Just say No

Google just asked to be allowed access to fairly low-level functionality on my computer. There’s a chance I might have benefitted from saying yes, but there was no explanation at all given for why the Goog should have that access. No value proposition whatsoever, just “Google wants to use the accessibility interface”. (That’s not the exact quote, which I now regret not saving.)

Honestly, I don’t even know how to prove the request came from Google. So if you get something like that, do like I did. Say no.

One Damn Mile

We all know that turning off lights in unoccupied rooms is not only economically smart, it’s good for the planet. Lightbulbs use electricity. Electricity costs money and its production harms the environment. Turning off lights is a simple win-win.

But here’s a thought experiment for you: How much does your car’s mileage change when its headlights are on? Is it even measurable? Even when your car is idling?

Let’s do some quick math. Based on sources I cite here, a gallon of gas is considered to be the energy equivalent of 34kWh of electricity (34.02, actually. You know this ridiculous false precision is the result of politics, but this is the number that MPGe is based on.) That’s the amount of energy needed to light 340 100-watt incandescent bulbs for an hour.

But to make the comparison fair, we have to factor in the energy required to get the gas into your tank, and the energy lost to bring the power to the socket in your wall. The math I used in the previous episode resulted in a gallon of gas requiring 5 gallons of gas to reach the pump (refining takes a lot of energy), while it takes 2kWh of additional electricity to bring you the 1kWh you burn. We then divide the gasoline energy by six, and the socket electricity efficiency by three, and that brings us to a slightly-more-honest conversion factor of 68kWh of wall-socket electricity per gallon-in-tank of gasoline. Let’s call it 70 to avoid any pretense of false precision ourselves.

That number will move violently depending on where your gasoline and electricity comes from. 70kWh/gallon is just some wild-assed number based on broad averages, but it’s a number less false than most.

Let’s say, to keep the math easy, that you drive a car that gets about 30 miles per gallon (most of us don’t). That comes out to about 2kWh per mile. Roughly speaking, all the lights in your house, on all night, is about the same as driving one mile in your car (if your car is relatively efficient).

One damn mile.

Unless, of course, you’ve converted to compact fluorescent and LEDs in your home. In that case one damn mile could light your house for a week.

Let’s look at things another way, as long as we have our calculators out. The question: how much energy do I save if I choose a car that gets one slim mile more per gallon?

Of course, that depends on how much you drive. But let’s say you tune up your car and inflate your tires and your mileage improves from 30 to 31. And entirely doable scenario.

We’re going to have to go to unsupported decimal points here, so the numbers that pop out are only valid when compared to each other.

70kWhpg/30mpg = 2.33 kWh per mile
70kWhpg/31mpg = 2.25 kWh per mile

Savings: 700 Watt-hours per mile

Improving your mileage from 30mpg to 31 saves about as much energy as you use burning a 70w incandescent bulb for ten hours, every damn mile you drive. Improving from 20mpg to 21 saves more than twice that. Have your checked your tire pressure lately? That simple act could mean a lot. All your other good-energy-citizen choices are dwarfed by your choice of car, and the way you maintain it.

The takeaway here is simple: Yes, please do buy energy-star appliances. Turn off the lights when you leave a room. Be smart. But don’t go the extra mile. Not in your car, at least.


Christmas Time, Tool Time – Advice for Tool-Givers

I just saw an ad for a tool that didn’t interest me much, but I noticed that the neatly-bearded spokesman in his flannel shirt was standing in what was declared by the subtitles to be the “Tool Research Laboratory”, or something like that.

The set was clearly NOT a tool research laboratory, competing with CSI:Miami for “Least Practical Lighting for a Place Where People Use Their Eyes On the Job” award.

But… Somewhere there actually is a facility where people work hard to produce new, better tools. The people sitting at the workbenches aren’t necessarily wearing flannel; many of them likely have advanced degrees and spend their recreational hours reading about new alloys and fabrication techniques.

An example challenge: Make a better wrench. No biggie, it’s just a tool that has quietly matured over the centuries. But now, with math and engineering and gol-danged science, people are making better wrenches. Most of the emphasis in this new tool revolution is on convenience and one-size-does-more designs, which are all right, but then you get an ingenious device that puts the force on the flats of the bolt, rather than the corners, allowing you to apply a lot more force. A genuine improvement on an old standard*.

Christmas is the time these devices get to strut on the television, as women try to find gifts for men who don’t seem interested in things that are knitted. (Hint: many of those guys are looking forward to holiday leftovers more than they are to the gifts. Because there’s something magical about holiday leftovers. Just sayin’.)

You know, upon further review that last paragraph was pretty sexist. To the guy looking to buy tools for his husband, or the woman trying to figure out how to leave some hints as she cleans the grime from under her fingernails, I say rock on, and don’t forget the leftovers. Forgive me as I perpetuate the stereotype with my use of pronouns to follow.

Hey, remember the SnakeLight? It’s just a rechargeable flashlight with a bendy section, but many years ago when I got one for Christmas I was amazed at how useful it was. There’s a whole SnakeLight product category now. That’s a win.

Finally, the promised advice for tool-givers: beware the one magical wrench that’s as good as a whole set of traditional wrenches. It’s probably not quite as good, and your tool-appreciating gift target already has a whole wrench set and knows how to use it. When Tool User opens the package during your holiday ceremony, he will likely exclaim with happy surprise, but you will know he’s faking it.

But later, in the shop, on many occasions that every-wrench-in-one device is the one your beloved tool user will reach for rather than take the time to find the exact right wrench out of his set. Well, unless your tool user is like me. I’m a frightfully slow worker, and part of that is not just choosing the right wrench, but getting it positioned optimally. So give me a wrench that can reach a nut I couldn’t reach before. That is the one that will make he hairs on the back of my neck stand up — almost as much as a turkey sandwich with all the fixins.

Oh, and battery-powered tools are fundamentally inferior to ones you plug into the wall. The 120 seconds lost to laying the cord and coiling it up again dwarf the loss of power, the time lost messing with batteries, and the general better performance of the tool. Hippies and true craftsmen agree: batteries are no good.

Go Tool Research Laboratory! I’d apply for a job there, but I’m wretchedly unqualified.

* I’ve never seen sockets that embrace this innovation. Get on that, Tool Research Laboratory!


NaNoWriMo Debrief

Whew! November’s over and I put another 50,000 words behind me. 50,032, to be exact, finishing with six fat minutes to spare.

Not of all of those words were worth reading again, by any stretch. Still, it was an interesting exercise this year, one I seemed hell-bent to make more difficult for myself. Here are a few of the elements that made this novel different:

  • Very few characters – Four, to be exact, and one of them dies around chapter two or so. The one who made it possible for the remaining characters to communicate is kidnapped, leaving two characters for the rest of the way, and they can only talk to each other on special occasions. Since I’m a guy who lives for dialog, that made things tough.
  • A dying world – bad things have happened, and the world has been mortally wounded. The oceans are drying up, or draining, or something. Even where there is still water to be found, Life (big-L life, the ecosystem as a whole) seems to have given up.
  • The remaining two characters were constructed – One was built to assassinate wizards. The other was built to protect a wizard from assassins. The wizards are all long gone, but their creations live on.
  • Guaranteed Furry audience – Wolf is pretty cool, and not someone who just looks like a wild animal much of the time; some of my favorite parts of the story are when she shows her true wolfish nature.

Will I pick up where I left off and fill out the story? Let’s just say there are a couple of other stories on top of this one in the to-do pile.

Big Sale at Poetic Pinup Revue!

Exciting times over at Poetic Pinup Revue! For one razor-thin day, you can score a huge discount on the upcoming issue, and even on a subscription for the next year. Details are at The Revue. To get a feel for what the mag is like, you can check out a few samples here, but you will have to imagine the pages big and glossy and super high resolution and in your hand.

And if that’s not enough, for tomorrow only, we’re selling back issues at half price! Woo! Some of the issues are in short supply, and when they’re gone, that’s it, most likely forever. If you like poetry and/or art photography (both in a wide variety of styles), you owe it to yourself to grab at least one of these big, glossy, beautiful magazines. Here’s a couple of my favorite covers, but you should head on over to the The Revue to take advantage of this clean-the-closet special. The special prices are available on the sale page; just scroll on down and choose your favorite back issues.