Last weekend I attended a conference in Austin, Texas. While I was there, I walked over to the Congress Avenue Bridge to watch the nightly flight of the bats. Here’s a video:
Archive for the ‘Planet earth’ Category
Centralia is back in the news today thanks to an AP story about the star-crossed Pennsylvania town’s last days: “Few remain as 1962 Pa. coal town fire still burns.”
I was briefly fascinated with Centralia when I lived in Pennsylvania. I drove there one Saturday to gawk at the smoldering streets take some pictures of the desolate place. I think these muddy old digital camera shots actually do a good job of reflecting the town’s atmosphere of unease and sadness. Here’s a post I published on my blog in 2002, with more pictures below:
Yesterday was a beautiful day. I put on my hiking boots and rode the Metro North to Cold Spring, a town on the east shore of the Hudson. There I hiked over Breakneck Ridge, ending up in Beacon, where I caught the train back to Manhattan. The payoff of this hike is breathtaking views of the river.
Halfway between the two towns, in the deepest part of the woods, I saw something that stirred me deeply. With the green leaves of the forest canopy diffusing the sunlight, a brilliant red songbird landed on the limb of a nearby sapling. I’d never seen a bird like it before. I’d never seen anything that color before. The bird whistled and its song was quiet and slightly raspy, as if it were whispering a discrete secret. I watched it for a few seconds as it hopped from branch to branch. Then it darted off into the trees. I continued my hike.
Back home, I checked my bird book and learned I had seen a scarlet tanager. Normally yellow, the males turn bright red during mating season, March to August. Stunning bird. I didn’t even try to take a picture.
I just read an interview in Good magazine with Richard Larrick, a Duke business professor who advocates changing the “miles per gallon” standard we use to rate car efficiency. The problem? Basically, mpg statistics mislead our brains.
Larrick and professor Jack Soll have been on a crusade to adopt a “gallons per mile” standard. What’s the difference? Here’s a story about their work from 2008. It says:
“Most people ranked an improvement from 34 to 50 mpg as saving more gas over 10,000 miles than an improvement from 18 to 28 mpg, even though the latter saves twice as much gas. (Going from 34 to 50 mpg saves 94 gallons; but from 18 to 28 mpg saves 198 gallons).
“These mistaken impressions were corrected, however, when participants were presented with fuel efficiency expressed in gallons used per 100 miles rather than mpg. Viewed this way, 18 mpg becomes 5.5 gallons per 100 miles, and 28 mpg is 3.6 gallons per 100 miles — an $8 difference today.“
I had never thought about this before. But it makes sense: The higher the mpg number, the smaller the significance of each mile, because you cover more distance before you need to tap that extra fuel. We are used to thinking each number in a rating scale has the same value. It’s misleading.
The professors are using their math to defend small improvements in low-mileage vehicles—a strong argument for hybrid SUVs, which are scoffed at by most environmentally minded people. In fact, it makes a big difference. Here’s Professor Soll’s argument:
“There are significant savings to be had by improving efficiency by even two or three miles per gallon on inefficient cars, but because we communicate in miles per gallon, that savings is not immediately evident to consumers.”
Grizzly bear, American Museum of Natural History, February 16, 2009
Interesting fact about this TV ad: It was directed by the Coen brothers.
I have just returned from…
The future is powered by nuclear and wind. Public transportation is robust. Trains run everywhere, and glide at 200 miles per hour. Every city has a computerized bike-sharing system. Cars are small, lights go out automatically, and you can give a toilet half a flush if you want to. People savor fresh, locally grown foods.
Wait, did I say the future? I meant France.
More thoughts about my trip over the next few days.