Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Smooth Steel

***Rambling post alert!*** ***with videos***
Airplanes are great for traveling long distances (long being 1,000+ miles) but for shorter distances, trains can't be beat. I know you're thinking clickety-clack

but believe it or not, as much as it has been shunned in the USA, train technology has been doing more than just "clacking along". As mentioned earlier, UTA is starting up their "Front Runner" commuter rail line from Ogden to SLC with a line from Provo to SLC to follow in the next few years.

It's going to do about 80mph so that means that during heavy traffic on I-15 (which is most of the time), it'll be faster than driving! Not to mention the comfort of Wifi, work tables, and comfy chairs perfect for napping as the train cruises along the smooth steel. As cool as that is going to be, there is something better on the horizon for parts of America... high-speed rail. You may be asking yourself, (see the steam train pic above for reference) c'mon, how can trains be that fast?

This one to the left really is that fast... 357.2 mph!! That train is the current world speed record holder. Should be fast enough, eh? The technology that goes into making that train go that fast is not trivial, for example, if the wire above the train doesn't move back and forth enough, it will burn right through the pantograph! The physics behind the contact point of the wheels to the track are unbelievable to allow them to spin that fast.

I know this is a video heavy post, but they are worth it if you're interested in trains, alternative transportation, energy independence, engineering and a whole slew of other issues. Below is a proposed (and very likely at this point) high-speed rail line from the Bay Area in California to Los Angeles. Other lines are planned from L.A. to Las Vegas that would be a maglev train which would be even better!

For you locals, imagine sometime in the future being able to book a high-speed train from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas that leaves at say 9:00 am. Now swing back to what it's like to make that trip now... You have to be to the airport at least an hour early (they recommend two hours) and then the plane waits for 15 minutes (at least) on the tarmac to take off. (trip time=1.5hrs) Then you fly in cramped quarters, unless you fly JetBlue or Virgin America which don't fly to Vegas from SLC, with the heavy-set man next to you taking up more than his two purchased seats. Because of the dry aircraft air, you're pounding the Ginger Ale and H20 so you'll have to pee at least once on the trip. Those bathrooms are a joy, aren't they? Think of the movie Tommy Boy. (travel time=3hrs) You spend another 15 minutes at least at the destination airport on the tarmac (total trip time 3.25hrs). Then you wait, and wait, and wait for your bags at the luggage carousel for 30 minutes, and don't forget that you're now one bag lighter than you were when you got on the plane because your other bag is in Mexico City. (trip time=3.75 hrs) So after roughly 4 hours, you're in Vegas! Which is good, because driving would have taken you 5 hours to get there (depending on how you drive) so you got there an hour earlier.

Now imagine the first scenario where you book your 9:00am high speed train from SLC to Las Vegas. You arrive at the train station about 15 minutes before the train is set to leave. You take your bags to the train and you watch the conductor load them on the same car you're traveling on after which he gives you a hand as you board the train. You get settled in a very roomy seat with huge windows, foot rests, and various recline positions. You can also get a work table seat if you'd like. All the room you need to stretch out. The train slowly pulls out of the station and gently accelerates up to above 200 mph almost without you even noticing. You arrive in Las Vegas rested, having used the spacious, nearly full size restroom on your car and after having a drink from the cafe car. As the train pulls into the Las Vegas station, less than 2.5 hours have passed. The train has saved you more than an hour of travel time and has also saved you more headache than you can imagine! All the time you have used much less energy to travel the same distance and with the new trains, they will either run on electric powered rails or be maglev powered. If that energy comes from a clean, domestic source, you're better off still! My opinion is that with the $1.2+ Trillion we have spent in Iraq, (somebody's got to pay that someday BTW) we could have built a large high-speed rail infrastructure which would help to get us off of foreign oil and increase national security and still have enough left over to completely double cancer research in the US, treat every American with heart disease and diabetes that goes without care today, and implement newer, energy efficient cars. That's a good chunk 'o change.

***EDIT*** I just came across this article talking about a train from Madrid to Barcelona which happens to be the same distance as Salt Lake City to Las Vegas that I referenced above. It's challenging planes at that distance, and I know I would surely take the train over the plane for a 410 mile trip!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Fields of Fuel

First off, I'm not going to do this film justice in any way, shape, or form without holding your hand and taking you down to the theater to watch it full-length. That might be a bit difficult to do, so I'll do my best to try to get you interested in seeing it yourself.

First off, the trailer.

Gina and I really wanted to see this movie, and thanks to Tom getting us tickets at the SFF we were able to go!

"A Crude Awakening" and An Inconvenient Truth" were good and decent, respectively; however, on a scale with the three films together, "Fields of Fuel" is way ahead of the curve. While the first two show us all how screwed up we will be if we don't do anything, they don't offer very many glimpses of hope and they make it seem like there is nothing the individual person can do to help the problem.

Fields of Fuel, on the other hand, offers a very humanizing view of the current energy situation that the US faces. It does not dwell on well-documented but not-quite-proven theories (like the Theory of Global Climate Change and that crazy Theory of Gravity, for instance) but instead focuses on tangible evidence that the way we use energy here in the US is not sustainable and has backed us into a corner that requires immediate change. While some other countries have done this too, we don't live there, we live here and should worry about it here. Josh Tickell then continues on to give the audience various ways in which the individual can make a difference. Below is a list of 10 things he suggests. Not everybody can do all of these right away, but everybody can do at least one of these.

1) Buy a biodiesel, hybrid, electric, or ethanol car
2) Change your fuel to biodiesel, ethanol, or electricity
3) Switch your local school buses to biodiesel
4) Get your gas station to sell biofuel
5) Start a biofuel purchasing co-op
6) Get green energy education into your local schools
7) Use public transportation, bike, or walk
8) Vote for leaders committed to green energy
9) Buy electricity from solar and wind companies
10) Learn more: read Biodiesel America

In the film, Josh gives a very holistic approach to the use of biofuels. He realizes that they are not the ultimate answer, but they are what we can do NOW to get the ball rolling in the right direction. He tells the audience very matter-of-factly that the only way to fix the energy problems in the world is to move towards a diversified energy structure where the energies being used cannot be monopolized by governments or by any one large corporation.

PS, did I mention it received the Documentary Audience Choice Award at Sundance?!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Get out and vote!

This is specifically for the Utahn's that read my blog. January 22, 2008 marks the first day that early voting opens for the Western States Presidential Primary election. Gina and I have done early voting these last few times and it is so much easier than dealing with long lines on election day.

To vote:

1) You must be a registered voter in the state of Utah (check here to see if you're a registered voter)
2) If you are declared affiliated with the Republican party, you can only vote in the Republican Primary (meaning you can only vote for a republican for now)
3) If you are declared affiliated with the Democrat party, you can only vote in the Democrat Primary (meaning you can only vote for a democrat for now)
4) If you are unaffiliated, you can only vote in the Democrat Primary (meaning you can only vote for a democrat for now)

After reading this, you probably fall into one of the following categories, or something similar.

1) You're not registered to vote and don't want to be. If this is the case, I'm sorry :-)
2) You're not registered to vote but you would really like to vote. If this is the case, you won't be able to vote in this primary election, but you should register NOW for the next election. The reason is that you have to register at least 30 days before the election in which you're voting. See this link for voter registration information.
3) You're registered to vote, but your voter record has the wrong address. You don't need to go through the address change process (you can, but it's more hassle and you'll miss this primary election). Instead, just show up to one of the voting locations with an ID that has proof of where you currently live. A utility bill or something of that nature would be very helpful to bring too. Then just fill out a provisional ballot at the polling location and they will allow you to change the address at that point. Vote, and you're done.
4) You're registered to vote and your voter record is correct. Get out to one of the polling locations in your area!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Ahhh, the power of a bicycle bell

I couldn't help but post this when I saw it. Whether you're walking down the street or riding an escalator, it might be a good idea to carry a bell when you're in Japan.

Friday, January 04, 2008

What do you get when...?

What do you get when you combine the following in a German Engineer's stirring pot:

An alternative fuel (biodiesel, BTL, synfuel, etc)
2.2L of sparkplug-free engine displacement
Two turbochargers
A splash of urea
A 7-speed transmission
4 wheels (with all-wheel drive)
And a few other bits and bobs


Short answer: Gina's future "mom car," the Mercedes Benz GLK.

Long answer: You get an engine that pulls like a train, has cleaner exhaust than L.A.'s air, has dual stage turbochargers (so you can still have fun), and is quieter than any diesel you've ever heard. And you get that engine with a 7-speed transmission put into a body with all-wheel drive that will tow toys, lug the kids/bikes/dog/skis/etc around, (or if you're the typical American it'll just be lugging you around alone) while already beating the fuel economy standards of the year 2020 (35mpg). The best part? It comes out this fall, so start saving your Benjamins, you'll need about 380 of them, give or take.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

VW and TDI marketing

VW has kind of lacked on the marketing for TDI's (diesel engines) in my opinion, but then again I can kind of understand why... They don't need to advertise when most TDI's are sold before they even reach the lot and used ones hold their value so well. Why advertise when more people are trying to buy a TDI than there are TDI's available? Well, they are finally upping the production of TDI engines in multiple models in the near future and more specifically the new Jetta TDI wagen (dubbed the Sportwagen) is set to appear on US roads this fall! So, with the increase in TDI production, they have a reason to start marketing it. I can't wait, if only I could afford one!

And here is the web page that sparked this post And that's right, a true 40-50mpg out of a car that literally hauls! Not to mention it is cleaner than nearly all other cars currently on the road today.