Friday, July 22, 2005

Friday Random Ten: Serendipity After All

by Tom Bozzo

Sad but true: in matters of transportation to work, my conservative friend Bryan Smith is much greener than me. It's probably not totally unfair to say that this reflects more the relative incentives we face rather than our inherent preferences for greenery, since I have free parking and Bryan is subject to the UW's "Transportation Demand Management" program, of which persistent excess demand for peak-period parking is a central feature.

So I'm Mr. Gas-Guzzler, typically driving (with a little stylization) an isosceles triangle of about 3 miles over city streets to the office, 2 miles to the gym, and 3 miles back home, at an average fuel economy of just over 19 MPG in summer conditions. (*) Note that my total fuel consumption is low, as this routine does imply that my 31-month-old car's odometer only recently broke into quintuple digits.

For this limited driving, I haul around an enormous amount of music, thanks to the iPod and the connector that conveniently patches it directly into the car stereo. The problem is which of the now nearly 1,500 songs I actually want to hear in my brief exposure to the car. One's mileage may vary, but I find that this puts a premium on tracks that would make a good sub-three-minute single in days past. I've gone through as many as forty tracks to find one or two in the three-mile drive in the past, leading me on several occasions to the brink of posts to the effect that "iPod serendipity" is a crock of s***.

Then a happy draw calms the blood, and today was no exception. I actually listened to the first three random tracks in a row, as their selection would have seemed canny had they been planned. So here's the random three from the car, plus seven more that are OK too, even if the shoegazing material appears in potentially jarring locations.

Jonathan Richman
Abominable Snowman In The Market
Best of Jonathan Richman: The Beserkeley Years
Blow Up
Pool Valley 12" (**)
The Chills
Swimming In The Rain
Polar Bear
The Jasmine Minks
Reaching Out
The Revenge Of The Jasmine Minks (***)
West Of The Fields
Little America
Reckoning (****)
Melon Yellow
The Chills
Part Past Part Fiction
Submarine Bells (*****)
The Jam
Town Called Malice
Compact Snap (******)

(*) This is a little worse than the EPA city rating for my car, but a little better than its rating on the EU urban loop.
(**) Digitized from the vinyl.
(***) A very convenient CD reissue that spares me from digitizing several vinyls.
(****) By local standards, this is not turning out to be a very obscure random ten.
(*****) The pseudorandom track selection isn't yielding a very random looking artist selection, is it?
(******) What is this, quantum entanglement with Phantom Scribbler's iPod?
The human body is pretty efficient, but I really do wonder what the net savings in CO2 release is on a bike ride vs. a car ride. There's obviously some in that a car weighs 10 times more than a person and even a good engine isn't nearly as efficient in using energy as our cells are, but I'll have to calculate it out some day and get the exactish numbers.

You are correct that one of my main motivations for biking is due to the campus parking situation, but then again, I have a one car family, and since my wife drives, I don't have a car to drive, so a parking spot would be pretty useless.

I've biked with an iPod on a few times, but the earphone cords tend to get in the way, and it's probably best to be able to hear traffic. My iPod usage has decreased considerably since using the bus system in the winter.

And, I hate to blather on about plant food, but CO2 isn't pollution anyway - plants use the energy from the sun to fix carbon dioxide and create useful molecules that we get all of our energy from. The limiting step in plant growth is fixation of carbon dioxide. O2 competes with CO2 in the enzymatic active site of Rubisco. Rubisco evolved at the time when Earth's atmosphere had essentially no O2, so there was never any selection against O2 screwing up the enzyme reaction. Some plants (C4) like corn concentrate CO2 to make this step more efficient, but most plants waste tons of energy and growth potential by using O2 as a substrate instead of CO2. With more CO2 in the air, more carbon gets fixed (via LeChatlier's principle), and plants grow better. So I wouldn't worry about driving too much anyway.

Hey! I've heard of R.E.M.!!!
This site gives me a CO2 emissions figure of 218 g/km for my car, or just over 1 kg for the one-way drive. I look forward to your calculation for the bike ride.

It's probably a good idea to be able to hear the SUV whose driver is talking on a cell phone while you're out riding...
I just did some pretty sad estimates in my head.

15 min bike ride = 150 calories burned

If for simplicity, we burn all fat, then 150 cal / 9 cal/g = 16.7 g of carbon or 61 g CO2 for a 3 mile trip = 20 g /mile or 13 g CO2/km. Less than 10% of a car, which is not too bad, but I'm probably an order of magnitude off somewhere.

I think the real key is that riding a bike is essentially CO2 neutral, because we get carbon directly and indirectly from plants (which had just been fixing CO2 from the atmosphere). While driving a car, you are releasing CO2 into the atmosphere from carbon that was fixed by plants millions of years ago and eventually became oil. If we could make oil on a yearly basis to replace what we're burning, we'd be in good shape. Biodiesel would be a pretty carbon neutral option, but then again, you'd have to account for all the trees and other plants that would be mowed down to plant all the soybeans.
Laughing! Yeah, between the Jonathan Richman and the Jam, your iPod and mine are definitely melding minds.

I have the first album by the Chills, but on cassette, alas. My iPod will just have to be jealous of yours on that score.
Bryan: "but then again, you'd have to account for all the trees and other plants that would be mowed down to plant all the soybeans."

Isn't this a description of the Midwest these days anyway? Anecdotally (looking out the window of car a few years ago when packing up the Ancestral Manse [sold for a 4% p.a. ROI, net of maintenance costs, upgrades, etc. Is it clear now why most people should buy a house as a place to live, not an investment?] South Central Indiana has gone fairly solidly from corn to soybeans.
And, following up on Bryan's previous comment: I even own Reckoning!
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