Category Archives: Transportation

Where we’re going, as it were.

A Home on the Beach

As the popular sport of denigrating Christianity has flourished, the new religion of “climate change” has gained thousands of new acolytes. Of course, “climate change” is science as opposed to faith-based mumbo-jumbo. You religious nuts have to come in to the 21st Century. Maybe. Hold the door, please.

Climate change is one of the few constants in the life of the earth. Ice ages, warming periods, volcanoes, comets, tides, gravity, planetary magnetic fields – these things have been present quite variably for billions of years. Well, yeah, but… but pollution, man… pollution has been present for like, since the atom bomb, man. What about that, dude?

Valid point, but pollution, too, has come and gone many times. We are considering only pollution that affects things WE have experienced. We, in our hubris, see this brief period since Biblical times or, more pointedly, since Columbus, say, as what is normal and the only way the world should be forever. Maybe, but an impossibility with or without the befouling presence of humans, especially white ones; they are the worst.

Earth changes in ways and for reasons we cannot affect, effect or fully understand. We may have some ephemeral effects right now, but they get taken care of through cyclical processes fairly well, although not perfectly, God knows… except for jet aircraft and a handful of other egregious assaults on the biosphere that we can fix if we develop a mind to. Surface weather cleans up a lot of our sloppiness, and we are technologically obviating some of our worst ideas. Economics helps.

Self-driving cars are a good example. Again, hubris and greed are driving current approaches, but we’ll get it right without too many deaths, one hopes. Once a standard is set requiring cars to “talk” to each other, real progress will be made. The problem with “autonomous” vehicles is autonomy: attempting to have every car have all the abilities to detect, control or react to every variable in traffic, pedestrians and weather – and weird roads. Can’t be done. However, if every car knew what every other vehicle within, say 100 yards were doing – direction, speed, acceleration – then traffic could automatically adjust itself so that it would never have to stop, including at intersections! Add a few sensors at intersections, on-ramps and the like, and “self-driving” cars will begin to resolve one of the worst pollution generators on the planet: personal, independent, ready-at-a-whim, expensive, heavy, inefficient cars.

And save lives. Imagine commuting without driving your own car. An electric “AV” (autonomous vehicle) or “SDC” picks you up along with 3 others going to the same concentrated economic zone, all independently arranged with phone apps. You work on your laptop, play cards, text or eat breakfast perfectly safely. Your SDC moves steadily forward cutting commuting time by a third or a half, then drops each “ride-pooler” at his or her work and goes off for the rest of the day to do some other tasks, including plugging itself in for an hour or so. At the prescribed times it picks up its riders (who may or may not be the same 4 based on workday schedules) and takes them home. Highways are less congested, traffic flow is uninterrupted (thanks to MDV’s [manually driven vehicles] also communicating with vehicles within that 100 yards), and billions of gallons of gas are left unburned. Cool.

Plus, thousands of acres of parking lots are made superfluous and may be “de-paved” and otherwise made better use of. Public transportation, that perennial, government, unionized cesspool of constant losses and shortfalls, will finally be in a form that works and a lot of crappy trains, trolleys and buses can be eliminated. SDC’s can go where people need to go when they need to go there, resulting in actual use. A lot of people will simply stop owning personal cars that sit idle 93% of the time.

As for jet travel, that’s different. Still, large fractions of it can be obviated with superior “ground” transport systems. Monorail transports in busy corridors, even up to 1,000 miles, can eliminate thousands of short-haul jet flights. Jets, after all, dump their exhaust at 35,000 feet, beyond where normal weather will help remove it. Surface transit at 300 miles an hour, or close to it, will compete effectively on trips up to 3 hours or so – possible up to 1000 miles. Trips from 150 to 500 miles would be a breeze, and more comfortable… and electric. Clean.

Elon Musk’s batteries are going to help, but we’ll have to resolve our UN-scientific fears of nuclear power to finally clean up our planet. It’ll happen… has to. Neither solar nor wind can carry the load in the next couple of generations and we seem to want to clean things up right now – nuclear.

At the same time, maybe we can devise solar-powered robot vessels to clean up our preposterous gyre of garbage in the pacific. Container-ship companies can pay for them. We have to become serious about not despoiling our home. Clean air, clean land, clean water – all valid and viable goals. Climate change will slowly correct to the only extent that it can. What does that mean?

To whatever, unquantifiable degree that human activity has caused a change in Earth’s average temperature, it has taken a long time. This is not to discount variations in solar output, sunspot cycles, variations and weakening of the magnetic field and so forth, but let those go. We may have an impact, no matter how arrogant we sound in saying so. Still, it’s fairly small and slow to make a difference. There isn’t any treaty or legislation that is going to make a rapid reversal. Decades, generations.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start as soon as possible… and we have. But, increasingly, the choice that true believers offer is stark destruction of our ecology and mass starvations and all they imply; OR, VOLUNTARY population reduction. The possibility that Humanity might resolve pollution by dint of invention and technology or even good motives, is never proffered. According to the Church of Inevitable Death, mankind will either kill itself out of stupidity and greed or thanks to enlightened leadership from government members of the new religion.

I’ll take door number 3, Winky.

Climate acolytes are currently very upset about “…the four inches of sea-level rise that has already happened!” Well that’s serious, especially if you’ve been living within two inches of the mean sea level in 1940. It’s also extremely difficult to determine with any precision. But if the seas have risen a couple of inches, their worry and over-concern has to ignore the 400 FEET of sea-level change since the beginning of the reversal of the last ice age. Of course, there was a lot more ice available for melting in the good old days, so small global changes could cause massive meltwater volumes. We’re relatively safe from those kinds of effects, today.
A large part of our ostensible sea-level problem is our own damn fault, since we do enjoy living right on the waters’ edges. I expect we’ll deduce how to avoid drowning slowly, most of us, anyway.

If the entire atmosphere could be liquefied it would be about 33 feet deep, or 393.7 inches. Well great… so what? Well, in fact, CO-2 comprises about .0397% of the total. Let’s see what this means:
1% of 393.7 inches is just 3.937 inches – out of 33 feet. But, CO-2 is less than 4/10ths of that percent, or slightly deeper than 1.57 inches. Around the year 1800 (pre-industry), we’re told, CO-2 was only 3/10ths of a percent of the total, or what would have been 1.18 inches. Now we are told, it is the added .39 inches of the 33-foot total that has caused nearly every problem we face today, hot or cold, wet or dry, cloudy or sunny.

It is a big deal because people literally breath out CO-2, as do our cars and trucks and planes and things. Better, it’s a trace gas that we can BLAME on humans! We can TAX it and buy votes with it and be superior about it. Ohh, Heaven!

Worse, it is swamping tiny atolls in the Solomon Islands and the handfuls of people who like living there (who wouldn’t?) need some of everyone’s money to compensate their moving costs. At least, that’s the trumpeted theory. Still, it fits with the trends of the past 100 centuries or so, which ought to be comforting. Our anxiety derives from changes that have affected things we know from the past couple of hundred years… things that, in our arrogant view, should have remained static once we decided we liked them.

Right? Of course, right!
Since so many factors we have nothing to do with have maintained the direction of change, we are now adopting an amazing attitude that it is within our politics, economics and powers, that we can steer change in a different direction. This is far more remarkable than divinity, but a lot of people have bought it.


traffic2Increasingly there are stories and speculations about autonomous, or “self-driving” cars. Upon hearing these stories, many just look at their friends and roll their eyes, as if to say “Yeah, right. Never happen!”
People are too tightly connected to controlling automotive power, gunning it to pass or enter highways; there is too much alignment with sexual prowess for males, at least, to give up the pilot’s role. Maybe.
Self-driving vehicles hold a lot of promise. Consider overall expense. An ‘SD” vehicle won’t at least initially, be your all-around vehicle. Rather, it would be utilitarian, mostly used for commuting and short-haul shopping missions. Unlike mass-transit, a self-driving car retains independence and privacy for 1 to say, 4 passengers, but doesn’t have to be parked once “work” is reached. It can be electric, of course. Once depositing its commuters it can self-drive to a charging station – like a Roomba vacuum cleaner.
At 3:30, or 4:00, or whatever time the commuters have told it via cell-phone, the vehicle will guide itself to the convenient pick-up spot(s), receive its passengers and head home… or to a sports bar. Commuters could work, play games, watch TV, fool around (just sayin’) or, if not stupid enough, take a hit of ‘medical’ marijuana, all while presenting no threat to other drivers/commuters.
After all, the weakest link in a car or truck is the driver. Self-driving vehicles will offer some positives.
Not the least of these will be mobility for seniors (or the blind!). No one likes to be the one to tell mom or dad that it’s time to relinquish the keys and stop driving. That’s tantamount to saying stop enjoying independence. A self-driving car extends the “freedom” years for both parents and children. This alone will make autonomous vehicles popular, and keep other drivers safer, too. You watch.
Autonomous cars can solve a lot of problems. Imagine every self-driving car having fairly simple radio-frequency communication with all the others within, say 100 yards, and with beacons at intersections. This inter-communication will enable cars to automatically give way to one another at merges and intersections, such that there will be very few reasons for forward progress to totally stop… as it does, constantly, during both “rush” hours and all other hours, when red and green lights “control” drivers to avoid collisions.
Now imagine that for most uses, travelers will simply call for a car via cell-phone. Even for local shopping trips, the drudgery of parking can be avoided. As you check out with your groceries, a car is automatically called for you, meeting you almost at the door of the supermarket. You ride home with your stuff and the car moves off to do another job. Your flashy, powerful, expensive, highly-taxed and rapidly-depreciating (although impressive to others) SUV, remains in its garage-nest, shiny and undamaged. That’s good, right?
Except for the need to stow all the crap we leave in our cars – sometimes for years – not being completely responsible for a “car” can be increasingly attractive.
Rather than a $500,000 home – mortgage payment, insurance, upkeep and all – one’s car is the largest expense one carries. Over, say, twenty-five years, a homeowner might spend $30,000 a year for his home and on his home… $750,000, a lot of money. In the same time, he might buy and finance five $30,000 cars… $165,000. Insurance adds another $50,000, maintenance and taxes, gas and sundries, probably another $75,000 – altogether $290,000 (very conservative number).
At the end of the twenty-five years the home will be sold for a million dollars (if not three times that much), while the last car will still be on the road, sucking up expense dollars. Most homeowners will profit on the home, but the car dollars are all gone.
Suppose the homeowner travels 20,000 miles a year commuting, shopping and few trips. His average cost per mile is 58 cents, except, well, over the years, he’s also spent $120 a month for parking while at work – another $36,000! Now we’re over 65 cents a mile, despite some of the dollars being for “non-miles.”
What if you could call up a car whenever you needed it, for $500 a month, same amount of miles? To compare, that would be only 30 cents a mile… HALF! The other $150,000 you can keep in your pocket!
Insuring your private vehicle is a function of the extraordinary risk one takes both for himself and his prized possession. You might have a new, ultra-safe, back-up camera’d SUV that has cost you $4,000 before you left the dealer’s lot (taxes, registration, insurance, etc., etc.) and will soon generate monthly payments of $600. The first morning you pull onto the interstate parking lot, where its comforts and sound system are so valuable, and where its appearance can be thoroughly envied, a $500 piece of… crap can drift over the line as its driver reads the paper, texts or reaches for another doughnut, and pretty well ruin the driver’s side of your polished beauty. You can imagine your own feelings without my help.
In an instant you will appreciate the economy and efficiency of autonomous vehicles for commuting purposes, if for nothing else.
We can imagine, as autonomous vehicles gain numbers and acceptance, that only one lane, the “breakdown” lane will be designated for them at first. They will travel at no more than 40 miles per hour, automatically giving way to private cars that signal for exits. The blinker itself or a radio beacon it turns on will tell the “AV” that will create space for the exit turn, of the need to do so, and through virtually instant communication with the AVs behind it, a slight reduction in speed is smoothly achieved logarithmically back down the line, as is smooth acceleration back to normal.
Along with other automatic adaptations to traffic conditions, the ride-sharing (or not) commuters in the AVs will arrive at the destination for each in about half the time as all those individually impressive, singularly occupied, driver/commuters will. Better still, they won’t have to find parking – or pay for it.
Now let’s imagine that most of the vehicles on the Interstate are autonomous and happily communicating with the dozens of other AVs that are nearby. Let’s extend that to all cars being required to have a couple of basic transponders so that “special-license” drivers can’t screw up the works. Now manually-operated and autonomous vehicles can share the road, even to the point that the AVs can “scatter,” so to speak, whenever a “ManOp” does the wrong thing. If it’s something really foolish, or dangerous, all the vehicles around the offender will “know” who the offender was – at least what the ‘numbers’ of his vehicle were.
AVs will cost a lot less. With fairly simple RFID chips in every vehicle, there won’t have to be on-board radars, back-up cameras, etc. (that may not be paid-attention to). Those suckers are expensive. Plus the cost of insurance will be very low and cost in dollars and suffering will be almost eliminated. That is the best part. Medical care (some quite dramatic) resulting from automobile accidents, is just as expensive as for other reasons.
This is disruptive technology. The phase it is going through, now, is going to be brief. All the automatic safety and silly systems (like automatic parallel parking), that owners love to show off, will become superfluous in large part, when there is no need to park, among other things.
Imagine the people-positive effects of not having millions of cars parking in our cities and towns.
Drunk-driving, drugged-driving, texting, reading, applying makeup and eating breakfast on the commute, will all become safe to do! How cool is that? Streets and interstates can be smaller, believe it or not, instead of constantly become larger, more costly, ugly and dangerous. We won’t need as many police, either, since the number of accidents will decline markedly, and insurance will cost a lot less.
When you start to consider all the crap we put up with to maintain private, manually-driven cars – and trucks – the day when true transportation arrives, can’t be too soon. I didn’t even mention the first teen-age solo…