursuing green initiatives. (thx, brock)

The Oil We Eat. “With the possible

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2006

The Oil We Eat. “With the possible exception of the domestication of wheat, the green revolution is the worst thing that has ever happened to the planet.”

Update: Here’s a Wired article on super organics, smartly breed foods that will “that will please the consumer, the producer, the activist, and the FDA”. (thx, andy)

“Americans represent 5% of the world’s population but

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2006

Americans represent 5% of the world’s population but drive almost a third of its cars, which in turn account for nearly half the carbon dioxide pumped out of exhaust pipes into the atmosphere each year.”