Monday, January 31, 2005

Dejame en paz!

Having a desk not far from the kitchen and the bathroom on the 16th floor of 285 Madison is like standing next to the LIE Exit 35 offramp. I guess I'll just have to grow more comfortable picking my nose in both places...!

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Burst My (Hydrogen) Bubble!

It's downright inspiring just how many great and meaningfully different ideas are being developed around market production of hydrogen-powered cars. I want one now! How can we work to make this technology relevant to more than environmentalists and early adopters? How do we generate demand for hydrogen vehicles?

Alan Alda, always delightful, recently hosted a Scientific American Frontiers special on PBS that focused on the myriad approaches that the manufacturers we care about (read: GM and Daimler Chrysler) are taking to make hydrogen-powered vehicles a reality. Though the Mercedes solution -- a low-powered A-Class with a 150Km range -- was economical, efficient, and handled well, it really falls well short of "revolutionary." Not so compelling. However, the boys at GM have taken a significant step in another direction. Rather than trying to retrofit a current production model with a hydrogen fuel cell, they've redesigned a car based on the structural contraints (or lack of same) of the fuel cell. Because current approaches to hydrogen fuel cell design consist of long, flat, chassis-shaped wheelbeds, it's entirely possible (so say the say so's at GM) to build a mass-production version of the chassis. On top of that fuel-cell chassis, you can place most any locally-designed car body, and this approach can actually control the wheels using "drive by wire" technology, rather than mechanical controls linking steering control to wheel movement. You MUST read about it here:

Alan (or someone on SAF's editorial staff) clearly has a yen for driving. The upcoming web companion piece for the show dedicated to safer (thinking) cars contians a number of useful links:

When they post this episode on the web, you've got to watch it...if for no other reason than to see the scene where Alan and a GM engineer are crouched behind an internal combustion, hydrogen-powered, hydrid vehicle sniffing the vehicle's moist effluent. Alan says, "This is wonderful! It smells like...clean lanudry or something!" "Yeah, I suppose...," says the engineeer. Alda interjects, " know, I bet people are going to really get into sniffing one anothers' tailpipes in the future."

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Larger than Life

Why does a lot off music sound better in my car than anyplace else? No, not because my car stereo is the best I own. Let me rephrase: why does music sound better when I'm in motion? Ever try lis'nin' to something on a plane or a train and then looking out the window as you rush by clouds? Do it: your music WILL sound different!

Few can deny the awesome power of The Backstreet Boys harmonic and enharmonic perfection. But their "classics" sound even better in the car. I maintain that some of their wonders were written with the express purpose of being listened to while in motion. For example, "I want it that way" almost sounds silly if you listen to it while standing still. But if you pay attention mostly to the song's chord and chorus climaxes, it's downright triumphant!

About their paean to fans, "Larger than Life," Amazon reviewer, J. Derek Reardon of KC, MO, offers, "...With 5 major hits already, you can't go wrong purchasing this release, even if the rest wasn't as great. But there's no fear of that -- these are 12 gems you be singing along with for a long time. "Larger Than Life" is a huge power dance tune with great lyrics and an undeniable groove, I've car danced to this song frequently on my commute."

Car-dancing! That's what it's called!

On an unrelated note...did you know that after a succession of clicks, you can add Amazon reviewrs to "your favorite people" list and then upgrade them from that standing to "your Amazon friends?" "But of course, Delia, doesn't everyone have a bevy of friends in the Amazon?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

@ the DMV

At the DMV in New York, while waiting for one's number to be called, one is bombarded with corporate messages designed to simplify transactions at the DMV and to announce concepts that would have some bearing or resonance among all of the various sorts of people who daily inhabit the place. For example, the NYSDMV alliance with Discover Cards is quite prominently featured -- everywhere. This alliance seems stronger than NATO. Yes, of course they take other cards...but Discover must have paid for such prominent placement. They also advertise cold remedies.

What's striking about this is that few other government agencies seem as overtly commercial. Sure there are credit card logos at all US Post Offices, but that's really it. Post Office advertise post office products, the NYSDMV sells media space for any product.

Why don't car companies advertise at the DMV? Insurance companies -- I'm sure that's coming...

The look, feel, and vibe of the place is very reminiscent of China and other developing world public forums that quickly become festooned with advertising-consumed media space in a desperate attempt to raise funds. But China, by comparison, shows restraint.

The Shanghai Driver's License Renewal Page:

The New York Driver's License Renewal Page:

Well, unfortunately that doesn't prove my point. Eh, I give up.

"200 Car Pileup..."

It's always 200 cars in these pileups. Why is that? Do they lose count and just give up? What do you say to your insurance company when you're in a 200-car pileup? Maybe the insurance companies have some sort of threshold: "If insured is in pileup involving more than 199 cars, insured is deemed not at fault...." Hmmmm...

Also, how is it that so few people are injured in such smashfests? This one, on I-96 (a "freeway) in MI (on near Lansing) resulted in the death of only 2 people. That's 1%!

Monday, January 10, 2005

Nobody Does It Better

If you're looking for traffic information in Metro (very metro) Los Angeles, there's no better source than:

This map is incredible. Providing traffic speeds at specific exits, for specific lanes -- BRILLIANT!

But also somewhat shocking: I just rubbed my mouse over the 10 at Bundy Drive and noticed that many were whizzing by at 80 MPH. I can't help but imagine how sorry the corresponding map for Queens and Nassau county would be. The closest thing we have was last updated in 2001:

Sunday, January 09, 2005

In Atlanta...

Judging from the intensity of her gaze at the screen before her, I knew she was somehow involved with the operation. And although she couldn't help me find the right door, or even figure out how to measure mine, she did, in fact, work for Home Depot [corporate]. She had come to New York -- to Long Island -- to study how and why the Westbury store does such brisk business.

I never asked her name, but I learned more from my 30-minute conversation with her about the level of process engineering that is required for proper management of large chain stores, how pervasive bird infestation in warehouse settings across America actually is, and (most importantly for the purposes of this blog), just how different roads and expecations about them are in different parts of the country, than I ever would have imagined possible.

"The traffic in Atlanta metro is comparable to LA"

"On I-75, we have 6 or 8 lanes in each direction."

"I once did a 180 when my car was hydroplaning on the freeway... But it's so wide that I didn't hit anything and just kept going forward afterwards."

"I really just can't get used to the way people drive on the freeway here. They're all just creepin' along!"

"We really live in two very different worlds."

She really hit the nail right on the head. I could tell she was a kindred spirit who appreciated the drastic difference in road quality between I-495 on Long Island and I-75 in northern Georgia. It's a long way from Baldwin to Buckhead. Her observations about the Long Island Expressway, in particular, were quite germaine. As I recall, she used the word, "quaint." FASCINATING!

Smyrna, Sandy Springs, Bolton, Marietta, Fair Oaks, Panthersville, Ben Hill, Panola, Redan, Furniture City.

Yet while I stood in awe of the magnificent expressways she described, like the graceful, girthy arms of a benevolent God, shepherding commuters across the metropole, she seemed just as taken with our rail system. Eh? The Long Island Rattler? I've seen better...

Tomorrow, when she goes to visit her friends in the city, she plans to take it. We'll see how she feels then...

Friday, January 07, 2005

Pillowy Road Surfaces,1,15655,00.html?tnews/

So Aaron Carter's SUV exploded after running over a mattress that fell off the back of a truck in front of him. He's fine, though (that face!) -- go figure!

All this infernal mattress-top driving makes me think of the time when my mechanic explicitly forbade me from driving on grass (or any other non-asphalt surface) after he was foreced to remove the heat pan beneath my car's catalytic converter. Strange, I thought, that another heat shield (like that which Sir Gallahad must have used to protect himself from the dragon's fiery breath) could not have been found, but I think this was another cost-saving measure -- to protect my mother from herself -- as she demanded that her 1981 BMW 528e be kept in near-optimal condition in the mid-'90s. Old cars die hard!

Music: Basia -- "Cruisin' for a Bruisin"