Monday, June 16, 2008

Final Post

25.5 months (with a break), 213 posts (including this one), and one 160 page book of my "best" posts.

(a blog)
By Josh Cunningham

My blogging continues at

Thanks for all of your support!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Link Love part 2

A couple cool, cool ones for you...

A junk made of junk (via Cnet):

The activists wanted more people to share their disgust about plastic litter that swirls, relatively unexplored, in continent-size patches of ocean.

To that end, they have built a motor-less craft from 15,000 recycled beverage bottles, fishing nets, and the cockpit of a Cessna, and are sailing it more than 2,000 miles from southern California to Hawaii.

One word: gumption.

Also at Ecogeek


An all-electric, solar-powered speedboat, via Ecogeek...
The Dutch have created the Czeers MK1 – the first solar-powered speed boat – which will help bridge a friendship between the love of speed and the love of the environment....Reaching speeds of 30 knots and producing far less noise and pollution than its peers, this boat is 33 feet long and is covered in 150 square feet photovoltaic cells. $1.1 million.

... and Inhabitat: fully powered by the integrated solar cells. It is absolutely gorgeous; the deep carbon fiber hue, combined with the orange interiors, and the sleek form give off an incredible James-Bondian vibe. It is also, quite likely, very expensive, as no price has been given, and only a limited number will be produced.

Looks SO sexy too:

Video? Don't mind if I do...

Think about it... solar-powered speedboat. That has to be the best combination of green and fun that I'VE ever heard. First off, boats are terrible polluters and gas hogs to boot. Second, have you ever filled up a boat on a lake??? The prices are ASTRONOMICAL. Imagine something you could putter around in while it charged and then hit the "gas" on the way back.

Damn, I'd LOVE a ride in that.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Seth Godin on packaging and solar the way it should (and will) be

I wanted to share a great riff Seth Godin had about retail packaging. While it doesn't directly have anything to do with transportation, I think you'll find some salient points (and, if you don't, I'll help you out). From Seth's blog:

Item 1: My Logitech cordless remote (which I like a lot) came in plastic, non-recyclable packaging that weighed twice as much as the remote itself.* The plastic was so well sealed and so thick that I actually broke a kitchen knife trying to open it. (*this is not hyperbole. I weighed it).

This is expensive, time-consuming and positions the product as extremely ungreen.

This packaging is the result of a paranoid retail buyer (the person who orders in bulk for the store, not the buyer at retail) demanding pilfer-proof packaging combined with a lazy brand manager choosing a lousy solution to the challenge presented by getting it into a retailer. "Make it pilfer-proof or we won't carry it," he says. The brand manager doesn't want to take a risk, so she packages it the way they packaged it when the device cost $1,000. Impregnable.

True story or what?

The more packaging, the more waste. Not only that, the more packaging the more material is needed and the more manufacturing goes into it. Bigger boxes means more space, more space means more trucks/planes/boats to move the stuff around. Bigger boxes means more stuff inside which means more waste and more weight and more transportation.

Now let's apply this notion to transportation. Everyday, I'm passed on the freeway by people who go to fast in cars, trucks, and SUVs that are too big for their needs. Without turning this into a bashing session on SUVs, the question must be asked: why are we moving around a bunch of extra cubic feet that aren't needed most of the time? Also, why does these cubic feet need to be moving so fast (or have the potential to [think engine size])?

Seth posed a solution to this problem:
When you buy it from Amazon, of course, a cardboard sleeve would be sufficient. The manufacturer, though, only wants to have one sku, so Amazon sells the wasteful one as well.

So, why not compromise and shrink wrap it to a cardboard backad? A simple piece of cardboard, 8 x 10, impossible to fit under your jacket, much lighter, easy to recycle, cheaper and easier to ship.

The packaging versus transportation issue seems to have more in common beyond the idea of wastefulness. Seth points out two problems: un-green packaging and shoplifting. The un-green packaging solves (does it?) the shoplifting problem but creates a new problem in the process. Seth's solution? Minimal packaging that is still oversized and, thus, harder to smuggle out of the store.

Among many other small problems, I see the big issues with sustainable transportation in a similar light. We have two major problems: a wasteful, destructive way of moving things and people around and a need to move a lot of things and people around. How can this problem be solved?

The sacrificers among us (a small minority at best) alter our needs and lifestyle to contribute to the solution as best as we can. Some of us give up cars and ride the bus/train, some take up cycling and walking and encourage others to do the same. Some blog about it, do what we can in our own lives, and give up some of our wants for the greater good. We feel good about what we doing, we offset some (if only a very tiny bit) of the waste that is happening, and our lives are possibly, because of the increased exercise, better food, and less time in traffic, just a little bit better.

But the sacrificers show us that the problem will not be solved by a sudden, global, self-less rejection of the luxuries that are available. We simply cannot depend on the good-nature and kindness of human beings, it's not an exit plan for global warming.

So, our transportation packaging needs to change.

People should still be able to buy, own, and operate large vehicles. An Expedition has it's place in society but that place is a family of 5 and enough gear for a week or 8 people in a carpool. One person commuting long distances using a V8 engine pulling 4,000+ pounds is simply ridiculous these days and will continue to increase in ridiculousness as time goes on.

One way to solve this problem is to restrict large vehicle usage. Anything over a certain weight/height has a separate speed limit and a designated lane on the freeways. This would address the safety issue of a small, light cars sharing freeway space with big, heavy trucks and SUVs.

This could help people feel more comfortable to buy a smaller car in the future or possibly buy a second used car for commuting. It makes perfect sense to own a large vehicle for your large vehicle needs and one or two small cars for running about town or traveling to work. Now, people are still commuting, everyone still has the freedom they once had, and we're still a mobile, viable economy but we're all PACKAGED different on the road. The "road environment" is different making it much easier to adopt a new way of doing things.

Another way to help this packaging issue is to promote lighter vehicles with less horsepower. One of these is the Dodge Sprinter, an ugly but useful vehicle that has become very popular in Europe.

These vans have a small, clean diesel engine with low horsepower that gets things where they need to go. They are maneuverable around the city, hold A LOT of stuff, and are very economical (30 MPG) for their size/utility.

Think about it...what packaging affects you? What are you packaged in? Can the job be done with less packaging?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

7 Days of Blog Retribution: Vehicles to know about

Green vehicles to know about

I've seen quite a few vehicle announcements that have caught my attention lately. One of them was the Fisker I talked about a few days ago. I thought I might spread the word on a few of these and set your expectations appropriately.

It's tiny

A few of these are in the super-sub-compact range of size. As such, tehy get FANTASTIC mileage but probably won't fit the lives of most consumers.

Via Inhabitat:

TRIAC covered electric trike
Three wheels means it's not a car so it's not held to the same safety standards (same like the Xebra). The numbers:
The 20kw electric motor can achieve a very reasonable 80mph, and will take you on travels up to 100 miles on any given charge. It takes about 6 hours for its lithium-ion battery to recharge fully and, as with most electric vehicles, it comes with a regenerative braking system. The package for all of this three-wheeled fun runs about $20,000 dollars.

I'll be the first to say it: $20K is a LOT for this little vehicle. My Element just cost $20K.

On the other hand, 100 miles is really good for something of this size and 80mph is excellent. This is about as good as electric vehicles get right now (save for the Tesla) so it makes sense that the price is so high.

The problem, if their desire is to sell a lot of these, is that they fell into a difficult price bracket with a difficult car to sell. The vast majority of people who might want to buy this will probably, because of size and range constraints, need to make it a second (or a third) car. This is obviously no good for a family and, even for a couple, there is not a lot of room to put anything and it definitely can;t be used for long trips.

I would assume that some people would buy this as their commuter car (drive an E Class on the weekends, take the TRIAC to work through the week). That's a great idea but there aren't going to be a lot of people who want to pay $20K for a commuter car. You can buy an older Civic that gets great gas mileage, holds more, and is much safer for under $2,000.

Next up, the brand I just left... this one is via Ecogeek/Motor Authority:
VW has been talking for a long time about their L1 concept, so called because it uses a measly 1 liter of gasoline to go 100 km. For us Americans, that translates to about 230 miles per gallon. Of course, the amazing mileage comes at a price. The car is tiny, more of a tobaggon than a car. The single passenger actually sits behind the driver, like in a small airplane.

200 MPG Volkswagen 1L concept

200 MPG Volkswagen 1L concept
Very interesting, this one is. First off, I HATE the idea of a toboggan and would be really irritated trying to have a conversation with the back of someone's head/my windshield. Additionally, Volkswagen likes to tease us with concepts so getting your hopes up about this thing is probably going to lead to disappointment.

Still, I have to admire the one-off-ed-ness of this strange little diesel missile. Some interesting facts can be had from Wikipedia:
There are no rear view mirrors and it instead uses cameras and electronic displays. The rear wheels are close together to allow a streamlined body. The drag coefficient (Cd) is 0.159, compared to 0.30 for typical cars.

For light weight, the car uses an unpainted carbon fibre skin over a magnesium subframe. Individual components have been designed for low weight, including engine, transmission, suspension, wheels (carbon fibre), brakes (aluminium), hubs (titanium), bearings (ceramic), interior, and so on. Empty vehicle weight is 290 kg (639 lb).

The body and frame are designed with crush zones and roll-over protection, and the tandem seating means large side crush zones, and Volkswagen claims protection comparable to a GT racing car.

The plan is 2010 for production. I'll believe it when I see it.

Last but not least, M-Benz, at it again. This one from AutoblogGreen:
This fall, Mercedes-Benz will offer a new A-Class coupe - the A 160 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY - that gets 52mpg (U.S.). In the NEDC consumption calculation, the car comes in at 4.5 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres and emits just 119 grams of CO2 per kilometer. Those are the best ratings in the A-Class range, and the A 160 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY will still deliver 60 kW/82 hp.

Great looking vehicle, too.

Mercedes-Benz will offer a new A-Class coupe - the A 160 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY

Mercedes-Benz will offer a new A-Class coupe - the A 160 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY
This one I have high hopes for - more than the other two at least. It looks great, it's a Mercedes, and the BlueTEC technology is a fantastic innovation. Not likely that we'll see it over here though.

And now, your moment of zen...

Monday, May 19, 2008

7 Days of Blog Retribution: My New Car

Wow, it only took two days for me to completely miss a day. I'm just not cut out for the heavy blogging.

So, today, I'm putting myself on trial. I bought a new car on Saturday and, if you know me well enough (or have paid attention to key posts) then you know the new ride isn't a Corolla, it isn't a Civic, and it probably isn't a Prius.

I bought a Honda Element.

2007 gray Honda Element SC

2007 gray Honda Element SC

2007 gray Honda Element SC
First, the conversational stuff...

Yes, I love it.
This is a vehicle I've been pining over for a good 5 years or so. For all of you out there who hate them, I hated them too... HATED them. But I rode in one and the owner, a good friend, loved it to death. And then, something in my brain changed and I knew I had to have one. It's everything I want and need in a vehicle in a very unique package.

The GTI had to go.
Poor Gretchen (yes, she has a name) was running a bit rough and had me a bit scared I might be stranded on the side of the road (again). A check engine light and a funny clunk in the front (along with a few other things) made it seem likely that a few thousand in repairs were coming up soon. I drove that picky German b*tch for 9 years and almost 112,000 miles and had very few problems up until about a year ago (maybe a bit before that).

The price was right, the car was right.
This is exactly how I would spec one of these new and there happened to be one on the lot, waiting for me (got there 4 days before I did). Fate?

I guess the big question is why would a green-guy like myself trade UP in vehicle size when I could afford something much smaller and more economical (like a smart [which I briefly considered]). I'll tell you why...

This gets the same MPG.
Yup, that's right, this little guy is rated at the same MPG as my GTI (actually, one less, 23 vs. 24). It's bigger, taller, clearly less aerodynamic, and it's getting about the same. Volkswagens are typically heavier cars and not very fuel efficient (unless they try).

It's an automatic.
Automatics are notoriously better for fuel efficiency because they switch to a high gear when you're not pushing on it. Driving my mom's big SUV around town back home, I found I could squeeze about 25 MPG out of a heavy V6 just because it was automatic (and had a MPG gauge). I find I'm much less aggressive in this car and tend to be about 5mph slower on the freeway; it's just easier to drive at a slower pace.

It can actually fit 4 people.
No more taking two cars because it's too cramped. The 3 other cars I ride around in besides my own are all 2-door and, if they have 4 seatbelts, it doesn't mean 4 adults should be in there.

It takes 87 octane.
And I'm dead sick of spending the money on premium.

So that's the deal.

To be perfectly honest, it was a big issue to buy a new-to-me car that didn't get much better miles-per-gallon. The gas prices are atrocious but my concern is and will continue to be actual consumption, not finances. I know, however, that the difference in overall consumption between 25 mpg and 30 mpg simply isn't enough to justify big sacrifices in my own life.

From spending my own time recycling to this blog to teaching others around me and volunteering for events, I do a lot to affect as many people as possible and, hopefully, convince a few more to make responsible choices. I replaced my bulbs, I control my speed on the freeway, I reuse plastic like a madman, I take cotton bags to the grocery store (when I remember), and I just recently started carpooling with a co-worker. Environmental choices are about more than just a car.

Trust me, I thought this one through. And I'll be the first one with an aftermarket hybrid kit when a solid, tested kit comes out... that or a low-emissions diesel engine from Honda!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

7 Days of Blog Retribution: You know Audi but do you know Fisker?

First up, great news from Audi via Rueters:

Audi, the luxury unit of Volkswagen, will make cars with no exhaust emissions within ten years, its top executive has told a German weekly. Rupert Stadler told Welt am Sonntag in an interview published on Sunday that he saw great opportunities in electric cars and expected diesel and battery technology to dominate in the coming five to ten years.

Wait, what? Ten years? Is this the same company that built the adorable and well-equipped hydrogen powered A1?

Hydrogen powered Audi A1 at the 2005 National Hydrogen Association conference in Santa Monica, CA
You really have to wonder why Audi would wait that long... and announce so early. An announcement like this can't do anything to affect current sales (which don't need help anyways). Why even comment?

Audi, a subsidiary of Volkswagen (am I saying that right?), is the upscale arm of that corporate juggernaut. Product offerings at both companies take into account the existence of the other. As such, it's unlikely you'll see Audi competing for the sub-$20K market, especially here in America; that's what VW is for. So this announcement begs the question: is Volkswagen planning a real push into the hybrid or electric market?

Volkswagen holds a funny place in the alternative fuel world. They have the cult (but very real) following of the TDI, their turbo diesel engine. This champion of compression and combustion has been reported to get around 50 MPG and run on biodiesel without a hitch. There's also the new TDI, reported to be a big improvement on the original in terms of emissions.

Then again, they have no hybrid offering on the market and just killed the concept that might have changed that. Current MPG figures have a broad range but average out at 25 or so, which is exactly what I got in my GTI (past tense :) guess what I bought?) that is almost 9 years old. 25 isn't bad (just as long as it's not under 15) but it could definitely use some improvement - especially these days.

I think it's going to be very interesting to see what comes out of VAG in the near future (that's Volkswagen Auto Group in case you sounded it out and become confused).


This one is via Inhabitat:
Created by noted car designer Henrik Fisker, the ultra cool Karma is a sleek, power packed eco-luxury ride. The Karma’s performance specs rev out at 0-60 mph in 6 seconds, and a top speed of 125 mph. At $80,000 USD, The car is a plug-in hybrid based on technology of Quantum Technologies. The Q DRIVE consists of a small gasoline engine which in turn charges the lithium battery packs in the car. According to Fisker, if charged properly, the hybrid would need to use no more than a fuel tank per year, quite a claim!

From the side, this thing is HOT!

Fisker Karma hybrid electric sports car, via
The front? I'm not a huge fan...

Fisker Karma hybrid electric sports car, via
Pictures are from Inhabitat, FYI.

As I've said before, I LOVE bold moves like this from the alternative fuel sector. I think the attention it grabs, the limits it pushes, and the contrarians it puts to rest are vital to making fuel economy less of a fringe issue and more of a standard.

One more picture... looks way better here (from The Car Lounge):

Fisker Karma from the 2008 Top Marques Monaco