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by Sebastian Wren

May 1, 2006

Somebody on the Austin Neighborhood Council discussion list was pointing out that gas consumption in Texas has dropped by 0.6% -- almost, but not quite 1%. And this is good.  Consumption has been going up or years -- this is the first time it has actually gone down.

But still... not even one percent... Gas is at a record-high $3.00 per gallon, you would think that would have a more dramatic effect on people's behavior.

One of the people on ANC asked:

"I wonder if the reduction is primarily due to vehicles' getting more efficient (behemoth-class SUVs being replaced by cars) or if folks are finally starting to make saner choices (living closer to where they work, making one trip instead of three).  Anyone care to hazard a guess?"

I would say it is probably a bit of both -- SUV sales are down; hybrid sales are up.  But that by itself will not change consumption very quickly.  It would take 15 years to replace all the Hummers and Suburbans with more modest cars.

Some people probably are taking the bus, or walking, or simply choosing not to make a trip that is purely optional.

Interestingly, I would wager that most people are NOT doing the things that would be by far easiest to do.

1. Slow down.  When we had an oil crisis back in the 70s, our visionary national leaders imposed a 55 MPH national speed-limit.  It worked -- gas consumption dropped immediately. (So did traffic deaths, but we're not here to talk about that.)  Driving at 65 MPH, rather than 55 MPH, increases fuel consumption by 20%!! Driving at 75 MPH, rather than 65 MPH, increases fuel consumption by another 25%!!  Who here can't drive 55?

2. Slow down again.  Rapid acceleration in city driving is a great way pour gas out your tailpipe.  Accelerate slowly, and save gas.  This will also make your car last longer, but we're not here to talk about that.

3. Tune up your car.  Keep tires inflated properly, and keep the engine tuned up, and you'll save gas -- as much as 20%.  And you'll pollute less... but we're not here to talk about that, either.

4. Drop weight.  Empty all unnecessary stuff out of your trunk.  If you can drop 100 pounds of unnecessary weight out of the car, you will save about 2% on your gas bill.  Tell Aunt Edna to stay home -- that's 300 pounds right there.

5. Get there, and park.  Trolling around the parking lot looking for a better parking space is a total waste.  Park in the first spot you see, and walk. You'll actually get there faster, you'll be healthier, and you'll save gas at the same time.

6. Take the direct route.  It may be faster to drive out to the highway, drive 70 MPH to the other end of town, and then cut across to your destination, but it is more efficient to drive the most direct route.

These 6 things involve no sacrifice at all.  None.  You don't have to get a new car.  You don't have to eliminate trips.  You don't have to give up your private, air conditioned box.  Nothing.  Most of them just require a tiny bit of patience and planning.

The only thing that might cost you anything is getting your car tuned up.  But even that can be done on the cheap (at the very least, make sure your tires are inflated properly, and change your air filter...)

I don't think that $3.00 per gallon is expensive enough to really change people's habits.  They complain, but they go on about their lives, changing absolutely nothing.  But maybe $4.00 or $4.50 will do it.  Maybe then, at the very least, we'll drop the national speed limit, and start driving more conservatively.


March 10, 2006

My new Ipod died a few days ago.  Bummer.  The Apple website was no help, so I took a little time yesterday to drive all the way down to Barton Springs Mall to visit the Apple Store to see if they could fix it. 

Big mistake.

I stood around in the store (about 1:00 in the afternoon -- no crowds) for 15 minutes waiting for a "genius" (they literally wear shirts with the word "genius" on them) to talk to me.  The woman in line in front of me got disgusted with the waiting and finally left in a huff.  After 15 minutes, a genius asked me if I was "Eric."  I said I wasn't, and she started looking around for Eric.  When Eric wasn't apparent, she asked me what time my appointment was for.  I didn't know I was supposed to make an appointment to see a genius... I thought this was a store.... In the mall... Where I could just walk in with a problem with my Ipod.  And they would fix it.  Or at least send it back to the factory for me.

No, no, no... She said I needed an appointment, and that I could make an appointment through their website.  She waved over a woman (not a genius) who pulled me aside to show me how to use their computers to set up an appointment.  She walked me through the steps to sign up for an appointment (by now, she could have taken my damn Ipod, I could have been on my way).  Sadly, there was not an appointment available until 4:00 that afternoon.  In the mean time, Ms. Genius was just standing around looking bored, waiting for her next appointment.  Who probably will never come.  Because this is a stupid system.

So I left.  What else am I supposed to do?  I drove clear across town, walked through the mall (my fault -- I parked on the wrong end), waited 15 minutes, spent another 5 to 10 minutes being rebuked, and I left with my broken Ipod still in hand.  That's an hour I'll never see again.

When all you can come up with for a corporate mission statement is "Think Different," this is the result. 

It's different -- I'll grant them that.

February 8, 2006

I just heard a fascinating story on NPR.  It seems that when a woman gets pregnant, some of the fetus' cells cross over into the mother's bloodstream.  And they stay there for 40 years or more.  You would think that since they are, technically, the cells of another person, with different DNA, they would be attacked by the mother's immune system, but they're not.  If a woman has ever been pregnant, these cells can be found in her system decades after the pregnancy... another person's cells... another person's DNA... just floating around.

What are they doing there?  Evidence is mounting that they are there to protect the mother.

These fetal cells act very much like stem cells -- when the mother suffers from injury or disease, these fetal cells spring into action, and start repairing the damaged area.  Or at least that's what it looks like.  Researchers have been collecting biopsies from women who have hepatitis or other diseases, and they find that where there is damaged tissue, there are thousands of these fetal cells congregating and differentiating, apparently to repair the damage.  A woman who has liver disease from hepatitis, for example, gets a bunch of new, healthy liver cells from these fetal cells.

Cool, eh?

So all of the stem cell research debate is really kind of stupid when you think of it in these terms -- fetal stem cells are a natural gift from God... but only for women.

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