The End of Gasoline/Diesel Powered Cars?

The current crop of electrics won’t be killing off the gas station any time soon. There is a potential battery technology, Lithium-air, that has the same energy density as gasoline. If scientists can work out the kinks, these could make electric vehicles that go as far a gas powered ones a reality. Unfortunately, we can’t predict when that will happen. Until the range problem is truly solved–and by that I mean the ability to charge at home and then drive at a minimum all day without recharging–I can’t see electrics replacing gasoline powered cars, though they could well take over some niches.

Electric cars need to compete on an even keel with gasoline powered cars, having similar costs and ranges, especially since the environmental benefits are minimal when their electricity is being generated by burning coal. According to The ‘electric cars aren’t green’ myth debunked , “using coal powered electricity electric cars do nothing to cut emissions, using natural gas electricity they’re like a top hybrid and using low carbon power they result in less than half the total emissions of the best combustion vehicle, manufacturing included.”

In BC, we generate most of our electricity with hydro-electric dams, so there are environmental benefits to be had. Unfortunately, we also have cold winters. By controlling battery temperatures, car makers have solved performance problems in cold weather. But electric cars can take twice as long to charge in cold conditions. Leaving an electric car out all day in sub-zero temperatures can also halve its range. Finally, using the car’s heating system, which is essential in Canadian winter, can radically decrease range. (Source: Electric cars during winter)

fuel-cellAnother possible replacement for gasoline powered vehicles are hydrogen powered vehicles. Hydrogen is actually very low energy when burnt, but it can be used to generate electricity using a complex device called a fuel cell. Unfortunately, HFC powered vehicles suffer from range limitations similar to electric vehicles, though they can be refueled in less time (in about 5 minutes). Hydrogen fuel cells are relatively expensive to produce, as their designs require rare substances such as platinum. Then there is the fact that 95% of hydrogen is made from natural gas, generating large amounts of CO2. Producing hydrogen cleanly via electrolysis is not currently cost effective.

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Whats Up with Marvel? Dueling Headlines

miles-morales
I love the hilarious juxtaposition of the following three headlines.

March 15: Marvel Comic Sales In Freefall In February 2017 — What’s Going On?

People aren’t wanting more politics; in the aftermath of the most divisive election in US history, they’re wanting comics to be how they escape from politics.

April 7: Marvel Comics May Have Slumping Sales, but Don’t Blame Its Diverse Heroes

Marvel has recently been experiencing a “massive sales slump” because of more basic factors: the frequent restarting of series with new No. 1 issues; fan fatigue over story lines that promise changes but fail to deliver; and the introduction of a deluge of new series.

May 26: Marvel Exec: Diversity to Blame for Comic Book Sales Slump

(Note that the above is the original heading, which was later redacted.)

“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity,” Gabriel told iCv2 after being asked what contributed to changes in customer tastes that led to a drop in sales in October-November. “They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not.”

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Is Car Culture Doomed?

electric-carsCBC is currently running an article “Car dealerships could be out of business within a decade, says report“. They quote a study from RethinkX, an independent think tank in San Francisco. Is this true? Is car culture doomed? First, the study argues for electric cars, though I’m not sure how this means car dealerships would be out of business, since presumably someone will have to sell the electric cars.

Because of their simpler power trains,  in the long run, electric cars will be cheaper to operate than their gas powered equivalents… The tipping point will occur once the battery range surpasses 321 kilometers and electric car prices drop below $20,000. Currently, a low-end electric vehicle costs about $30,000. Electric vehicles could last longer than gas power vehicles. Right now, Tesla is offering infinite mileage warranties.

Yet the CBC article goes on to point out that similar optimism that surrounded hybrid vehicles. When they were introduced 17 years ago, the thinking was they would account for half of the cars sold by 2020, but they account for less than one per cent, with sales in the last four years going down. The study is also bullish on ride sharing:

Using transport as a service will be four to 10 times cheaper per mile than buying a new car, and two to four times cheaper than operating an existing paid-off vehicle by 2020. The cost of savings for an average American family is likely to be about $6,000 a year, a substantial increase in disposable income.

While, if this is true, there will surely be those who opt to forgo car ownership, ride sharing is impractical for all but a few living in highly populated areas where ride sharing services are common.

It’s interesting that no mention is made of the biggest thing I see hurting dealerships: the Internet. With Internet pricing, car dealers are forced to sell vehicles with lower profit margins. The Internet also gives easy access to alternatives to new vehicles like Craig’s List and repo sites.

While I agree that ride sharing will cut in to car sales and there will be a transition to electric vehicles, and that companies that don’t make the transition may be left behind, I don’t see any evidence that this will lead to car dealerships disappearing within 7 years, as the study predicts.

As pointed out in the Forbes article Electric Vehicle Subsidies: Environmentally Friendly Or Just Welfare For The Rich?, the actual environmental benefits of electric vehicles are not huge, as long a the electricity they are running on is being generated from fossil fuels. Currently, tax credits in the US are as high as $7,500 federally, with state tax credits up to $5,000. If these incentives are removed–and with Trump’s fiscal conservatism, I’d say it’s a good bet that at least the federal credits will be–the idea that electric vehicles will reach a tipping point any time soon may be less than credible.

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CBC Exaggerates Climate Change, but not Sea Level Rise

2050-sea-levelThe CBC’s recent article Climate change in B.C.: Here’s how 2050 could look cites the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium’s publication Climate Projections for Metro Vancouver which claims that “Global climate models project an average increase of about 3°C in our region by the 2050s”. It’s unclear where they got this figure, since the NOAA’s Climate Change: Global Temperature Projections give the range of 1.5-1.7°C.

The CBC article goes on to repeat the oft repeated 2°C narrative. The story of the 2 degree “point of no return” is based on a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study described in Science Daily’s article Scientists identify climate ‘tipping points’. From that article:

Scientists analysed the climate model simulations… They found evidence of 41… regional abrupt changes in the ocean, sea ice, snow cover, permafrost and terrestrial biosphere. Many of these events occur for global warming levels of less than two degrees, a threshold sometimes presented as a safe limit. However, although most models predict one or more abrupt regional shifts, any specific occurrence typically appears in only a few models.

“This illustrates the high uncertainty in predicting tipping points,” says lead author Professor Sybren. “The majority of the detected abrupt shifts are distant from the major population centres of the planet,” says Martin Claussen, director of the MPI-M and one of the co-authors.

There will likely be drastic shifts in climate as warming occurs, and they will doubtless cause huge problems, but this is hardly the “cross the line and the earth descends into fiery hell” scenario that the media has made it out to be.

Next, the CBC article claims that sea levels will rise by 30cm (1 foot) by 2050. This seems to be at the low end of the range of predictions that have been made. Sea levels have been slowly rising over the last century without human caused increases in CO2 concentrations, so this number seems quite reasonable.

Some of the negative impacts the article identifies:

  • dikes will need to be improved
  • higher river temperatures may harm some fish
  • flood risk will be higher
  • the number of hot days will likely double, increasing air conditioning costs
  • fewer pests will be killed off by cold in the winter
  • the interior fire season may increase by 30 to 50 days
Then again, there is a positive impact:
  • growing season expanded by more than two months
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Review of “Ghost in the Shell (mild spoilers)”

ghost-in-the-shell* * C

I didn’t get a chance to see this film in the theater, partly because it was gone so quickly from them, which is never a good sign. This weekend, I had the chance to watch it on pay-per-view. I’ve seen the anime version, so I knew a lot about the world of the film and the main characters. I was hoping that it would be as good as Blade Runner. Instead, I found it more like Johnny Mnemonic.

The Major (Scarlett “Black Widow” Johansson) is a cyborg whose human body was destroyed. Hanaka Robotics encased her brain in a robot body, and she became an agent in the Japanese government’s Section 9 anti-terrorist unit. When someone starts murdering Hanaka’s scientists, the Major and her team must stop the killer.

Johansson’s performance is good, as are the supporting characters Batou (Pilou Asbæk) and Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano). The visuals are beautiful, and the vision of the future is impressive. The central motif (what makes a person human?) is the same one that allowed Blade Runner to transcend its science fiction shoot ’em up formula. Unfortunately, the Ghost in the Shell never quite succeeds in doing so.

One thing I disliked about the film was it’s overuse of special effects. The Major’s hallucinations are obviously computer generated, which detracts from her humanity. Similarly, the idea that her thoughts can be manipulated like computer data makes her less than human. Another weakness was the film’s secondary villain, who is a typical ruthless corporate mogul. All in all, I’d have to say the anime was better.

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Archetypes in Fiction

archetypesThe same archetypes that show up in peoples relationship styles, which I call the Hermit, The Queen of Cups, The Knave of Swords, The Judge, The Knight of Swords, The Emperor, and The Magician, show up again and again in fiction. The greatest heroes have more than one characteristic, making them multifaceted.

Odysseus

Having written a book in which he is the main character, I guess I’m biased in favor of Odysseus. He has aspects of the Emporer, as he is a king, and often appeals to men’s better nature before he openly opposes them. He is also a Knight of Swords, as he is very much a doer and an achiever as an individual. Finally, he is a bit of a trickster, a Knave of Swords. Not only does he come up with the famous Trojan Horse, he tricks his wife’s suitors into thinking he is an old beggar until he can gain the advantage.

Aragorn

Aragorn, son of Arathorn, is very much an Emporer. When he first meets the hobbits, he scares them, then offers himself as their leader and savior. His ability to lead by example fits the archetype. He is never an individual achiever; he always surrounds himself with a team. Yet Aragorn has self doubts, and comes perilously close to withdrawing and becoming a Hermit.

Muad’dib

kwisatz-haderachPaul Atreides, who is transformed into the Kwisatz Haderach, the divine man, is at first a Knight of Swords, driven to succeed, to impress his father. Later, he transforms into an Emperor as he leads the Fremen to triumph over the actual emperor. Finally, in the later books, he becomes The Prophet, a mystical figure like the Magician, who sees reality clearly and knows how difficult it can be to navigate it.

Merlin

Merlin is of course a Magician, always giving Arthur sage advice, and understanding the mysteries of life. And yet he has a strong streak of Trickster in him, including a proclivity for transforming himself into a hideous giant. In the end, at least as Mallory tells it, he is fooled by his own lust, meaning he has a bit of the Knave in him too.

Where are all the Heroines?

Though there are many female characters, and more than a few female protagonists, how few great heroines come to mind: Isis from Egyptian mythology; Arha from “The Tombs of Atuan”; Susanna in “The Dark Tower”. I think I will leave these to another post.

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Marvel, DC, and Archetypes

marvel-vs-dcIt’s interesting how Marvel and DC have discovered the same kinds of characters. I’m going to compare some characters from opposite sides of the mirror and see if they shed some light on heroic archetypes.

Superman and Thor

Superman and (current) Thor are both aliens, giving them both a bit of a fish of water character. Each one, on his home planet, would be fairly unremarkable, though both are the sons of the leaders of their races. Both are incredibly overpowered, yet have an Achilles heel, Superman’s being kryptonite and Thor’s the loss of his hammer, Mjollnir. Each has a nemesis who is cunning (Lex Luthor and Loki, respectively).

Batman and Ironman

Both Batman and Ironman are normal men who use technology to achieve super human abilities. They are both orphans whose parents were killed by their enemies. They are both wealthy men who run their own companies and masquerade as playboys. Finally, they are both inventors of their own high tech gadgets.

Wonder Woman and Captain America

Wonder Woman and Cap are both patriots with origin stories in the world wars. They both carry a shield, and both, though American heroes, have become pacifists, only fighting out of a need to protect the innocent. They are both super-humanly strong, but neither is a Superman or a God.

Green Lantern and Starlord

Both the Lantern and the Starlord (Peter Quill, leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy) are humans who are part of a group of aliens that defends the Galaxy from evil aliens. While the Green Latern’s powers make him a superhero, both are very much science fiction characters.

Constantine and Dr. Strange

Both Constantine and Dr. Strange wield magic to defend the world from supernatural forces. They both have enemies (Satan and Dormamu) who inhabit another dimension, are far more powerful than any human, and threaten to destroy the earth entirely.

Mere Copies?

Other major DC characters have Marvel equivalents who are mere reflections of their counterparts. Aquaman can be seen in Namor, Prince of Atlantis, who started out as a villain in the Fantastic Four. The Flash is reflected by Quicksilver, Magneto’s lightning quick son. Green Arrow and Hawkeye bear more than a passing resemblance to one another.

Is That It, DC?

That covers all of the major DC titles that aren’t focused on villains (like Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad). There are dozens of Marvel heroes that have no direct analog in DC: Spiderman, the X-Men, Deadpool, Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, the Punisher, the Inhumans, Black Panther, Elektra, Silver Surfer, and more.

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