Sunday, April 28, 2013

On Cars: what the future will hold

A lot of people wonder what the future of cars will be in the US. will we all be driving ethanol based cars? hydrogen cars? or what?

The most likely solution is what is already happening, what many families have already done. Its the most obvious solution that most Americans will take, the one your family has already taken, and many other families as well. People will drive smaller cars.

People are starting to, and will continue to drive smaller cars. We aren't going to turn into Europeans, driving tiny cars, but at the same time our gasoline isn't as expensive as theirs. the more expensive the gas, the smaller the cars will get. Since our gasoline in the US (post economic recovery) will likely be between 3 and 4 dollars for the foreseeable future, our cars will be smaller than they were when gas was in the 1.50 range. It is econ 101 really. Price goes up, people readjust to it.

aAs far as hydrogen goes. you'll be pushing daisies before that ever becomes useful, and as far as odds go, I feel the odds are about even that I drive a flying car, as I drive a hydrogen powered car.
There are various reasons that hydrogen is a fantasy, and people disagree as to what the biggest barriers are.I'd say the biggest reason is that hydrogen cars today, cost roughly 1,000,000 to produce. you read that correctly, by the way. 1 million. In addition, Hydrogen costs about 5.00 a gallon (with obvious conversions in a ratio of energy units, because you wouldn't be using gallons). also, there isn't free hydrogen floating around. its not an energy source, for all intents and purposes its a battery, creating hydrogen in a source that can be used for energy, requires energy. there is some possibility that hydrogen could be used as a battery, transporting energy from one location to another, for example the US could produce tons of wind energy in the great plains, but has little use of it there.. so generate electricity, use electricity to create hydrogen, then transport and use the hydrogen... even this is years off because hydrogen is a bitch to transport. transport it as a gas, and you aren't transporting much, transport it as a liquid, and well hydrogen is really unsafe to have it as a liquid.

Ethanol is just a way for congress to drop Billions of pork on farm lobby,  ethanol from corn is a giant waste of time. in terms of burning potential you end up with less energy when you convert gasoline into ethanol (you don't really convert it, but you need to put energy in to get ethanol, and converting corn into ethanol is a negative energy product).. some say its positive but they are factoring in you get some food byproducts, which is true.. but from a fuel perspective, you don't gain any energy.. you can get energy from converting sugar into ethanol, which brazil does quite effectively.
Ethanol as corn masquerades as being for US energy independence, and god knows a lot of other things.. in reality its just a sweet farm subsidy.

As far as coming up with a real solution to our growing gas problems (and in a broader sense: energy usage). the best one is often the simplest. And a good one is pretty simple. Its electric cars and batteries. Now the answer isn't 100% electric cars, because that technology is years off, and implementing an infrastructure for that to be effective would take time. But making cars electric for the first 20 to 40 miles would do a great service to the air we breath, our pocket book, the price of gasoline, and our dependence on oil.
Most people only drive small short trips on a regular basis. they just go to work and back, etc. the majority of driving in this country is short trips like that. Put a small electric motor in the car, like the ones that are currently in the prius and modify it so that it can be plugged in and you reduce the amount of gasoline (drastically) that people are using.

Reduce the amount of gasoline people use and the price of gas goes down electricity is cheaper than gasoline, and electric motors are about 4 times more efficient than internal combustion engines using electricity instead of gas, would improve air quality.. even if the electricity is produced from coal

Saturday, April 27, 2013

'Victim Blaming'

There have been a series of highly publicized high school rapes in the past several months (most notably Steubenville Ohio) where the girls were unconscious and raped by their male peers. There are so many different topics worthy of discussion from cases like this but I want to focus on only one: victim blaming.

Inevitably in these situations someone suggests that women should be taught the dangers of excessive alcohol intake and whomever makes that suggestion is accused of being a part of 'rape culture' and that they are 'blaming the victim'. Since no one wants to seem pro-rape people are able to successfully shout down what is an entirely reasonable and rational approach to tackling not only this issue but to several societal problems and that is the dangers of binge drinking.

Drinking to the point where you are borderline comatose is stupid. I feel like that point is incredibly obvious but it warrants repeating: drinking until you are unconscious is stupid. In and of itself has the potential for killing you just due to the effects of alcohol. In addition to that you are at an increased risk of being taken advantage of by other people.

For women this means that getting really drunk increases the chance that you'll be raped. It does not mean that she 'deserved it' or 'had it coming', but does anyone think that it is a good policy to get that drunk at a party? Would you teach your child that it is safe to get black out drunk at a party? Of course not. That isn't to let the criminals off the hook. The rapists in Stuebenville got what rapists deserve: prison.

But it isn't just women that pay a price for getting black out drunk. Nearly every year in Wisconsin a young college age male student goes out drinking with his buddies and then 'disappears' unfortunately he almost always washes up on shore 5-10 miles down river a few days later. Drunk men are also more likely to be the victim of assaults. A friend of mine in college was the last to leave the bar and didn't leave with the whole group, he had too much to drink and was targeted by two other men he was beaten and had his wallet and cell phone stolen. He didn't deserve to by assaulted but the police did give him the advice of "don't walk home alone drunk at 2am". I didn't bother to round up a women's studies proffesor to yell at the police office for 'victim blaming'.

Should we all tear down the signs in parking lots that state you should "Store your valuables out of sight"? After all isn't that blaming the victim who has his car broken into? Doesn't that only perpetuate 'petty theft culture'?

People do not deserve to be the victims of crime, but there are some simple things they can do to make that crime less likely.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Evolution: not all opinions are created eqaul

There are many reasonable points of view on any given subject. However not all points of view are created equal and this simple maxim is true when it comes to the subject of evolution.
There are several points of view:

1) Accepting that evolution is good science. Obviously as a scientist I have my inherent biases and tend to think that the most reasonable view is to accept that evolution is excellent science and most likely true. I say most likely because science is a way to describe the world around us and the natural phenomenon and there is always some uncertainty.

2) Being Religious and recognizing that science states that evolution happened over billions of years but because of deeply held religious views you choose to believe God created the world in 6 days and that humans did not evolve from anything else. It is perfectly acceptable to have deeply had religious beliefs, having religious beliefs does not make you small minded or stupid or unintellectual.

Everyone has a set of beliefs about how the world functions around them some people happen to have God in there and some do not. It is intolerant to view those that are religious as being of a lower intellectual standing because of their beliefs. However....

3) Being religious and then trying to use religious arguments to say that the science of evolution isn't any good is one of two things
a) stupid/ignorant
b) dishonest
It is ok to believe that God created the universe in 6 days. But it isn't OK to use your beliefs to lie and distort the beliefs of others. And Evolution needs no defending here, the science is so sound that there is no need to go through point by point about why people make misleading, deceptive or illogical arguments against it.

The reason that people try to make an argument against evolution is that they see it as attack on their beliefs and way of life. But there are plenty of things that are fundamental to Christianity that science says is impossible. The single most important dogma in the Christian religion is impossible according to science. That central belief in Christianity is what exactly? The Resurrection.

According to all medical science a person who has been dead for greater than 48 hours has a zero percent chance of returning to life. The resurrection is impossible according to science and medicine. Have you ever heard a preacher talk about how there is a lot of disagreement in the medical community about the possibility of resurrection or that the whole "remain dead forever" theory is just a theory after all and that 'both sides of the argument' should be taught in school? Of course not, because that would be ridiculous.

As for evolution? The arguments are ridiculous but people still have them anyway. For people who accept the science of evolution as their way of understanding the world we should collectively stop trying to shame people who believe in a religious understanding of the creation of the world. We should always seek to educate and inform but never in a condescending manner.
For the religious who believe that God created the universe and think that evolution is not compatible with those religious beliefs just remember that Christ rising from the dead is incompatible with science too.