The Great Turtle Race 2009!

April 17, 2009

Eleven leatherback sea turtles are vying for the Great Turtle Race championship! This event is meant to raise money and awareness of sea turtles’ peril – all 7 species are endangered due to destruction of nesting sites and drowning in fishing nets.

Deep Sea News has a special report from organizer Bryan Wallace:

Here’s a brain teaser for all of you deep-sea nerds out there: What do Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Conservation International, National Geographic, the Canadian Sea Turtle Network, Olympic swimmers, surfers, school kids, and scientists all have in common?

Give up? (You should. You’re never going to guess. This isn’t a sudoku puzzle.)

Answer: an online media event following 11 adult leatherback sea turtles on their trans-Atlantic migration from feeding grounds in Canada to breeding grounds in the Caribbean – The Great Turtle Race! The first turtle to cross the finish line and enters the Wider Caribbean wins!

Deep Sea News will also be getting in the act with the Iron Turtle contest – which turtles are EXTREME deep sea explorers? Meet the turtles and pick your winners!

They think only business travelers will use WiFi on the airplanes? HAHAHAHAH!

August 6, 2008

Raise your hand if you’re pay $12.95 for Inernet on Delta Airlines for a 3+ hour flight…uh-huh. Just as I thought: Unanimous.

Sometime in the middle of next year, Delta will offer WiFi using the the same wavelength  that no one ever used for air phones. They’ll charge $9.95 for a flight under 3 hours, $12.95 for more than that. I’m not totally sure about the short flights, but it wil be the rare long flight I won’t cough up the 13 bucks for service. On the NPR story I heard about this today (Day to Day, I think) the reporter quoted someone who seemed to think this would mostly be for business travelers. This analyst clearly has no idea how strong is the need for Internet, and how boring are the planes. I just hope the airline WiFi has capacity for every single passenger surfing the Internet simultaneously. They think passengers get rowdy when we’re sitting on the tarmac for three hours? Wait till I lose a game of online chess because we hit turbulence!

Mpg or gpm?

July 9, 2008

A maxim in business says that you get what you measure. If that’s true, then the way we measure things becomes crucially important (which will hardly surprise Molluscovites, I’m sure), like, say, fuel efficiency. A recently published study from Duke University highlights the fallacy of mpg. Instead of measuring the number of miles we get per gallon, we should measure the number of gallons we need to travel a set distance. When you work out the numbers, you get some unexpected results. I considered the two upgrades proposed in the paper: From an SUV to a station wagon, and from an econobox to a hybrid. I used what my auto insurer considers a normal year of driving, 12,000 miles, and a fuel price of $4.50 per gallon.

Make and Model Mileage Gallons per 12,000 miles Savings from upgrade at $4.50 per gallon
Dodge Durango 15 mpg 800 gallons
Toyota Wagon 25 480 $1,440
Honda Civic 30 400
Toyota Prius 50 240 $720

Even though the upgrade from the SUV to the wagon only improves mileage by 10 mpg, it actually saves 320 gallons of fuel. Despite a 20 mpg improvement, the upgrade from the Civic to the Prius saves only 160 gallons per year.

The point of this analysis is not to say we shouldn’t all be driving high fuel efficiency cars, because we should, but it is to say that it’s far more important to get all those behemoths off the road than it is for all us latte-drinking, tree-hugging liberals to swap our Civic for hybrids, no matter how much we really, really want to. Getting SUV drivers into hybrid SUVs or smaller wagons will make a far bigger difference to the good earth. Which is why, even though I think it’s criminal that the price for raising CAFE standards was the jettisoning of tax breaks for solar power and wind power, Congress actually did something pretty meaningful. Raising the minimum mileage will have the heaviest impact on the worst offenders.

I also liked this new way of measuring because it finally explains why I’m having trouble calculating at what price of gas will the added cost of a new hybrid break even with a new Civic.  I keep getting numbers that seem too high ($7 a gallon, or even $8, depending on which assumptions I use. I hope to have a whole post on this in the future). Now I see why: the marginal improvement of the Prius from the Civic just isn’t that great, at least not at today’s prices. Over the course of 10 years, the savings would be worth $7,200. But if I had a Durango (which I don’t!), and I went to the Toyota Wagon, I’d save $14,400 at today’s gas prices.

Of course fuel efficiency isn’t everything. Slate’s Green Lantern column just did an excellent cradle-to-grave analysis of the energy costs of buying a used Civic versus buying a new Prius and figured out that it was still more energy efficient to buy the new Prius. Now if I can just find that $21,500 I buried out in the yard for a special occasion…

Fusion Man flies with wings of his own making

May 23, 2008

I’m pretty sure G.I. Joe had one of these, but no one in real life. Way to go Yves Rossy !

Raise your hand if you want one! [Raises hand] The clip mentions that inventor Rossy plans on using his flying wing to cross the English Channel, and no doubt he has other such stunts in mind, but there’s no discussion of putting these things into mass production. All he needs is some kind of slingshot takeoff mechanism and we’re on our way to flying cars. Well, that and some kind of environmentally sound jet fuel. Maybe the algae people will get that going soon.

Out of gas? Just add water!

May 21, 2008

OK, I understand that we all want a zero-emissions car, but this is getting out of hand. Just this past weekend a woman called up the Car Talk guys to ask if her husband was crazy for trying to modify the family SUV into a water-powered car. Coincidentally, veteran technology query-artist Sam and her boyfriend sent me a note a few weeks ago with a YouTube video they’d found of a newscast interviewing the inventor of just such a car. To their credit, Sam, her man, and the Car Talk caller were extremely skeptical about this seeming solution to our energy and global-warming crises. And with good reason, as it turns out (for the record, a Wikipedia entry debunks the water-fueled car, too, but I thought it a bit dense).

OK, we’ll start with what the water-powered car advocates claims it will do: Generate energy from water. How? First, electrolyze the water. That will split the water into its component elements, namely, hydrogen and oxygen. Then pump that H2 and O2 mixture (known to the Car Talk caller’s husband as “hydroxy” and the fellow in the video as “H-O-H”, but we’ll stick with the common names) over to the engine. Now burn the gasses to move the pistons and thus move the car. The waste product will be water, once again (O2 + 2H2 —–> 2H2O). Water in, water out. Perfect!

Of course, Oyster’s Garter readers are all smarty-pantses (Bet you didn’t know the plural of that word. We’re a full-service operation here at TOG.), so you’re wondering about step 1, with the electrolyzing of the water. “Where does the electricity come from?” I hear you asking. Sadly, that’s the downfall of the water-powered car. The electricity comes from the battery, of course. And where does the battery get its energy? Why, from the battery factory, of course. Well, water-powered car advocates will argue that the battery is recharged from the alternator with the normal running of the car, just like any car battery. But it takes far more energy from the battery to split the water atoms then you get back from burning the component gases (water is very stable and its bonds prefer not to break), so there’s a substantial net loss.

Ultimately, the water-powered car is not actually water-powered at all. It’s battery powered, but very inefficiently battery powered. Of course, given our current experience with fueling our cars from food, maybe it’s for the best that we don’t fuel them with water.

I’ll close with this wonderfully understated line from the Wikipedia entry:

It is theoretically possible to extract energy from water by nuclear fusion, but fusion power plants of any scale remain impractical, much less on an automotive platform.

Airborne email, baby!

April 9, 2008

Look, I know American has canceled thousands of flights the last few days for last minute inspections, but it’s my job to focus on the positive on this here mollusk- and urchordata-oriented electronic journal, and so here’s a positive fact: The FAA has cleared American Airlines to put WiFi on their airplanes. No word yet on fees for service, other than that there will be one (although access to will be free, so you can check schedules and delays ) or net speeds. Voice over IP will be disabled, whcih is probably for the best. Service will hopefully start on transcontinental flights by the end of the year.

Now all I need is a little more widespread access to electricity on these planes and maybe cross-country flights to visit the ‘rents won’t be such a pain in the tuchus.

Virgin Atlantic bangs together two halves of an empty coconut shell and calls it biofuel

February 26, 2008

In so much as biofuels are a good idea, they’re a really good idea for jets. Jet engines produce vast amounts of carbon (A gallon of jet fuel gives off 21 lbs of Co2) but there’s no alternative when you want to visit your dear old grammy who lives on the opposite coast. So the headlines about Virgin Atlantic running an actual test flight powered by coconut- and palm oil-based fuel had me gleefully reaching for the “O frabjous day!” category for this post. Alas. The 747 Virgin used to fly from London to Amsterdam has four tanks, three of which were nothing but regular jet fuel, and the fourth of which was 80% jet fuel and 20% coconut biofuel. So really the flight was 5% biofuel, which means that proportionally it flew 11 miles on coconuts, roughly from London to, err …London.

Even Virgin Atlantic owner Richard Branson himself admits that coconut-based biofuels won’t power the future air fleet. The world couldn’t possibly produce enough coconuts to fly the Monty Python troop to Camelot, let alone the entire world fleet, and the movers and shakers are starting to realize it’s probably not a great idea to use food for fuel anyway. Branson wants to extract energy from the thorny jatropha plant, which grows on non-arable land in South America., and I found a goofy company that thinks they can filter oxygen out of the air, while flying, and burn it as fuel immediately. But we all know the better answer: Poop fuel!

JetBlue and American airlines at risk of Cylon virus

January 5, 2008

Nothing kills time like the Internet, and no where do I need to kill time like I do on a cross-country flight to New York. Sadly, the Internet hasn’t really been available to plane passengers, though I gather that we can expect to see a change in this policy in new airplanes relatively soon. JetBlue has already begun testing of email and IM access on its San Fran-New York routes, and American will offer full net access hopefully some time in 2008. In the deeper future, the gargantuan Boeing 787 Dreamliner is expected to provide Internet access when it hits the skies in the next year or two. Check out the Star Trek like cockpit, pictured at right (and here are some more pics of the Dreamliner, before it gets scotch and baby vomit spilled on it, of course.)

The FAA, however, has pointed out a bit of a security flaw in the Dreamliner set up: the Internet access point on the plane is hardwired in with the main navigation and control computers for the plane. So, theoretically, any passenger could hack the flight controls. I’m pretty sure this is the sort of thing Commander Adama was worried about when he said no networking the computers on the Galactica.

Lindbergh Field goes wireless!

September 19, 2007

And you thought we had no breaking news at the Oyster’s Garter, now didn’t you? A press release in my email box says that San Diego’s major airport will now offer free WiFi throughout its three terminals. The release says download speeds will be capped somewhere between that of a dialup modem and DSL, to keep any one user from clogging the pipes with intensive tasks. Sounds reasonable to me.


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