Worthwhile Places

When I moved from Ames, Iowa to the DC area, I was excited to live in a place with character. In cities like Alexandria and Georgetown, you are greeted with beautiful brick shops and row-houses as you make your way down the main streets.  Assuming you had a house near public transit or close to downtown, you could easily walk anywhere you needed to go.  Those neighborhoods provided a friendly outdoor space that was exciting and pleasing to the eye.  It was then that I wrote off the midwest as a boring wasteland of parking lots and farms.

When I moved to Michigan, I began exploring the areas around Lansing and Ann Arbor to get a sense of what the state was like, from the factories to the parks to the small towns.  What I found most appealing was the multitude of beautiful, small towns that dot the countryside, situated along rail lines.  These towns grew up from the mid-1800′s to the birth of the automobile.  Each town features beautiful brick, Victorian houses and main streets lined with inviting storefronts.  The same aesthetic I found pleasing on the East Coast was just under the surface here in Michigan.  Towns like Chelsea,Belding, and Mason.  However, these quaint towns in Michigan have long since been forgotten as rail travel declined and the smaller factories that supported the towns ceased operation.    Michigan is now dotted with factories that sprawl hundreds of acres, surrounded by sprawling, lonely suburban developments and sterile, big-box stores.

In a way, Michigan was a victim of its own success.  The success of the automobile is what pushed people out of these small cities into the larger factory cities and eventually into the sprawling suburbs we have today.  Interestingly enough, Henry Ford hated to see what was happening to these rural cities as workers moved to the larger factory cities.  He began a Village Industries program that sought to establish smaller factories in these smaller, rural cities that made various automobile parts.  Unfortunately, the costs associated with this program were too high to compete with the centralized factories.  Ford built Greenfield Village as a living museum to demonstrate what small town life was like before the mass-produced automobile.  It’s quite telling that the man who brought the automobile to the masses simultaneously strove to keep this old way of living alive or in memory.

Visiting rural Minnesota, I see the same thing.  Beautiful, small farming towns that boomed in the late 1800′s to early 1900′s, now largely abandoned as small farms become factory farms and consumption shifts to larger retail stores thirty miles away.

To the laissez faire economist, this is natural.  The cheapest, most efficient means of manufacturing won the day.  But what did we lose in order to have cheap cars?  What did we gain?  I enjoy automobiles – they’re fast, look cool, and are fun to drive.  But I believe we’ve sacrificed too much of our quality of life in return for the perceived advantage of being able to drive anywhere we want, when we want.  There has to be some balance between the freedom of movement we get from automobiles and quality of life in our communities.

I have yet to visit an automobile-dependent neighborhood that has the same social and economic vitality as one that can be travelled easily by foot or public transit.  Our cities and neighborhoods simply cease to function as healthy social environments as soon as we transport ourselves alone within moving steel boxes and situate our dwellings as far as possible from each other.  We need to change our cities to promote healthy social environments.

Published in: on February 15, 2010 at 01:41  Leave a Comment  

Haitian Sensation

This semester, Julie is taking a caribbean music class.  One of the projects for the class is to observe a caribbean musical event.  The professor of the class is fluent in Haitian creole and spent a good deal of time doing ethnographic studies of Haitian music.  So, one of the musical events recommended by the professor was to observe a Haitian church service here in Lansing.  One of Julie’s classmates invited her to go to the service, so, naturally, I tagged along.

We drove a mile down the road to Central Free Methodist Church, home of Église Méthodiste Libre du Calvaire.  I’m always apprehensive when I go to non-white-American cultural event.  I assume everyone will view me as a strange outsider and I will be unwelcome.  It was not so here!  Right off the bat we were greeted by the pastor’s wife and the pastor’s assistant.  They were celebrating their 5th anniversary and there was a baptism . Everyone seemed very happy to be there.  

The music was an experience in itself.  It was fun trying to sing in creole and trying to translate everything.  I knew “merci,” “bonjour,” “bien,” and “mwen.”  The pastor also translated a few things for us after he introduced us to the congregation.  Most of the music had a caribbean groove to it and made you want to dance – although being white, I did not try to dance.  The instrumentation included electric guitar, bass, piano, a drum set, and hand drums.  At one point two women each sang some very beautiful solos that seemed to be improvised.  Very haunting, but beautiful sounds. During communion, all of the congregants lined up in the front. The pastors handed out the elements as they all sang an old hymn.  

Although it was 98% in creole, the sermon was about the church – both big-C Church and little-c church.  The local church – Légliz lokal la –  and the universal church – Légliz Univésel la.  A very appropriate topic as we were able to worship as brothers and sisters in Christ (Jezu ki) despite coming from entirely different parts of the world and speaking very different languages.

After the service we were invited to have dinner with everyone.  There was a mix of American pizza and mac and cheese, some egg rolls, and some traditional Haitian food.  I headed straight for the Haitian treats.  One was a stew they called “Legeems” that was a mix of chicken (and if I heard him correctly, most parts of the chicken) and vegetables.  They also served a sweet soda bread and some crispy, oily chips that almost seemed like fried flour tortillas.  After all that, the pastor brought us some “paddies” that his wife made that were pastry puffs filled with spiced ground meat.  The pastry dough was like a sourdough.  The whole thing melted in my mouth.  

As a special bonus, the pastor prayed over Julie and I that we would have a new baby within a year.  It’s not what we’re planning right now, but if God wants it to happen, then we’ll have a true miracle on our hands!

Published in: on February 2, 2009 at 12:00  Comments (1)  

True Conservatism

One thing that really bothered me while watching the Republican National Convention was when Michael Steele made the famous statement, “drill, baby, drill!” referring to the Republicans’ plan to open up more areas to oil and natural gas drilling in response to the current energy crisis.  Instead of addressing the problem of reckless waste in America, the Republican solution is to use up every last drop of oil we can get our hands on.  The entire world was blessed by what once was an abundance of cheap petroleum, a substance that is packed with potential energy and is extremely easy to obtain and carry around.  However, we’ve managed to nearly suck our own supply dry and are in the process of sucking up what remains in the rest of the world.  As a society, we only consider conservation when people are fighting us for it or when we simply can’t afford it.

The problem is that we’ve left our frugality up to the free market.  When oil is cheap, we consume it like there’s no tomorrow.  When oil is expensive, we cut our consumption a little bit, but assume that technology will save us and something else is going to come along to replace oil.  We’ve completely invested ourselves in a way of living that assumes access to abundant and cheap energy that is easy to transport.  If this energy source dries up, we’ll be in a lot of trouble and we’ll spend the rest of our lives explaining to our children that we can’t call for an ambulance because we spent 15 minutes at the Starbucks drive-through each morning, idling the 8-cylinder engines in our cars, waiting for burnt coffee that was shipped from Indonesia.

What’s ironic is that way back in 1958, M. King Hubbert, a geophysicist working for Shell Oil, predicted that the total production of Oil in the US would peak between 1965 and 1975.  Production levels would hit a maximum and then decline as the oil ran out and became more difficult to get out of the ground.  This proved true and led to the 1970′s oil crisis when OPEC realized they could influence US foreign policy by cutting off the supply to our increasing oil demand.  Some have predicted that global oil production peaked in 2005 or that it might come as late as 2030.  There’s also debate whether oil production suddenly falls off like we saw in the US or that it will gradually decrease.  Either way we can be sure that we will run out of oil (or at least easily obtainable oil) and that we ought to use it wisely and prepare for a time when we won’t have it.  You’ll find that we also depend quite a bit on natural gas, which faces the same problem – we’re going to hit a peak within 30 years if we haven’t already.

The worst part of this crisis is that there is no good replacement for oil.  Oil is essentially years of sun, water, and carbon packed into a convenient liquid.  Many of the alternatives we talk about try to essentially short-cut the oil making process.

Let’s go over some of the alternatives.

Hydrogen

This is everyone’s favorite alternative.  What they don’t tell you is that most of the hydrogen produced today is simply processed from natural gas.  Once that runs out, we’d have to use electrolysis or genetically engineered organisms that process biomass.  Electrolysis is very energy intensive. The energy you put into splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen is more than what you get out of it from the hydrogen produced.  Typically, the processes that involve genetically engineered organisms require some sort of organic feed stock and a lot of land.  We’ll get to that in the next section.  What’s also problematic about hydrogen is that it’s very difficult to store and transfer.  It has to be highly pressurized, opening it up to risk of explosion.  Hydrogen also requires containers made from special materials because it is very corrosive and, being the smallest element, tends to seep through even metal.

Ethanol, biodiesel, biomass

Ethanol is the darling of midwestern policy makers.  The hope is to replace, or mostly replace oil with fermented plants or animal waste.  This sounds great until you realize that our farmers currently have such high yields because their crops are fertilized with ammonia, which is produced from natural gas.  We’re essentially eating natural gas and making ethanol out of natural gas.  Some studies have also suggested that there simply isn’t enough arable land in the world to supply biomass for our increasing energy needs, especially if there was no petroleum with which to fertilize crops and power farm equipment.

Another issue facing both hydrogen and bio-based energy is that a lot water is required to produce either.  With bio energy, you’re limited to using fresh water, which is becoming more and more scarce.  Water levels in the Great Lakes have been steadily decreasing and many aquifers in the midwest are drying up.  The massive reservoirs in the Southwest are also failing to meet demand as water is shipped to LA, Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Las Vegas.

Synfuel

Some people have proposed converting coal into gasoline (and other fuels) using a process developed by German scientists when Hitler was gearing up for war.  The US Air Force has already started using synfuels.  The problem is that this will cut our 100 year supply of coal down to 30 years or fewer.  It’s also very dirty as it releases tons of carbon dioxide.

Plug-in cars

Another alternative proposed is to power our cars off of the power grid.  The first problem with this is that 22% of our power generation comes from – you guessed it – natural gas!  The other problem is that battery technology has plateaued, even with the high demand of electronics over the past 20 years.  GM keeps putting of a half-battery powered car because they can’t find the right battery that can survive extreme temperatures, keep a charge long enough, and not need to be trashed after two years of use.

The best and simplest way out of this crisis is to change how we live.  Here are some quick, practical ways to get going in the right direction:

  • Drive more conservatively.  Slowing down (45-60mph is good), accelerating slowly, and anticipating traffic can boost fuel economy significantly.  I regularly squeeze 42mpg out of my car that’s rated at 36mpg.  Manual transmissions help a lot as you can shift early and coast without burning fuel.
  • Drive less.  The best solution is to live close to your job and shopping.  Being able to walk or bike to both is best.  I really suck at this, given that I drive 66 miles to work :(
  • Go vegetarian.  Meat is very tasty, but it’s also very energy intensive, compared to growing vegetables.  At the very least, giving up beef — the most energy intensive meat — is a good step.
  • Paper over plastic.  I had a laugh when I recently read a label on a plastic bag at the grocery store that said plastic was better than paper because it was made from natural gas instead of trees.  I’d rather recycle or reuse a paper bag than use up more petroleum.
  • Cloth over paper.  Bring a duffel bag or buy some linen grocery bags so you don’t have to use paper or plastic at the store.  In Germany and Austria, Julie and I got some cool linen shopping bags with drawings of famous buildings from the cities we visited.
  • Recycle.  We’ve been able to cut our trash output in half by recycling paper (mostly junk mail), boxes, cans, and glass.  Vegetable scraps go in our compost bin.  Instead of sending food through the garbage disposal and into the river, at least put it in the trash.  Most landfills convert your rotting food and diapers into electricity.  One of the best ways to recycle is aluminum cans.  Aluminum requires a lot of energy to manufacture.
  • Consume less.  Do you really need all that stuff in your basement?  Do you really need to stuff yourself when you go out to eat?
  • Ride the train.  Airplanes get about 32 passenger miles per gallon while trains get 54.  Trains offer a much more pleasant experience, especially if you travel on the East Coast.
  • Eat locally.  Instead of buying produce shipped from California or Peru, eat food that was grown close to you.

Oil has done tremendous things for the world.  We can import goods from all over the world. We can drill water wells for people deep in remote jungles.  We can have completely sterile plastic instruments and high tech equipment for medical procedures.  We can visit every corner of our country and meet many different people.  We’ve been able to produce an abundance of food, enough to feed everyone on the planet.  We live until we’re 70 to 100 years old.  We can choose where we want to work.  We can take a vacation to a tropical resort.

It would be unimaginable to see all of these wonderful things disappear just because we find it more convenient right now to live in the suburbs and not have to think about conservation.  We can’t gamble on technology to save us.

So you’re probably thinking, “nice, a political post right before the election.”  What disappoints me is that not even Obama is willing to take the drastic steps needed to truly stop wasting oil.  His proposals are really only half-measures, like promoting cars that get 100mpg by 2015.  It doesn’t address the underlying problem that our current living arrangements are based on the assumption that we’ll always have the energy that we demand.

What this comes down to is how responsible are we going to be with this amazing resource we’ve been endowed with?  We can’t sustain the pace we’re at.  It’s time to slow down!

Published in: on October 26, 2008 at 11:12  Comments (4)  

The Oakland-Saginaw Plan

Just down the street from my house is an intersection with Saginaw Avenue, a one-way street that varies from four to five lanes and takes traffic from the west side of Lansing to the city’s border with East Lansing.  The entire stretch of road is blighted as it is unpleasant to live by a giant road full of speeding cars.  

This year, the city of Lansing has been investigating ways to make the corridor more livable by scaling down the size of Saginaw and Oakland Avenues.  The roads used to be packed with traffic when hundreds of workers drove to the now-defunct GM factories.  Today, it is a mostly empty stretch of deteriorating road.  Many of the houses along the road lost major chunks of their yards and narrow, buckled sidewalks precariously line the streets.  It’s quite depressing and it’s something I’ve wanted to have fixed since my wife and I moved here a year ago. 

This spring, I got a newsletter announcing planning meetings to discuss the possibility of a “road diet” that would shrink the roads and provide space for bike lanes and greenery.  I was stoked!  Unfortunately, I had to miss the first two meetings (it’s difficult when I work an hour away).  I was able to make the final meeting this week.  It was very informative, but a little frustrating at the same time.

Overall, most of the people involved and the contractors in charge of investigating the road use options favor development along the corridor that focuses on friendly, walkable streets and medium density infill.  To me, this was a very good sign.  Lansing’s urban fabric has evolved from a turn-of-the-20th-century city into a quasi-suburban wasteland as streets have been widened, light rail lines torn up or paved over, depressingly bland buildings built, and neighborhoods abandoned for the suburbs.  Today, people are figuring out how bad of a living arrangement that makes and there is a desire to refurbish downtown Lansing.  

There were many people who came to the meeting simply to express their opposition to any downsizing of the roads.  Residents from surrounding communities feared longer commutes across town.  Business owners feared lost business due to customers’ fear of traffic.  

The agenda focused on the draft land use recommendation put together by past meetings.  The draft recommended medium-density infill along many parts of the Oakland-Saginaw corridor and a commercial and transitional neighborhood at the site of the former Verlinden plant.  

Five options for transforming the roads were reviewed and traffic comparative analysis was presented.  The five options are:

  1. Do nothing
  2. Leave roads one-way, reduce by one or more lane
  3. Make the roads two-way with one lane in each direction, a center turn lane, bike paths, and enhanced greenery.
  4. Make the roads two-way with two Saginaw given two-lanes going East, one lane west, and a center turn lane.
  5. Make the roads two-way as above, but with added bike lanes and green space.
Option #5 was most costly and involved buying up property to widen the roads.  Seemed to be the worst idea.  Options 3 and 4 slowed cross-town traffic by about 3-4 minutes (simulated) and might face opposition by MDOT.  The required traffic signals would be costly.  Option 2 was very cost effective and did not noticeably affect traffic.  Option 1 was cheapest (obviously) but did not fix the aesthetics of the corridor.
The consensus seemed to be that Option 2 was the best.  What makes this option so cost effective is that because the city is already tearing up the streets to replace utilities, paving fewer lanes would be cheaper.  In the short term, lanes can be painted with stripes to winnow traffic into fewer lanes and make the sidewalks a bit more pleasant for a low cost.
I’m excited about the possibilities!  I really hope that the project to slim down the roads is approved.
Published in: on September 5, 2008 at 09:29  Leave a Comment  

What’s a blog for?

I’ve realized that this blog has become useless in the way that I had envisioned it.  Way back in 2003, social networking sites were in their infancy, but blogs and sites like LiveJournal were all the rage.  I set up a LiveJournal account, later, my own Movable Type blog, then a wordpress.com blog.  Over time, I moved from regular, trivial updates, to documenting longer periods of time and vacations.  As sites like Facebook and microblogging have taken over the “what am I up to” space, the posts on this blog seem more and more redundant.  

Therefore, the purpose of this blog will become more theoretical.  I’ll mostly post political-type thoughts here and maybe more in-depth travelogues.  So, updates will be few and far between!  But if you use a feed reader like Google Reader, then my posts will just pop up in your list every now and then.

Published in: on September 5, 2008 at 08:45  Leave a Comment  

Summer’s Apex

This is the best time of year in Michigan.  Warm, summer days, rarely humid, cool nights.  It’s also the time of eating.  There are so many orchards and farms growing fruits and veggies that you can buy really fresh.  It almost makes winter worth it.

We spent the weekend of the 4th up around Traverse City.  We visited wineries along the Old Mission peninsula, tasting wines and getting tours.  I always have a hard time judging wines when I try them individually at meals, but when you have them side by side, you can really taste the difference in flavor and quality.  We got a tour of Chateau Grand Traverse’s production area – very cool!  We stayed at a golf resort near Bellaire that was just so-so.  Every hotel in the area was full, so our options were limited when we booked at the last minute.  I think one of the coolest things about the area is the number of small towns with boutique restaurants and shops.  On the grand scale of things, it really isn’t that touristy once you get outside of Traverse City.  In Bellaire, we had an amazing breakfast at a coffee shop called Moka.  I also got to sample Short’s brewery over lunch.  Some of the best beer I’ve had.  After our stint in TC, we headed to Empire near Sleeping Bear Dunes where Julie’s advisor has a small art shop and a cottage.  We climbed a steep dune cliff up to a deserty plateau.  We had expected to reach the shore of Lake Michigan just over the cliff, but found we had 2 miles to go.  We were already exhausted so we gave up.  

All in all, a great, short vacation.

This week, my dad’s coming to help us finish up the plumbing on our half-bath.  It will be nice to finally have that done.  

I’ve been spending a lot of time freelancing, working on our neighborhood home tour committee, and various tech-related meetups.  I’m also continuing the church website tradition, working on updating code on our church’s website.

The future doesn’t look too exciting.  But then sometimes that’s a good thing :)

Published in: on July 13, 2008 at 01:59  Leave a Comment  

DSO, Construction, Portland, Construction, Storms, Construction

It’s been a busy last few weeks.

I took the Friday before Memorial Day off to spend with Julie right before her birthday.  We saw Ashkenazy’s Pictures at an Exhibition with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.  The regularly scheduled pianist for the performance was sick, so they brought in another guy at the last minute.  He did pretty well, considering.  We were hoping Ashkenazy would play some piano, but he only directed.  It was still enjoyable.  I’ve always liked Pictures since I first heard it as part of the soundtrack to Hearts of Iron.  

After the show we ate at The Whitney.  It’s an awesome restaurant located inside a Victorian mansion just a stone’s throw from the Fisher Theater.  After that we took a depressing drive through downtown Detroit’s abandoned office buildings.  A tribute to the success of the automobile – so successful that everyone drove out of town!

My parents came from Virginia that weekend to help us renovate our kitchen and add a half bathroom over the next two weeks.  As soon as the arrived we started work tearing out the old tile, linoleum, pine flooring, and some plaster/lath walls.  I helped install the new subfloors as well.  

On the Thursday after Memorial Day I headed to Portland for RailsConf 2008.  There were some interesting sessions, but the best part was a keynote by Kent Beck, the father of Extreme Programming (aka XP, the methodology we use at my current job).  What really amazes me about Rails is how well it complements XP.  Another highlight was the free beer and food provided at corporate-sponsored parties and meeting people in meatspace whom I’d only met in cyberspace.

Oh, and Portland is a great city.  Their train system, akin to Munich’s S-Bahn, provides pretty extensive access to the city.  The city has a big beer and coffee culture.  A good deal of hops are grown in Oregon and Portland is home to the “third wave” of coffee companies – the hand-crafted alternatives to the national chains.  I got up bright and early one morning to grab some coffee at Stumptown Coffee Roasters.  It was the best coffee I’d had since the Intelligensia I tried in Chicago.  It’s the kind of coffee that’s so good you don’t need cream or sugar to cover up bitterness or staleness.  At the cafe, I picked out a small package of Nicaraguan coffee and put it on the counter.  The barista said, “do you realize how much that is?”  I looked at the price board and it was $60!  I quickly swapped it for some Salvadorian coffee that was much cheaper.  I brewed it at home in my French press.  It has a nice, warm, nutty flavor.  Mmmmm.  Too bad it’s all gone now!  I also visited the Japanese garden and the rose test garden.  It was too early to see the roses, but the Japanese garden was amazing.  I’d never seen so many Japanese maples, and they were all groomed into ball shapes of all sizes.  

When I returned home I got back into renovation and my day job.  Julie and My parents had already completed the tiling, most of the bathroom, and some of the countertop granite tiling.  I helped where I could.  By the end of the week, we were all exhausted and my parents left for Virginia.  We just have the bathroom plumbing to finish and some new cabinets to install once they arrive.

This last weekend I got a new garage door to replace our old wooden one that had been smashed to pieces.  I thought it would be a pretty quick job, but Julie and I had to abandon the project and I’ve been forced to partially pull the door up and roll underneath, Indiana Jones style.  

This past weekend we also were battered by three strong thunderstorms.  Our power went out Saturday night and remained out until Tuesday morning.  We were obviously low on their priority list.

Now life is back to normal and the garage door is almost done.

Published in: on June 10, 2008 at 11:02  Comments (2)  

Honda Fit

It’s hard to find a good car these days.  With gas prices going up, people around here are ditching their trucks and SUVs and buying up used Hondas, Hybrids, and Diesels.  Domestic car companies help to narrow down the selection, as they don’t even have a serious offering of thrifty, reliable small cars.  The closest match is the Daewoo Chevy Aveo, which consistently receives bad ratings, lacks in features, and has only adequate fuel economy for its size.  And it’s not really a domestic car.  The closest match was the Saturn Astra, but the lowest price was $18000 just to get cruise control and a car that’s rated at 32mpg.  Other than that, it is a pretty nice car but then again, it’s made mostly in Belgium and Argentina and is thus not really a domestic.  The upcoming Ford Fiesta looks promising, but it is a distant dream at this point.

After several nights of edmunds.com, Consumer Reports, visits to dealer lots, and spreadsheets calculating cost per month including gas at different gas prices, I narrowed the field down to three cars.  The Honda Fit, the Volkswagen Rabbit, and a used 2005 Honda Civic SI hatchback.  I was mainly interested in a hatchback because I love the sportiness combined with the ability to haul a lot more stuff than a sedan.  My old RSX was so handy simply because it was like having a miniature truck.  High MPG rating was also key, as I drive 122 miles each day.

I was really impressed with my test drive of the Volkswagen Rabbit.  There were a lot of cool features packed into this car and it came with a traction control program which would be good for winter driving.  However, when talking with the sales rep, I got locked into negotiating a monthly payment, varied by term, so I retreated and played the “gotta talk to my wife” card.  I learned later that the VW dealer in Lansing is notoriously non-negotiable on prices.  However, even if I was to get below invoice on the Rabbit, it would still cost $100 more per month to own than the other alternatives, simply because it gets a measly 29mpg highway with its 2.5L I5.  Why can’t VW put in the 2.0L I4 that the Jetta has?  Or, better yet, a turbo diesel engine!  The Jetta is known to be coming this fall with a TDI engine and the Rabbit is rumored to possibly come with one as well.  At up to 60mpg, a TDI would be the best choice, even at $4.50 per gallon.  Sorry, I can’t wait until fall! 

I found a 2005 Honda Civic SI at a Honda dealer outside of Detroit.  I was pumped about it because it was basically the same as my RSX, just with a taller body, cloth seats, and a strangely-mounted shifter.  When Julie took a test drive with me, we realized that the car smelled of cigarette smoke, and I was greeted with a blast of tobacco fragrance when I turned on the A/C.  Even after a 100-so point inspection, there was pop residue in the cup holders.  The dealer offered another cleaning, but it just didn’t make sense to pay $1,000 less than a brand new Fit to get a used car that will probably always smell bad and get lower mpg.  

Which brings us to the winner – the Honda Fit.  I was really attracted to the low price, the hatchback style, and the 34mpg rating.  The car is an econobox, but it has a ton of storage space and the seats fold into ridiculously awesome positions to maximize hauling room.  Just this weekend we hauled our luggage, a double-tall dorm fridge and a garden full of plants home from Illinois.  I even have more headroom than in the RSX.  I can finally sit up straight when I drive.  On my first tank of gas I averaged 38mpg.  The lowest I’ve seen is 34mpg after a tank’s worth of interstate driving at around 70-76mph.  The only downside is there were no Fit Sports with a manual transmission in Michigan.  I decided to get the base manual model, which means no cruise control.  However, the dealer did tell me that they can install cruise control for a fee.  It may just be worth it.  Since Fits and Civics are being snatched up like crazy, I wasn’t able to negotiate on price.  What really got me is that they added on a fee for having a seat cloth protector sprayed on.  When I asked if this was optional, they insisted that the protector was already applied.  Grrr!  I should have threatened to walk out then, but after days of searching and finally being at the end, I didn’t press the issue.  Now, I realize how silly it is because, supposedly, I have to take it in once a year for a few more years to get more stuff sprayed on.  If that’s the case, then I should have at least only paid for one spraying!  Oh well, live and learn.  I’m really bad at negotiating!  The last time I bought a car, the dealer didn’t even wait for a response to his initial offer before going off to “talk to his manager.”  It was so easy then…

Published in: on May 12, 2008 at 10:30  Comments (4)  

Crash!

On Friday I was on my way home from work when Julie called and told me we were having dinner with our neighbors.  I was pumped!  I continued driving home along a 2-lane highway when the car ahead of me started slowing down at an intersection.  He wasn’t using his signal and for some reason I assumed was going to turn right, so I passed him on the left as there were no cars coming the opposite direction.  Well, he ended up turning left, straight into the rear driver’s side panel.  I slammed on the brakes as I realized this was going to happen and tried to swerve away, but it was no use.  I headed straight for the ditch.  It didn’t really happen in slow motion, but when he hit me, I thought, “crap, I’m in an accident!”  As I headed into the ditch, I thought, “double crap, I’m in the ditch!”  Not in those exact words.  

The ditch was next to a farm and there was a “land bridge” connecting the farm with the highway.  I felt a thump as I landed in the bottom of the ditch and another thump as I ran into the land bridge.   Since my windows were opened, my car was filled with cattail fuzzies.  I got out and made sure the other guy was OK.  He wore a muscle shirt that said, “F— yeah” and didn’t look like someone who’d order an orange mocha frappuccino.  He didn’t seem too angry.  His Ford Escort only had a dented fender.  

I called the police and waited for 45 minutes until a trooper from Ypsilanti (30 miles away, going with rush hour traffic) could get there.  Meanwhile, a few people from work stopped by as the accident site was between work and Chelsea, where they live.    They were all very kind.  It was pretty clear I passed in a no passing zone, so I ended up with a ticket.  Just as my car was towed away, Julie showed up and it was so good to see her.  

After dinner and the drive home, I decided to go to the ER, as my chest was very sore.  Thankfully, it’s just bruised.  It’s nice to have a hospital right across the street!  Especially when I didn’t make it out of there until 12:30am.

So, no more crazy maneuvers like that!

The car is beat up, but I’m thinking it may be salvageable.  The front bumper is a bit beat up, but the radiator is pushed into the engine.  I had tried starting the car in the ditch, but it didn’t sound too good as it ran.  The driver side window is also broken.  There’s a nice dent in the rear side panel.  We’ll see how much it is to fix.  

I’m thankful to be alive!  Praise God!

Published in: on April 26, 2008 at 09:00  Comments (1)  

Supermiling, or, How I Averaged 38mpg

This morning, on my way to work, I stopped at the gas station for a fill-up.  As is customary, I enter my milage using Twitter and MyMileMarker, which texts me back my average MPG.  My tachometer (or, taco-meter, as I like to call it) odometer [thanks, Topher!] was at 399 miles.  I was sure I’d be putting 11 or 12 gallons in, as I normally get 30-32mpg, maybe 34 on a good day.  I was utterly surprised when the pump stopped at 10.5 gallons.  I even topped off the tank just make sure it wasn’t a fluke.

A fairly recent pastime for some (following the introduction of the Toyota Prius) has been Hypermiling.  Lately, I’ve realized that by driving over 70mph every day to work, my gas milage has plummeted to around 30-31mpg.  I decided to start taking the back way home on M-52 and M-36 through Chelsea (home of Jiffy cornbread mix).  It’s all 2-lane highways through a state park and somewhat hilly farms.  It takes 10 minutes longer, but it is much more pleasant that the freeway and for when I’m not in a rush.  This change alone, going from 74mph average to 55mph average has made a big difference.

Some other things that I have done:

Shift early, accelerate slow.  The RSX has a i-VTEC engine that varies the amount of fuel injected based on RPMs.  The owners manual recommends shifting at 3000rpm.  However, I found that I can accelerate with minimal throttle when I shift at 2000rpm.  I used to be a late shifter, regularly exceeding 3000rpm.  I also found that my engine switches from 2 fuel injectors to 4 per cylinder when it crosses the 2800rpm threshold.  Keeping below 2800rpm in 5th (top) gear puts me at a comfortable 61mph.  

Coasting.  A big boost to mpg comes from coasting instead of braking.  The high compression ratio of my engine makes for more effective engine braking.  When coasting in gear, the engine uses zero fuel as it can rely on momentum to keep the engine running.  When parking, I turn off the engine early and coast into the driveway or parking spot.

Accessories.  I read somewhere that accessories consume about 2% of a car’s efficiency.  I only use the air conditioning when I need it.  I also use my iPod/headphones instead of the car stereo.

Hard core hypermilers go to lengths as great as tailgating semis and “pulsing” the engine – accelerating up to 55mph, then shutting off the engine and coasting.  That’s probably not a good idea on Michigan freeways, where people commonly whiz by at 80+mph.  

It’s been a lot of fun trying to optimize fuel economy and it’s made a 19% difference already.  

Published in: on April 18, 2008 at 06:05  Comments (1)  
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