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Friday, October 10, 2008

Sports Watcher for the Weekend of 10/11-12

All times PDT.

9-12:30 PM: College Football, #3 Texas v. #1 Oklahoma (ABC). The loser will not play for a national championship. The winner will look good to do so but needs to not screw it up.

12-3:30 PM: College Football, #19 Nebraska @ #7 Texas Tech (FSN). Alternately, Michigan State-Northwestern on the Deuce.
4-8:30 PM: NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing, Bank of America 500 (ABC). It's the midpoint of the Chase, and I gain the ability to slot in an NFL daytime game! Without help from another sport and with the ability to pick the late (or middle, depending on your point of view) game!

10-1 PM: NFL Football, probably Rams @ Redskins (FOX). Just my luck that I finally get a chance at the usually more national late game (or middle game, depending on your point of view), and Fox throws this at me in the early game.

1-3 PM: Champions Tour Golf, Senior Players Championship (NBC). How did I not know of this until just now?!?

5-8:30 PM: MLB Baseball, Phillies @ Dodgers (FOX). NASCAR forces the NLCS to be the LCS of the weekend.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Get a head start in urban planning courses on Da Blog!

Feeling a bit under the weather and starting writing this post at 8 PM (really 8:40), way later than I had intended, but I will press on regardless.

Many cities have already embraced transit, in the form of urban rail (which I use to refer to variously streetcars, light rail, and "heavy rail" or subways, also "rapid transit", with the ideas to be presented referring primarily to the latter two), even if not always as a way to counter climate change, but more as a way to chase down economic development and, it sometimes seems, to add a gimmick or tourist attraction to their cities. Just this year there's a veritable boatload of transit plans on various local ballots. Portland's heavy investment in transit and other anti-sprawl policies have earned the envy of cities as large as Los Angeles. And Portland is a mid-size city at best, though with its spiffy streetcar and other urban rail systems that could change.

As I outlined in my previous post, mass transit has a ton of many and varied benefits, but it takes some care. Think of two residential neighborhoods in your community far enough apart to be distinct, but close enough to be almost adjacent, not "on the way" to Downtown, and with none or few amenities for people from outside of either neighborhood to visit. If you built a transit line just connecting those two neighborhoods, who would use it? What reason would people in one neighborhood have for visiting someone in the other? Tourists might want to use it but how would they get there from the places that are actually interesting? The problem only expands as we extend it to other uninteresting neighborhoods.

So you can't just plop down a transit line anywhere you want and expect to reap the benefits. If anything, transit-oriented development actually poses a problem in such circumstances: companies looking to build office buildings will see the transit line that skips past downtown and build somewhere near it to advertise the easy connection to people along the line. As I said before, there is not really a relationship between where people live and where they work; people will work where they are most suited to, and live where they can and want to. There are still people who will need to use their cars to get to those jobs. So if jobs are placed anywhere other than downtown, that exacerbates traffic caused by people going every which way to try and get to their jobs.

For this reason, if any first transit line is going to make a dent in global warming and resource use, as well as make a dent in traffic, it needs to at least go and preferably terminate downtown. One transit line alone, of course, is really only serving the communities along that line, so even just within the city the job is not done yet, requiring the addition of more lines, and those can't just go wherever you want them to go but should serve downtown as well. That takes time, and it could require the voters to approve expansions several times, as due to modern financial, political, and practical considerations, it's rare that a transportation system can be approved more than 5-10 miles or so at a time. A full-fledged system can take 20 years or more to develop, but it's worth the effort even if it might be too late to make a dent in climate change, for reasons elaborated on in my last post. It's worth inquiring if a proposed transportation plan is intended to be part of an eventual larger system, and how that line fits into that system, in addition to its value in the here and now.

Following those principles, we can expect the system to eventually take on a hub-and-spoke form, with several branches shooting out of the center. Obviously there are people who will want to go places other than downtown and they might not want to be shafted with having to go downtown to go places that might be less than a mile away on another spoke, and so we might want to create routes that bypass downtown in some way, but not a lot - Chicago's rail system, for one, is highly centralized on downtown. More concerning, there are land uses rare enough other than work that transit might be the best solution for simple trips to them; airports and sports stadiums are the obvious examples here. Ideally, downtowns can be the equivalent of shopping malls so they can be out. As the system grows and matures, it's possible downtown won't be able to support any more jobs, and some transit service would then need to be provided to alternative job centers.

I'll expand on these principles, especially on a macro level, and examine some theoretical and practical applications, in later posts.

Repowering America? How about Refueling America?

This post is tagged "blog news" because of the new tag being introduced. To make up for a paucity of posts recently, I'm going to try to get in another post later today, following up on this one.

I teased in my post on alternative sources of energy (which need to become primary sources of energy) that I would introduce a way of getting around that would use next to no resources, take advantage of our new green electric grid, put as little strain on that grid as possible, and save money. And I'll get to that. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and people power is the most green form of energy there is. (There's an old ESPN "This Is SportsCenter" commercial depicting the ESPN campus as powered by Lance Armstrong riding a treadmill; I wish that had even any potential basis whatsoever in reality!)

The greenest ways of getting around are also the oldest: walking, followed by bicycling. Walking gets the edge because it uses no resources other than what you'd consume anyway in the form of food. If you can walk to get to wherever you want to, you probably should, to save the energy of short car trips and get some excersize.

Some people are probably saying, "But Mr. Wick, if I could walk to get to wherever I wanted to, I would, wouldn't I? Anyone who would drive to get just three blocks away would just be stupid, global warming or no global warming!"

And maybe you do walk to get to anyplace within walking distance (which probably means you live in the city), and maybe you do have to drive to get to anyplace you would want to go to (which probably means you live in the middle of nowhere). But a great many - maybe most - Americans live in a place known as suburbia, places that look like this, California's Newbury Park community (image courtesy Google Maps):

Now, suppose you live somewhere in the area in the red circle. (Apologies if you can't see it.) And suppose you want to go to the store. Well, based on plugging in "grocery stores" into a Google Maps search, the nearest grocery store is... about a mile away, as the crow flies. That's to a place about due east of a point near the center of the circle; there's another place a bit further away and to the southwest. (There's a 7-Eleven significantly closer and to the south, but I doubt it would do for full-fledged grocery trips. I only mention it because it comes up on my search.) I could have picked a point to the northwest and gotten even longer distances. Imagine having to lug several bags of groceries, by hand, for over a mile. To put it in perspective, the average human walking speed is 2 to 3 miles per hour. Those bags are surely slowing you down, so you're looking at nearly half an hour (at best) of a grueling return trip, and about two minutes by car. And remember, this is as the crow flies, so it's probably significantly longer.

Okay, so maybe you get a bicycle - you're looking at about 10-15 miles an hour, so as the crow flies, you're looking at a trip of about four to six minutes. You can get a bike meant to handle a load like bags of groceries, so you're covered there, but the load might slow you down, and even the added load of the "trunk" will slow you down a little. Still, let's say you can go 8-12 miles an hour each way - arbitrarily chosen, but it does correspond to four-fifths speed on both numbers. You're looking at five to seven minutes each way at this point, and carrying the bags is less grueling.

In fact, let's make this easier by moving closer to one of the stores and bringing this closer to reality. One of my uncles actually lives in this area, and I've chosen a semi-random point near his house, represented by the green placemark. (Not exactly on his house. I'm not allowing a horde of people to descend on him. Of course, maybe that's better than people descending on a complete stranger.) The red placemark is near a nearby Albertsons. As the crow flies, it's about 3301 feet, or about 5/8ths of a mile.

Here's the walking route Google Maps generates between the two points - about four-fifths of a mile by its calculations. It calculates the walking time as 16 minutes, and I imagine the bicycle time is about four to six minutes.

Looks decent, right? That is, until you get to the details. Take a look at the segment of a piece of the route shown below. The sidewalk is about three and a half feet wide, wide enough for maybe one person to walk on, and about four to seven feet from the curb - maybe a car's width. Newbury Park may be lucky to have a sidewalk at all. The street is about five car widths wide with parking existing to some extent on both sides of the street, but not a lot of it. Note that the car in the picture is almost flush up against the curb. Now consider that you can't just cram in cars like mad and you're looking at two cars at most traveling on this street at a time. (A traffic lane is about ten-to-twelve feet wide.) If there's even one car on the road, especially if it's barreling down the center, there's not much room for a bike to operate, either on the sidewalk or on the road. Did I mention it's a decently hilly route, which is kind of a problem for a heavy bike?

Still, it's doable... until you get to an intersection. Do you see something missing in the image below? Aside from an oddly colored strip of concrete, there isn't really a crosswalk at this intersection. So what, you might say, people cross where there isn't a crosswalk all the time. But consider that, if you're walking, you have to step off a three-foot wide sidewalk to cross as much as 50 feet of roadway, given the curve in the curb that's intended to allow cars to make higher-speed turns - 14-17 times the distance. You might feel like a lost soul adrift at sea. If you look closely on the left side, you see the sidewalk itself actually turns here - trying to dissuade you from making the crossing.

Now, if you're riding your bicycle on the street itself, you might not think it's such a big deal, and even if you're a pedestrian or intending to bike on the sidewalk, you might think it's okay. But what happens when you get to the arterial? Two things about the below picture should stand out besides the sudden presence of crosswalks. First, when arterials are involved the curb has an even shallower curve. Secondly, if you're riding your bike on the pavement, where does it go? Every lane is the same width; maybe the outside lane is about one or two feet wider. You probably have to get your bike to fit in with the normal flow of cars. The sidewalks can be as little as a foot wider, if that, than before, and they are dwarfed by the now-mammoth roadway, which could be about 60 feet wide (with only five lanes of traffic). Oh, and if in all of this, the sidewalk is any wider than four feet, it might be because it's now completely flush up against the curb. On an arterial. Where the traffic lane is no wider than the others. Imagine walking down the street while cars whoosh past at 25-30 miles an hour just a few feet away - almost right next to you. I haven't even shown what happens when a non-arterial meets a route that's very arterial.

What happens when you finally get to the store? Theoretically, you should be in better shape because people are supposed to walk on and cross the parking lot anyway to get to the store. Did I mention the parking lot is as big as the store itself - admittedly this store is part of a larger strip mall? And if you're biking, do you know for sure if there will be a good place to leave your bike? Especially one where you can lock it up and keep people from stealing it, like you lock your car?

Theoretically, it's possible to walk or bike from my uncle's house to the store... but you can see why most people would rather drive, especially with a mostly-arterial route that's not much longer even by distance. But of course, the store isn't the only place people go to. Suppose we stopped putting our kids on school buses to send them to school. Now imagine them having to traverse about a mile of this kind of route with all its dangers, real or perceived - and with kids the perception is probably magnified several times. You can see why kids are often put on diesel-belching school buses to take them to schools that could be within half a mile of their home. When they get older, it's safer, but this is what Newbury Park High School looks like:

(UPDATE: Okay, I have been informed that the above picture was originally mis-labeled as Newbury Park High School, and its compact size should have tipped me off. Google results now suggest that it's a pre-school, which if anything just proves my point, at least about the early levels, even more: when reading the below, keep in mind we're talking about four-and-five year old kids here. And high schools are not off the hook even though they generally don't have to deal with access roads as long as I originally intimated, as suburban high schools tend to be cavernous affairs with multiple sports fields and sealike parking lots. Compare Adolfo Camarillo High School in nearby Camarillo with the school I went to in Seattle.)

Yes, that's a good 150 feet (or almost a full 3% of a mile) of 18-foot-wide access road just to get to the parking lot from the (arterial) main street, with NO separate pedestrian or bike path (that I can tell) whatsoever. It could take only eleven seconds of walking, if you're fast, but it could also take as long as almost a minute. If you live really close by, like your house is already visible on the screen, maybe you could cut across the grass if there isn't a fence, but otherwise you pretty much need a car to pass. (Oh, and the nearest other high school is more than two miles away, even with the correct location, so you could travel significantly more than a mile to get to the nearest high school. Not that I'm proposing densification.)

That is how many, many Americans live, positively needing a car to go distances for which walking should suffice, needing a car to do anything and everything. If you can't drive - if you're, say, a little kid, or an old man whose senses aren't what they used to be - you're SOL unless you can get someone to drive for you. So cutting down carbon emissions from transportation starts with rethinking how everything is organized and making sure we can walk or bike to as many destinations as possible. If we can walk to the store, walk to the pub, walk to the park, walk to school, walk to soccer practice, that's a good chunk of driving - and thus, resource use - rendered irrelevant. Ideally, we could walk everywhere.

But when we get to the most fundamental aspect of our travel, we run into a problem. Stores, pubs, parks, even schools, are all fundamentally interchangeable. If we move far enough away from one that we become closer to another, we can just transfer to that other thing without any serious impact to our lives. It is not so with workplaces. If we move, we can't easily change our place of work to correspond to that, and not everyone can live flush up next to downtown. "Office parks" have become popular near suburbs but in terms of getting their workers to live near them, the results have been mixed at best. The mobility of the automobile renders location mostly irrelevant, despite what real estate agents will tell you. Most people don't think of the cost of driving more, at least until recently - but it means more resource use and more traffic on the main arterials. (This is especially the case in cities that have built "beltway" freeways that ease travel between suburbs.)

Is there a way to travel longer distances than even bikes allow if we need to, without contributing to global warming and indeed using as few resources as possible? Well, consider that a car engine has to carry both itself and the people in it, and all things considered, the people (and the cargo) will generally weigh less than the car. If you cram as many people as possible in the car, it will cause a negligible impact on the car's resource use - but if all those people would have driven instead, each of those cars would need to carry themselves and used much more in the way of resources.

So perhaps even better than the electric car would be to move more of our people, and ideally as many as possible, using mass transit - buses, trains, and the like. And once we've taken that step, the benefits just rack up and rack up, extending so far beyond climate change it becomes worth investing in in its own right. Since buses and trains travel on fixed routes several times each day, we can connect them to electric wires and take full advantage of our green electric grid - without having to plug them in anywhere. People riding on public transit instead of driving cars take up less space in addition to less mass, and each person who takes transit gives up an entire car with next to no replacement on the roads, resulting in a true reduction in traffic congestion (even if you personally don't use it - this is especially the case if they don't use the roads at all, i.e., are trains). People aren't driving so they don't get road rage, so they can just enjoy the ride, and they can get something productive done instead of wasting time driving.

Perhaps most importantly, build it and they will come: across the nation transit projects have brought with them new development designed to take advantage of the transit and cater to transit users, building whole neighborhoods around transit stations - almost always very dense, tall buildings that work to curb sprawl (which also is tied to global warming through potential deforestation). We might even see many of America's other seemingly unrelated problems - our continuing distrust of each other, the dissolution of the community - at least be eased by a transition back to neighborhoods instead of cars.

"What!" you claim. "Mass transit? Isn't that welfare for the poor? That stinks! You're trying to impose communism and lower our quality of life! You're trying to limit our choice!" I'm sure you probably have an idea of mass transit as a bunch of grimy, noisy, diesel-spewing buses clogged in traffic with uncomfortable seats where crazy, scary black men lurk everywhere you turn. I'm sure there are some transit systems like that, but they're probably little more than sops to the idea of having transit at all in communities that otherwise worship at the altar of the automobile. Many modern buses are clean, running on compressed natural gas, biofuels, or hybrid buses; pretty much all urban trains are electric, but it's possible to run a bus on electric wires as well, if surprisingly underutilized outside here in Seattle. New York City should be our model, where there exists a rail system of the sort typical of just about all urban areas around the world of over about eight million population (except Los Angeles). There, the subway has become every bit a part of the identity of the city as the Statue of Liberty or Empire State Building, and here's an incredible stat: less than half the population of New York even owns a car, let alone drives one. Chicago, Washington DC, San Francisco, and Boston have superlative transit systems as well. The car doesn't have to be America's only transportation option.

What reason is there that that success can't be repeated all over the country? Before the Great Depression, many of America's cities had marvellous streetcar systems. During World War II, many of them were bought up and dismantled, replaced by the aforementioned terrible buses. Many transit advocates claim the oil and car companies conspired to destroy the streetcars to ensure the dominion of cars. Some experts have looked into the matter and decided the streetcars were unprofitable enough to be bought and dismantled. Robert Bruegmann, in his anti-anti-sprawl book Sprawl: A Compact History (which I will refer to again in later posts), suggests that it was as simple as buses providing flexibility to change routes with changing travel patterns that streetcars did not. But that very flexibility has since proven to be a curse: once a rail line is down, it's difficult to change, but a bus line could change at any time like that, so buses are wholly ineffective at bringing the sort of transit-oriented development I mentioned earlier, no matter how good they are. Add that to buses' tendency to get stuck in traffic I mentioned earlier, combined with trains' ability to be run above or below ground in their own right of way, and you can see that preferably trains are in our green energy future.

(I know I haven't covered every objection people may have to my mass transit strategy. I'll get to others in later posts.)

That takes care of the transportation paradigm within cities, but what about beyond it, especially with regards to suburbia? Many areas are instituting commuter rail systems along the same lines as longer-distance freight and passenger rail, to serve the suburbs otherwise underserved by urban rail systems. Their main problem is that they tend to be structured around a park-and-ride model, which begs the question "I'm already in my car, I might as well keep driving." Still, they're important to connect the suburbs to the city and urban rail system, especially with bus connections on the suburban end.

As for longer distances, between cities? This, after all, is where one would most need the gas engine of a Volt, and some way to get around the limitations of electric cars in general. Most Americans take a plane to go any distance beyond 250 miles or so, but they by necessity guzzle a lot of gas and spew a lot of greenhouse gases. Airline companies are letting the public know that they are transitioning to biofuels and potentially hydrogen, but an electric plane is probably out of the question. Fortunately, we have America's long-distance passenger rail system, and the Democratic-controlled Congress has repeatedly shown its loyalty to Amtrak in recent months. Several people have been pushing for development of a high speed rail system that could deliver people across the country at speeds comparable to air travel; these systems have been gaining popularity in Europe and Asia. For intercontinental travel, aircraft is probably still best, unless you want to spend a long time on a boat, and with biofuels and potentially hydrogen (and, dare I say, solar and wind?)-powered aircraft, even that can cut down on its global warming impact.

We can cut America's greenhouse gas emissions, even as we get around. To work best, it'll require us to rethink the way we live, but in most ways it's probably for the best anyway.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Random Internet Discovery of the Week

Is it just me, or do I tend to get a lot of cat-related RIDs?

Incidentially, Obama making energy his top priority at last night's debate - among other things - was pure music to my ears.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 5

NBC's Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it "tentatively" schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was written with last season in mind):
  • Begins Sunday of Week 11
  • In effect during Weeks 11-17
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET. (Note: Last year, NBC listed a tentative game for Week 17; they are not doing so this year.)
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in "flex" weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night. (Note: Again, excluding Week 17.)
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks, and could not protect any games Week 17 last year. Unless I find out otherwise, I'm assuming that's still the case this year, especially with no tentative game listed Week 17, and that protections were scheduled after Week 4.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC. A list of all teams' number of appearances is in my Week 4 post.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 11 (November 16):
  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Washington
  • Prospects: Both teams are 4-1 in the tough NFC East. Probably will keep its spot, especially being the NFL's greatest rivalry, to the extent I wouldn't be surprised if CBS and Fox didn't bother to protect anything, especially Fox (who if they lost anything, say Bears-Packers, could take solace in getting the Cowboys and Redskins). That said, there's a reason I still have Fox protecting a game this week. See below.
  • Likely protections: Ravens-Giants, Titans-Jaguars, or nothing (CBS) and Bears-Packers (FOX)
  • Other possible games: Chargers-Steelers is losing ground as the Chargers may be overrated (and now that I think about it, may have been protected anyway). Broncos-Falcons is the only remote possibility at the present time, but a lot can change.
Week 12 (November 23):
  • Tentative game: Indianapolis @ San Diego
  • Prospects: A 2-2 v. 2-3 matchup that pits #13 v. #23 in's power rankings. Last week I said "If Indy keeps losing and the Chargers get on the winning track this could start looking lopsided." I may want to put that the other way around, but it looks mediocre at the moment anyway, which is a shock.
  • Likely protections: Eagles-Ravens (Fox) and Jets-Titans (CBS).
  • Other possible games: Panthers-Falcons and Giants-Cardinals are probably the front-runners. Patriots-Dolphins may well be a dark horse, as might Jets-Titans. Too close to call right now.
Week 13 (November 30):
  • Tentative game: Chicago @ Minnesota
  • Prospects: 3-2 v. 2-3, which looks mediocre, but in's power rankings it's a 10-16 matchup, which is decent, especially given the competition.
  • Likely protections: Giants-Redskins (Fox) and either Steelers-Patriots or Broncos-Jets (CBS).
  • Other possible games: It's Thanksgiving Weekend, so more teams like the Cowboys and Titans aren't available. Panthers-Packers looks like a decent enough selection. On the off chance Steelers-Patriots isn't protected NBC would probably snap it up in a heartbeat. Falcons-Chargers might look bad soon.
Week 14 (December 7):
  • Tentative game: New England @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 3-1 v. 1-3, which looks lopsided. 9-v.-25 in NBC's power rankings, also looking lopsided. Only chance for this to keep its spot is if NBC thinks the Pats are as much of a draw as they were last year, and without a perfect record (or Tom Brady), they are not.
  • Likely protections: Cowboys-Steelers (FOX) and if anything, Jags-Bears (CBS).
  • Other possible games: Redskins-Ravens looks worse off than before, but Eagles-Giants still looks good, which makes it the favorite for the moment.
Week 15 (December 14):
  • Tentative game: NY Giants @ Dallas
  • Prospects: This is why I had Fox protect Bears-Packers Week 11: so they could leave this week protection-free and maximize their chances of getting a marquee NFC East matchup back.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Ravens, Broncos-Panthers, Bills-Jets, or nothing (CBS).
  • Othe possible games: Packers-Jaguars could start looking concerning, and Bucs-Falcons could be sneaking up to replace it. Broncos-Panthers probably the best-looking of the potentially protected games, with Bills-Jets right behind.
Week 16 (December 21):
  • Tentative game: San Diego @ Tampa Bay
  • Prospects: Quite possibly will lose its spot. It's 2-3 @ 3-2.
  • Likely protections: Panthers-Giants or Eagles-Redskins (FOX) and Steelers-Titans (CBS).
  • Other possible games: Cardinals-Patriots and Falcons-Vikings have to at least be considered, but NBC will probably take whatever game Fox didn't protect.
Week 17 (December 28):
  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

It's a whole new blog promotion paradigm!

So apparently, if I comment on a blog and point out that it has a bug that prevents me from seeing it properly, I get a free link?

It's too bad it's a Wordpress blog, because otherwise I could ask for a counterfavor and wonder how to condense my label list (and - I dare to dream - add non-obtrusive feed links).

College Football Schedule: Week 7

Let's launch right into the games. All times Eastern.
Top 25 Games
#3 Texasv.#1 OklahomaNoonABC
#9 Oklahoma State@#2 *Missouri8 PMESPN2
#5 Penn State@Wisconsin8 PMESPN
Arizona State@#6 USC3:30ABC
#19 Nebraska@#7 Texas Tech3 PMFSN
*LSU@#10 Florida8 PMCBS
#11 Ball State@Western Kentucky7 PMCSD.TV
New Mexico@#12 BYU6 PMmtn.
Tennessee@#13 Georgia3:30CBS
#14 *Utah@Wyoming2 PMmtn.
Notre Dame@#15 North Carolina3:30ABC/ESPN
South Carolina@#16 Kentucky12:30R'com/Y'hoo
#17 Michigan State@#25 Northwestern3:30ESPN2
Gardner-Webb@#18 Georgia Tech3:30
#20 Vanderbilt@Mississippi State2:30Gameplan
Colorado@#21 Kansas12:30ESPN2
#22 Boise State@Southern Miss8 PMCBS CS
#23 TCU@Colorado State3:30CBS CS
Watchlist and Other Positive B Point Teams
Clemson@Wake Forest7:30 THESPN
Arkansas@Auburn5 PMGameplan
Purdue@Ohio State3:30ABC/ESPN
Arizona@Stanford5 PM
This Week's Other HD Games
Troy@Florida Atlantic8 PM TUESPN2
Louisville@Memphis8 PM FRESPN
East Carolina@VirginiaNoonRaycom
Syracuse@West VirginiaNoonESPNU
Central Florida@Miami (FL)3:45ESPNU
Utah State@San Jose State7:30ESPNU
Big 12
Kansas State@Texas A&M2 PM
Iowa State@Baylor7 PMFCS
Mountain West
Air Force@San Diego State9:30mtn.
Ohio@Kent State2 PMFSN Ohio
Western Michigan@Buffalo3:30CSD.TV
Miami (OH)@Northern Illinois4 PMGameplan
Temple@Central Michigan4 PMCSD.TV
Bowling Green@Akron6 PM
Washington State@Oregon State6:30FSN NW
Conference USA
New Mexico State@Nevada4 PMGameplan
Idaho@Fresno State7 PTGameplan
Louisiana Tech@Hawaii9 PTPPV
Sun Belt
Louisiana-Monroe@Arkansas State7 PMESPN+
Middle Tenn. St.@Florida International7 PM
Louisiana-Lafayette@North Texas7 PMCSD.TV
Bowl Subdivision
Eastern Michigan@Army1 PMESPN Classic

Monday, October 6, 2008

Come on, you know this was what you were really looking for Friday.

An addendum to my original panicking-about-climate-change post: If we really are to reduce the presence of greenhouse gases in the way we may have to, it may take turning our cities into true concrete jungles. On to weaning ourselves off fossil fuels. I gave up on a couple of fronts Friday without making any real recommendations, but I'm doing no giving up today.

As in my last post, I begin with some notes from the EPA report cited in that post. First, some notes on fossil fuels in general. T. Boone Pickens is right about one thing: natural gas is less carbon-producing than oil. Natural gas has 45% less carbon than coal, compared to 25% for oil. Problem is, at every stage of natural gas' journey from the ground to the pump it leaks methane, as mentioned above, a problem that also exists to a lesser extent with oil. As we'll see, there's a good reason Pickens wants to fuel our cars with gas while proposing powering America with wind. The vast majority of fossil-fuel-burning electricity plants are coal plants, although there are a number of natural gas plants as well.

In addition to using fossil fuels, this Wikipedia article lists the following methods of generating electricity: nuclear (fission and theoretical fusion), wind, solar, wave/tidal, geothermal, biomass, and hydropower. Any or all are feasible for generating electricity to some extent or another.

Nuclear power, proponents claim, doesn't have any carbon emissions and isn't going to tie us down to countries that don't like us. Unfortunately, it is VERY controversial. The spectre of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island still hovers over many Americans, and even discounting the idea of a cataclysmic disaster, there is still the problem of waste disposal. Nuclear waste will likely remain deadly radioactive for thousands of years, and it's damn near impossible to keep people from cracking it open in the meantime. Nuclear reprocessing is an iffy technology at best. And then you have to make sure the uranium doesn't get into the wrong hands. And it's not completely non-carbon-producing either. Oh, and the uranium will eventually run out. Basically, way way way too many concerns here. But if we can get fusion going, it should be accident-free, with very little risk of weapons proliferation, any radioactive products would be radioactive for far shorter spans of time, with no global warming risk, only a need to contain tritium byproducts.

Wind power is clean and safe, will go on as long as there's wind, and the only real resources used are in construction of the turbine itself. It does need to be placed in windy environments, doesn't look like the best thing in the world, and could pose a threat to birds, but at 2006 rates would cost only a teensy bit more than coal and gas (and nuclear a bit higher than that). The downside is that the capacity of an individual wind turbine is half a megawatt or less, but they're typically combined over a wide area. You can see why T. Boone Pickens is high on wind power, and it could be a rather simple proposition.

Solar is similar to wind. There's no emissions and the only resources used are in construction of the panels themselves, and if the sun ever stopped sending energy down to us, losing our source of electricity is the least of our problems. Again, it would work best in areas that get a lot of sun year-round and not a lot of clouds, which mostly means tropical areas. The main knock on solar is its expense (far more than for anything covered to this point), but the price keeps coming down. (To a lesser extent, proper power storage for nights is a bigger problem.) Often it's possible to get solar panels for your house, which - especially if instituted in the building process - doesn't have to look unsightly, and which has been known to pump electricity back into the power grid.

What would be cheaper than standard solar panels is using an ordinary (albeit gigantic) parabolic mirror to concentrate solar energy at a focal point (or a bunch of ordinary mirrors all focused on that point) where the pure heat generated can be harnessed somehow (possibly, indeed probably, in a way that also solves the storage problem - but could require continued resource use). There are people who think a few concentrated-solar fields in the middle of the desert could solve all the world's energy needs at little cost or global warming contribution. We almost don't need to move on to the other sources!

(Although it might cost a mite too much to build and maintain a transmission grid to bring that energy to every corner of the continent... and it might make the countries that house the solar plants disproportionately powerful, bringing us "OPEC rules the world" all over again. Fortunately, one of those could be the California desert, which is already a center for the technology. And it's worth noting that standard solar panels can similarly benefit from being placed in the desert. Slap some solar panels on enough buildings in cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix and you could be powering much of the West Coast.)

Wave power is basically trying to harness the power of ocean waves, and obviously are limited in where they can be located, as they need to be placed out at sea, preferably in temperate zones. They're also currently expensive and woefully inefficient, but the only resource use is in construction. As technology progresses, wave power might be a viable option, and should remain available as long as there's wind. Tidal power is similar in many ways, and often resemble undersea wind operations. It's a very new technology that's still being worked on. (There is an older form but it's become rather controversial. I don't know, however, how the current technology might affect fish populations.)

Geothermal power looks to tap the earth's internal heat to generate power, and is perhaps third only to solar and wind in enthusiasm among renewable-energy pushers. Unfortunately, it has a number of problems, foremost among them for our purposes being that it still emits greenhouse gases, albeit fewer than fossil fuels. They can be pumped back into the earth but it still results in more emissions than the "none" from wind, solar, wave, and tidal. Also, it's by nature inefficient, it runs the risk of contaminating nearby water with dangerous substances, and it's not truly renewable, as overworking the site may require it to scale down production eventually. So that's not good enough.

Biofuels are not talked about much for electricity generation, but it's worth talking about them anyway. Biofuels still emit carbon dioxide when used as fuel, but it's carbon dioxide that would have gone into the atmosphere anyway (possibly with methane along for the ride). It's also carbon that the plant attained throughout its life, helping offset its own later release. (However, there may be concerns regarding whether it really is a net wash or gain.) For most plants, there are concerns that food prices could go up (which may already be happening), especially with how high population levels are rising, and the famed Brazilian sugarcane-ethanol program has raised concerns that rain forests could be chopped down to make room for cane fields.

The ideal solution would be to engage in a form of biofuel that wouldn't rob the food supply and possibly wouldn't require any new production at all. (If we made biofuel from a plant that wasn't fit for human consumption, do you plant the food crops or the fuel crops? This is a problem with the much-ballyhooed "cellulosic ethanol".) There's some interest in using biomass waste to produce energy (which would also stop the waste from being dumped into landfills), but is there enough of it to meet our energy needs? Harvesting algae for fuel also shouldn't rob our food supply, at least too much. So that's an idea with promise, although once again it's a ways from reaching the market, and there is some significant strain involved as demand rises.

Finally, hydropower dams don't use any resources but are location-dependent. More importantly, they can do a whole mess of harm to local ecosystems, and floods from reservoir creation can cause plants to give off methane and carbon dioxide, not to mention displace local populations. Also, dam failures can be catastrophic. If a wind or solar installation is the target of a terrorist attack, the only impact is the loss of power. If a dam is destroyed by terrorist attack, there's a bit bigger problem to deal with.

What about "clean coal"? To hear most environmentalists speak of it, it's little more than a con, woefully inefficient and vulnerable to the slightest failure.

So, solar energy alone can take care of most of our energy (here = electricity) needs with a clear conscience, with the rest to be taken care of by wave and tidal installations offshore (pending those technologies getting further developed) and wind farms in the heartland and in mountainous areas. We can get cracking on solar and wind installations right now, and we should. So we can meet our electricity needs without relying on fossil fuels or otherwise belching greenhouse gases into the atmosphere - there's a tremendous chunk of global warming emissions right there. (And if there are any criticisms I missed I welcome any challenges to my assumptions and will freely change my opinions if there is any new information.)

Can these same sources reduce our use of fossil fuels in other areas?

According to the EPA report I linked to Friday the main use of direct fossil fuel combustion in industry is to produce steam or heat that can then be channeled to other purposes. Residential and commercial uses are primarily for heating and cooking. We also still have transportation to get to.

The easiest thing to take care of could be heating homes and businesses - in addition to store-bought insulation you've probably heard of, solar energy can be channeled to warm any home, and an "earth-sheltered home" can also help protect you from the elements. Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so living in naturally warm climates and designing houses to let in maximal sunlight are also desirable options. (Of course, living in places like LA, Phoenix and Las Vegas also means draining dwindling water supplies.) With our new green electricity future, it's now okay to use an electric stove and/or oven to cook, which leaves gas/propane/charcoal grills (and, if you're concerned enough about ecological impacts or the theoretically-offset carbon emissions, wood-fired stoves). Solar power can help us here as well, it turns out, at least if you're outdoors. Industry could be one of the toughest challenges - beyond electricity, fossil fuels are used in all sorts of applications - but most uses of combustion not already coming from electricity could, I imagine, be replaced by electricity, old-fashioned wind or water mills, or solar power. Or biomass if you consider that to be okay.

But transportation... how to fuel our cars and trucks... that could be a problem. It's possible to drive solar, but it's unlikely you could use it to carry any sort of load, and I don't know how possible it would be to drive at night. Basically, it's probably infeasible and looks silly. Wind cars sound nice, but because wind power works best at certain locations it would be way too unreliable. Wave, tidal, and hydroelectric power are obviously out of the question. What about previously rejected approaches? I'm not allowing millions of miniature nuclear reactors without workers ready to prevent meltdown on the roads, geothermal is obviously too tied down to a specific point, and biofuel has been covered above, with the conclusion that the only biofuel I'm not skeptical about is algae-based fuel, and even then I have some misgivings about the amount of land required to grow algae.

Hydrogen, in my view, is overhyped. It may be the most abundant element in the universe but most of the hydrogen on Earth is already in water; extracting hydrogen from water in order to turn it back into water is inherently inefficient and results in a net loss of energy, it's just simple thermodynamics. Its main competitor has long been to extract it from hydrocarbons, which requires more fossil fuel use and produces carbon monoxide, which then gets converted to carbon dioxide, which would then contribute to global warming. It may be possible to generate hydrogen from certain chemical reactions or from biological processes, though, but it may be way too far away from being market ready. After George W. Bush voiced his support for hydrogen at the 2003 State of the Union address, it's basically fallen out of favor and off the radar. And even beyond the difficulty of setting up the hydrogen economy, there's the much-ballyhooed "it only gives off water" argument that undercuts itself: It turns out that water vapor is itself a greenhouse gas that mostly isn't counted in emissions totals because it has unique properties that make it hard to accurately measure its impact on global warming.

So we can't use solar, wind, or water power, we might be able to use biofuel but only a specific kind that might be a ways away from being ready and even that's iffy, and hydrogen is for next century if ever. I give General Motors credit for putting out its plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt, which will allow us to take full advantage of the "greening" of the electrical grid to power our cars, and which won't need to use any oil within 40 miles. Only super-long commutes and long-distance trips would need to use an oil engine, and having electric-charging stations every 40 miles or so along major routes could solve that problem. But it looks to cost over $30,000 and possibly close to $40,000 (before government tax credits) - a fully-electric vehicle might be cheaper but might also substantially increase the load on our new green electric grid, requiring more solar power generators, more wind farms, more offshore wave/tidal facilities.

What if there was a form of transportation that would use almost zero resources on a per-person basis? One that would be clean for the environment and won't tie us to hostile nations, while also saving us loads of money? Sound overly optimistic? It's possible, and in some places it's already here... but it might require a substantial rethinking of the way we live and the way we perceive American cities.

I'll reveal what it is later in the week and possibly (probably?) as soon as tomorrow.

As promised...

...the lineal titles and college football rankings are now up-to-date on the web site, and I added a couple more team logos.


Honest to God I thought I had put up Sunday's strip, but the stupid system withlk vfdmahgpojipsmsvwwofiwhwmowhnorhomh9wtnowbowsmgb crapped out on me and I never noticed. I say my streak of putting up a strip every day continues.

(Is every iteration of phpMyAdmin as buggy and prone to randomly crapping out as Freehostia's, or just Freehostia's?)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Change of plans

I'm going to try and get in some political thoughts each day over the course of the week, but my current post is going to be done "when it's done", and I'm going to move on to other topics in the meantime. The college football schedule is likely going to be a Tuesday proposition again, and the rankings and lineal titles should easily be up early Monday.