Monday, July 15, 2013

Carbon footprint per mile

I was curious this morning as to how, if at all, my carbon footprint has changed with my electric car. So, it's math time! (For the math-phobic, suck it, I'm showing my work).

According to PG&E, per kilowatt hour, my wall outlet produces 0.524 lbs of CO2. It looks like we're doing this in American units.

According to my car, I get 4.2 miles per kilowatt hour (yup, miles and pounds, joy). That means that I produce 0.1247 lbs CO2 per mile.

According the US EIA, 19.64 lbs of CO2 are produced from burning a gallon of gasoline that does not contain ethanol. So this calc assumes summer driving.

My Cooper got about 30 miles to gallon, so that means I produced 0.6546 lbs CO2, over five times the amount produced from my Nissan Leaf.

My wife's car get's about 44 miles to the gallon, so she's at 0.45 lbs CO2, a bit better than a Mini Cooper, and a heck-of-a-lot better than a car with 22 miles to the gallon (0.89 lbs CO2).  'Cause I have the calculator up, a gas guzzler that got 12 miles to the gallon produces 1.6 lbs CO2 per mile.  Yikes!

Now, if/when I go solar, I'm going to get my per mile footprint down to nearly zero. I'm glad I did the math. All that book learnin' went to good use! I feel even better about my awesome, green, quiet, comfy, zippy, and carpool-cheating car!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Charlie's Ring

As my grandmother lay dying, she handed me a box. It was a ring box, cheap and felt-lined.  She was sitting in her wheelchair, her mobility mostly gone due to diabetes. Her hands were cold, as they'd been of late. I had given her a muff to keep her hands warm and I wondered if she was using it.

Inside the ring box was, of course, a ring. It had a minuscule diamond in the center of a square piece of onyx. I'd never seen this before. I knew that she loved dolls and was very familiar with her doll collection and how much it meant to her. We'd recently had to put much of her stuff into storage, including many of her dolls. I had bought for her years ago a hardware-store quality components box which she delighted in using as her jewelry box. I had the same one full of resistors and wire, but she put chains and bracelets into hers.

I didn't recognize the ring from that box (which I'd recently packed and put into storage). The diamond was tiny. Worthless, really, since I knew then as I do now that diamonds are worth no money and that paying for a diamond is like paying for compost. But it was old, I could tell that. The onyx wasn't polished, the style old and plain.

I put the ring on my finger, and it nearly fit my middle one on my right hand (on left it rubbed weird against my wedding band).

"Thank you," I said. "What for?"

"It belonged to my father. I want you to have it."

I turned it around a few times on my hand before returning it to the box. It didn't fit quite right, but it was simple, which I liked.

My grandmother died soon after.  Before she did, she told me her father's name was Charlie. So I always called it Charlie's ring. Great-grandfather's ring sounded pretentious.

I wore it rarely. Mostly for company parties, when such things existed. Lately it resided in its box inside my wife's jewelry box inside our closet.

That would be the same closet that was ransacked by a thief last Thursday, on Pi day. The thief took all the jewelry save a few scrap pieces. But he (she? is this a time to be gender neutral?) took the box with the ring, along with my deceased uncle's watch, along with irreplaceable pieces that belonged to my wife, and some crap electronics that I hope he can't sell ever because he forgot to swipe their chargers.

The ring was entrusted to me by my grandmother, whom I dearly miss despite all her flaws. When the ring was taken from me, it brought up feelings of loss that I couldn't comprehend until recently. The ring itself is worthless. The memory is priceless. I won't let him take that from me.

Grandma, I miss you. I'm sorry I lost your ring. I won't lose you, no matter what. I promise.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Back in the halcyon days of aught five, I self-published "Vignettes," a short collection of 17 very short stories. That was back before CreateSpace, so when I say I self-published I mean I published it all by myself, every aspect of it.  After writing the words I created a book in OpenOffice, had my friend who worked for a printer company print out the pages and cardstock for the cover, and then I stapled each one together. The minute details can be found here on my old blog.

I had always wondered whether I should attempt a second volume, but I've never felt the drive, or an appropriate theme. The first theme was First Names and Friends. The style was very early reader, but often with a sardonic (and adult) twist.

The motivation to create a second volume has finally struck me. Like the first volume, it took a learning reader to inspire me (My daughter, in this case). The theme this time around is Alphabet Puns (so far). The first story can be read here (and I'll post the list of them as they come out on the sidebar). This time it's open-ended. I'll write them when I feel like it, and I'll stop when I'm done. I'm not soliciting names or story ideas this time around, but I won't refuse considering any if you feel like contributing.

A Vignette

A is for Ally

At the end of the alley, Ally turned around to face the armed one-armed man.

"Give me all you money," the armed one-armed main demanded gruffly.

"Sure!" said Ally.  She handed over $17 plus a small pile of change.  "And please, no need to be gruff."

"That's it? I don't believe you."  He cocked his gun (a 9mm SportsMart midnight special, Ally noted) and pointed it right at her head--gruffly.  "The rest of it."

"That's all," said Ally cheerily and started to walk away, her designer shirt and emasculate hair gently swishing behind her.

The armed one-armed man kept his gun pointed to her head.  "You gotta be rich, kid. Dressed like that."

Ally pulled something from a deep pocket in her silver-lined hoody.  The armed one-arm man fixed his aim at her.  But then she began munching on a carrot.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Eating a carrot. I only barter in carrots.  And lettuce.  Sometimes broccoli.  Asparagus, but only in Spring.  Want one?"  She tossed him a garden-fresh organic carrot.

Warily, he set the gun down, picked up the carrot, and munched it.  "Not bad," he said.

"I'm glad you like it," said Ally. "It's you last meal."

Before the unarmed one-arm man could pick up is gun, Ally broken nearly every bone in his body and left him for dead.  With his penultimate breath, he picked up the gun and fired at her, but no bullet exploded no matter how many times he pulled the trigger.

Ally, exhausted, ate three more carrots on her way to work: SportsMart. On her break, she always poured the powder out of the new shipments of bullets and used it for fertilizer in her garden.

~286 words

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wrong about ray guns

The ray gun is ubiquitous is sci-fi and fantasy. It goes by many different names, blasters (Star Wars), phasers (Star Ttek), death rays (various), et al. but the concept is the same: an energy beam is fired from usually a hand-held weapon towards a target, and the target either a) disintegrates, b) falls down dead, c) melts, or d) some combination of the previous (c.f. Dr. Who).

I like the ray gun. It's an awesome concept and very visual for sci-fi on the screen. On the page, not so much, as it's not much more than a gun where the bullets are light beams. Still, the importance and sticking power of the ray gun, by any name, is indisputable.

That's why I've got to take 'em down.

Here's the problem, especially with the ray gun that disintegrates the target: The thermal output of the blast would destroy more than just the target, it would take out everything nearby, and potentially the person doing the blasting.

Intuitively, this makes sense. Imagine boiling water, and how long it takes for all the water in the pot to evaporate and how hot your stovetop gets in the process. Now imagine the pot is a huge caldron capable of holding 23 gallons of water (about half a wine barrel, or one human being). Then you boil it. Instantly.

The steam alone is going to melt the varnish right off the cabinets.  Next door.

I imagine that there two ways that sci-fi writers envision their ray gun (if they put much thought into trope at all). First, the least interesting: The boiler.  This ray gun heats up the target so much that it eventually steams out and evaporates.  Not that sexy, but more energy efficient if targeting organic water-based targets.  Rocks and steel doors aren't going to respond well to this treatment. Their molten point is so much higher that set on "boil human" a large boulder is going to cook lichen and not much else.

For heftier loads there is "The atomizer". This is a energy weapon that actually breaks apart the atomic bonds that bind the target together. For those of you who got a passing grade in high school physics, congratulations, you've correctly identified this as a nuclear weapon.

Assuming in either case the portable energy required to perform mass destruction on such a minute scale has already been solved (and if so, then it's a total waste of destructive power to simply use it on glorified guns), we've got a few problems.

First, thermal output. Whether we cook the target with heat or fission them with gamma rays, the heat and radiation emitted is going to be bad for anybody standing near by, such as the person firing the weapon.  Torchwood gets 10 points for using guns when logic would dictate energy weapons. Bullets is the bomb, baby.

For the fission case, we're going to have a massive output of gamma particles. Think cancer. The person/alien being obliterated isn't, in that moment, totally concerned about cancer, but the person firing the hand-held cannon might be, and they've just upped their odds of dying of melanomia to 99% in the next five minutes.

That isn't to say there isn't a place for energy weapons in sci-fi. The Death Star from Star Wars is immensely intimidating (though the poor bloke in the first film who is only a few meters from the blast is toast, poor sap). Phasers in Star Trek, I've read, somehow enshrine the target in a radiation-limiting field, and they tend to usually be set to stun (and don't get me started on how that would work either. Every Starfleet initiate has an advanced degree in anesthesiology?!?!)

So as a task to the aspiring future sci-fi writer, imagine what energy weapons would really be like. And then just use grenades and guns.