Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Will the Chevy Volt suffer from the "Osborne Effect?"

Way back around 1980 Adam Osborne, founder of Osborne Computer Corporation, the maker of the world's first "portable" computer, announced that he was planning a more poweful version of their highly successful Osborne 1 computer. That announcement was the beginning of the end of Osborne Computer, as people stopped buying the Osborne 1, content to wait for the next machine.

Is that what will happen to GM's Chevy Volt electric car, now promised for 2010?

Speaking for myself, I don't want to buy another low mileage gas powered vehicle; I would much rather have an electric car, or at least a high mileage hybrid, or phev. Sure, gasoline prices have now fallen to $1.82 in my Minnesota town, but I won't be fooled again. I know that if I buy another SUV, I'll soon see $5 gasoline.

So here I sit, driving my 2004 Mercury Mountaineer, still pissed off from being gouged this year by expensive gasoline. The car is paid for now, and as a trade-in vehicle it has approximately zero value. So I see no compelling reason to ditch this vehicle today (especially now that gas is cheap again) for a new one and then have to assume car payments again. No, the rational decision to me appears to be to simply drive my old SUV for two more years and then buy the electric or phev vehicle that I really want.

General Motor's stock is now at a 65 year low. Its a shame they didn't move on their early advantage with electric cars. I hope they live long enough to realize the tremendous success that I see coming their way with the Chevy Volt. Lets hope they won't be done in by the Osborne Effect.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Gas falls from $4.00 to $2.09

In the town that I live in, I have seen the price of gas fall from $4/gallon in late September to $2.09 today. My feelings on this are mixed. I'm glad that families are getting a break, but I'm fearful that they will return to gas guzzling ways.

Interesting how this seems to always, always happen right before a U.S. political election.

Anyway, I hope Americans will not be fooled. The reprieve will certainly be temporary, just long enough to try and derail the momentum gathering behind alternative energies and electric vehicles.

Even with lower gas prices, I'm still adamant that my next car will be a PHEV or better. Although I'm still driving my '04 Mercury Mountaineer, I have my eye on the Chevy Volt for my next car (that is, if GM lives long enough to bring it to market).

We just have to make these changes in our lives. There will little to zero impact on my daily life if I am driving an electric car versus a gas guzzler. I'll probably just keep my old Mountaineer to pull the sailboat the lake. But 99% of my daily driving is less than 25 miles per day, from home to work, from work to home, with a few stops between. I just don't need a V8 for that.

I will not soon forget how quickly gas prices can spike. I won't forget how much my budget hurt with $4 gas. I won't forget to buy an alternatively powered vehicle the very first chance that I get.

With a Minnesota Winter fast approaching (last Sunday we made a snowman here), I now must park the old '78 Sachs Moped. I look forward to taking it out of the garage next May. I managed to put on 300 miles on the old moped this summer. It reminded me just how quickly, fun and easily I can get around this town without a big V8.

No more SUV's. PHEV, here I come!

Friday, August 1, 2008

GM is bleeding like a crash victim

The newspapers are abuzz today -- GM posts $15.5 billion 2nd quarter loss. They are shuttering SUV plants.

"We are reacting rapidly to the challenges facing the U.S. economy and auto market, and we continue to take the aggressive steps necessary to transform our U.S. operations," GM Chairman and Chief Executive Rick Wagoner said in a statement.

Reacting rapidly? They have had many years, many crisis to plan for this "transformation."

Remember when GM made those little Geo's? I remember that Geo XFI, which got about 60 miles per gallon! Dust off those old Geo blueprints and start making fuel efficient cars.

For many years, as a consumer I have had only superficial choices to consider when buying a car. Everything ran on gasoline, and for the most part still does. I am very excited about GM's foray into electric autos. I see a great future for them if they have the courage and remaining resources to see this through. I would pick a small electric car over a huge gas guzzler any day.

So many of us are ready for change in America. REAL change. Transformation in the U.S. economy, and how we relate to each other and the environment. The capitalistic dogma about "everyone is in it for themselves, and no one gives a shit about the environment or anyone else," is a crock of lies. There is a new feeling, a new awakening that those of us freefalling together through space on this speck of dirt need to work together if 6 to 12 billion of us are going to survive.

Lets face it -- the nationstate as we know it is obsolete. Popular Religeon as its been manipulated to hasten the destruction of the world and enslave its people, is obsolete.

I'm talking REAL change.

Bring it on. And while we're at it, I'll be watching for GM to make my PHEV electric car.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Greening our weekend activities with a sailboat.

Here in Minnesota, spending our vacation time at "the lakes" is a century old tradition. My father, who is a well to do gentleman lets us have the full run of his lake home complete with the power boat, the 30 foot pontoon, and the little outboard fishing boat. There have been weekends when the family is all together where we have gone through more than 20 gallons of gas in a single day as we tear up the water.

But guess which boat my nine-year old son prefers?

No, not the speed boat. He likes the paddle boat!

He and his cousin will spend the entire day peddling around the lake in the paddle boat. He likes it because its so quiet. He can sneak up on turtles easier that way.

Recently, I've been having some boat envy. I appreciate that my dad lets us use his toys, but I always feel a special responsibility with these boats, always self-conscious about keeping things clean and not using too much gas. If I ever bump into a log, panic sets in until I can determine that all is well

So when I saw a sailboat advertised for $200, I decided to check it out. I was skeptical; after all, what kind of boat can you get for that kind of money? It turns out, an elderly couple was downsizing and just wanted to get rid of it. It was indeed an older boat ( a 1959 Glastron fiberglass sailboat, 17'), but and it was in great shape! So I bought it and dragged it home.

This past weekend, rather than pontoon'ing around the lake, we quietly sailed around instead. The kids just loved it. They spent hours on the boat with me. It was wonderful being part of the wind. And the quiet you experience on a sailboat is just incredible. You hear things that you could never hear on a gas powered boat. Kids and dad, working together to bring the sail boat home.

Sailboats are not common on our lake, which by Minnesota standards is small at a mere 1,000 acres. On the weekend you will see many fishing boats, speed boats, pontoons and jet skis. But we were the only sailboat on the lake, and actually in all the years we have been on this lake I don't recall ever seeing a small sailboat.

We're enjoying the novelty factor of being the only sailboat on the lake. The powerboats have been very polite and yielding so far. When we came through a small channel, there were 3 other boats waiting patiently for us on the other side. They all had smiles and seemed to enjoy the "skills" it took to navigate the channel when there was absolutely no wind (I was using my arms!). I think they enjoyed the opportunity to just sit quiety, motors off, listening nature, while watching me flounder about.

Although I'm not ready to swear off ever using the other boats, it is my hope that this sailboat and the gas-free fun it provides will be come a family favorite for years to come, and that we will use less gas by having the option to sail. Afterall, the best fun is simply being on the lake, and the lake becomes even more fun when we are able to silently and cleanly take in its natural glory.

I just emailed myself the pictures on my cell phone of our adventures on the old sail boat. The look at the kids faces is just priceless. Clearly the memories we made that day sailing will be with these kids for a long time.

Paris to offer 4000 shared electric cars.

The city of Paris, France, is going to offer a shared electric car service. Drivers will pay for the minutes they use. Cool idea. Read about it here.

Meanwhile, I am still waiting to buy my PHEV. Where is it, GM?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Trying to be Green at a Barack Obama Rally

Last week, my wife and I had the pleasure of attending a rally for Barack Obama. It was intended to be a small rally with the focus on veterans, so only 1000 people were allowed to attend. Because of the intimate outdoor environment, everyone had a great view.

After standing without water in 90 degree heat for 2 hours to score the rally tickets, I decided I should bring some water to the rally. I don't drink bottled water, and I don't like to use plastic for water bottles, so I did what I usually do: I filled a glass jar with tap water.

Off to the rally I went.

When I got there, my water jar was confiscated by security. I was told that water was available at the rally, or I could buy bottled water. Apparently this a requirement of the venue more so than the Secret Service. Although I was appreciative for the free water, I had to use styrofoam cups.

The rally was great, and I strongly support Obama. But I was disappointed to once again run into "systems" that do not even allow me the opportunity to avoid the disposable society. There are times you either must go thirsty or hungry, or else capitulate and just go with the flow of waste. These "systems" don't allow a choice. Its my hope as America matures with its green thinking that these systems can be improved to at least allow someone to opt out. I would appreciated the chance to get a drink of water without being forced to contribute to the waste stream.

Friday, June 27, 2008


Discover why the number 350 is so important to our Earth.

Things we've done to green our lives, or "What can I do right now to go green??"

Our family is committed to greening itself, one day at a time, and one step at a time. As we learn, we adopt and are in the process of changing. I have three kids (ages 4, 7 and 9), so there are limits to the inconveniences that we can tolerate. When we began this commitment, I was under the impression that everything we did to become green would necessarily involve inconvenience and sacrifice.
I was wrong.
In fact, many of the items involved little or no sacrifice, and less cost than I anticipated. Here is a list of activities that we've been able to do over the past two years to help green our household a little bit. Have a look and see if there are any ideas that you can do. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to add them. We are always looking for more affordable ideas.

  • Turned down the hot water heater. From near boiling to just very warm.
  • Replaced incandescent lightbulbs with compact flourescents
  • Installed a clothesline, and we are using it regularly, as weather permits
  • Ride the old moped or bike to work, as weather and responsibilities permit
  • Moderating my driving habbits, consolidating trips
  • Turned down the heat in the winter, and turned up the air conditioning in the summer.
  • Switch to recycled toilet paper and paper towels
  • Patronizing the local farmer's market (its very small here, but we want to support it).
  • Cancelled delivery of our local newspaper, choosing instead to subscribe to the online edition. This saves the environmental costs of the paper and recycling chore, while keeping our house less cluttered and giving us faster access to the news.
  • Buy Rainforest Alliance Certified and organic coffee, in the hopes of encouraging sustainable and responsible coffee production.
  • We refuse to buy bottled water.
  • We can compost most of our food leftovers and coffee rinds, but its hard to do this in our harsh winters.
  • Finding locally produced products and substituting where possible. So far, we have our favorite local brands of maple syrup, eggs, butter, bread, milk and honey
  • Bought LED Christmas lights (and solar Christmas lights that work much better in Summer than in the winter's here) and retired the old Christmas lights.
  • A rabid recycling commitment, and reusing containers.
  • Committed to not buying a new car until we can get a plug-in hybrid
  • Am much more conscientious about turning off lights when not in use
  • Returned nearly 3/4 acre of our 2 acre yard back to nature. In its 3rd year, we are now enjoying a beautiful meadow with a diversity of native plants and grasses
  • Planted 5 trees, with plans for more. These were all transplanted volunteer trees that were growing wild on our property, or on friend's property.
  • Bought some nice indoor plants
  • Vacationing locally with the kids (except for our big trip to England planned for August. What can I say, my wife is British and we haven't been there for 4 years).
  • Planted a vegetable garden (not going very well... Oh well.)
  • Preferring organic food products when we go shopping
  • Trying to get more use out of the things that we have
  • Donating as much as possible to second-hand thrift stores for re-use
  • Added the wind-power option to our electric utility bill
  • Built a rain garden to hold water run off and replenish the local water table
  • Harvesting rainwater for use on our flowers
  • Mulching our flowerbeds using locally produced, unpackaged, free mulch offered by our county
  • Mulching grass, not bagging. Trying to go longer between mowing applications
  • Have cut way back on lawn maintenance, and am trying not to be too anal about the yard
  • Continue to read about new technologies and follow the blogs of thoughtleaders, such as noimpactman.com
  • Have become vocal to my congress people on issues relating to alternative energy and environmental protection
  • Am trying to impart green values to my kids.
  • Learning that my green values are also Christian values
  • Shifted personal retirement account investments to favor alternative energy and socially responsible companies
  • We have joined organizations that are doing activities we support. If they're willing to do the heavy lifting, we think they should be supported. Nature Conservancy and Clean Water Action are two of many.
  • Upgraded our old appliances, and always look for the Energy Star label
  • Believe it or not, our new 42" LCD flatscreen TV uses about 1/3 less electricity than our old 32" tube TV. 250 watts vs 400 watts. Of course, no TV is best. But we havent been able to go cold turkey. We've opted out of cable TV (that was easy to do) but the kids still need a movie once in awhile on cold winter days, or when dad desperately needs a break.
  • Run the dishwasher at night to reduce electrical grid load. We set the dishwasher to "air dry" to reduce electrical use
  • Flushing the toilet only once a week (just kidding)

All told, we spend about $7 per month extra on wind electricity, and probably $8 a month extra on coffee, and maybe $2 per month extra on eggs. These costs have been mostly offset by cancelling the physical delivery of the newspaper. The recycled TP is about the same cost, if not cheaper, than the non-recycled stuff. The entire effort has really not added much expense at all to our expenses, and may in fact be saving us money. Dollar savings, while important to many people, is not our largest concern. We would do these things anyway out of our conscience.

So as you can see, there are many things that can be done right away to start greening your life, and it will probably even save you some green.

Our situation is that we are living in Minnesota on a 2 acre lot in a small county subdivision just outside of a city of about 40,000 people. So "country" to me means something different than "country" to someone living in, say, Chicago. Here, we can live in the country and still bike the 6 to 8 miles to work. We do, however, have many of the high carbon trappings that country life requires: the SUV (snow plow service is iffy in the winter), gas powered lawn tools (lawn tractor, hedge trimmer, weedwacker). There's no substitute for city apartment living to reduce your carbon foot print. For better or worse, this is our situation and we're going to do the best we can to reduce our energy usage.

Have fun, God Bless, and thanks for reading.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The old Sachs moped rolls again

Sachs Moped 1979
Originally uploaded by mymountain
Just got the 30-year old Sachs moped back from the shop and rode it to work today. I love driving it.

I see ads everywhere today for mopeds and scooters that get up to 100 miles per gallon. Considering that my Sachs gets 150 mpg, I wonder why 30 years of innovation has not brought about better fuel efficiency for scooters.

I'd love to have one of these hot new electric scooters, just as I would love to have a phev electric car.

Until I find the products on the market that I actually want to buy, I've decided to forgo small incremental benefits. I'll drive the old Mountaineer until I can trade for a PHEV. And I'll drive the old Sachs moped until I can get a 300 mpg scooter, or a semi-affordable electric scooters.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Where is my PHEV Plug-in Electric Hybrid?

It has been six months since I last blogged about buying a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. Nothing available yet on the market, as far as I can tell. I have decided to continue driving my gas sucking Mountaineer for now.

Why keep driving the Mountaineer (13 mpg) instead of chuck it for a new hybrid? Well, here's my thinking:
1. There was a tremendous amount of energy used to produce my car, and to produce a hybrid. At this point, so much damage has been done, I think the poor mileage is the least of the problem.
2. Demand for hybrids is going up with the price of gas. This is a good thing. I feel no immediate imperative to increase the market for a hybrid at this exact moment. It feels as though it has momentum.
3. The car that I want, a PHEV, is not on the market. I don't want to reward the auto manufacturers by buying a vehicle that is not what I want. When a PHEV comes on the market, I will be first in line to demand it. By that time, the useful life of my Mountaineer should be about over.
4. I think its a good idea to drive cars into the ground. I think its a poor example to trade a virtually new car for a slightly newer car. Its poor financial stewardship, and poor environmental stewardship, since it rewards auto producers by driving production of new cars while flooding the secondary market unnecessarily, thereby reducing the value of autos in the resale market.
5. Did I say that the car I want is a PHEV? Why buy a new hybrid, and then buy another one in a few years.

I'm ashamed I bought my Mountaineer in 2005. It was more car than I needed, and I knew about the lousy mileage. Honestly, $4 a gallon is not that big a deal for me. I can afford to drive it all the way up to $10 a gallon. But what I can afford is not the point; it's what I'm willing to do. The auto makers are way behind what I am willing to do for the environment, and I simply will not buy another new car that reflects Detroit's values more than my own.

I want a PHEV, or EV, and that is what my next vehicle is going to be.

Take notice, Detroit: I will not buy another car from you until you sell me what I want: PHEV!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Wiping out Waste with Recycled Toilet Paper

A month ago, I got my wife to agree to a grand experiment: substituting recycled toilet paper for our usual cushy-tushy Charmin and Northern brands. We wanted a tissue paper that deflected waste from landfills by using 100% recycled fibers. Our other requirement is that they do not use enivironment-damaging bleaching processes.

I did a bit of research and zeroed in on three brands: 7th Generation, Atlantic and Green Forest.

The first paper we tried was 7th Generation. Immediately the kids complained. By day three, I was eating standing up. I donated the rest of this packet to the local homeless shelter, and even they threw it away after a couple of days. It's just too hard, (and not absorbant enough, just sort of pushes stuff around...). Now I know why the 6th generation handed it down to the 7th. I wanted to like this stuff, but I physically couldn't. There are simply better choices on the market. To their credit, they did not use plastic wrapping. I will look forward to trying them again at a future date to see if they have improved.

Next on the spool was Green Forest. It was quite comfortable. I could live with this TP. But it is a bit thin, and sometimes the fingers go through it, and well.... you know. Too soft. If you use this tissue, be sure to have plenty of liquid soap by the sink. Their plastic wrapping isn't in keeping with their environmental image.

Then we discovered Atlantic 100% recycled toiletpaper at Menard's, a discount DIY store. It is not sold anywhere else in our area that I know of. I also bought their recycled paper towels (we try to not to use paper towels, but with kids in the house and a dog that likes to poop in the living room, its just to hard not to have them on hand).

Atlantic bathroom tissue paper has the balance that we are looking for: it is as comfortable, and more durable than Green Forest. They do need to change their plastic packaging, however.

We have a winner: Atlantic 100% recycled bathroom tissue paper. Atlantic is an overall excellent recycled tissue for both strength and comfort. It's more than an adequate replacement for the sissy brands, and comes highly endorsed by our spoiled butts.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Garden Planning

Its the end of February. Winter has been long, snowy and cold. Here in Minnesota, there is still another good 30-60 days of winter left for us.

Yesterday at Menard's, I couldn't help myself when I saw vegitable seed packets for sales. Even though the snow is still 2 feet deep outside, I need to start thinking and planning for spring, if only for my own sanity.

Our previous attempts at gardening have been miserable failures, but what the hell. Hopefully, starting early this year will make all the difference. We will be digging up about 200 square feet of our grass lawn to make way for the garden.

Our family eats a lot of vegetables. Most of them come from the local grocery store, and are trucked in from God-knows-where. Hopefully by growing some of our own vegetables will help to reduce some carbon emissions, and also be fun for our kids.

High on the lsit of green projects on my drawing board this summer is a rain water harvesting system. I'm also kicking around the idea of piping some select grey water out to the garden. We also have a great source of clean water that presently just gets pumped directly into our sewer drain: our sump pump, which drains rain and melt water away from our foundation. Certainly this year, that must change, if for no other reason than to replenish the local ground water. But I think it would be very simple to use that water to irrigate the garden.

Much work needs to be done. When the warm weather comes, I'll be ready.

We've also decided that, for the second year in a row, I will NOT pay Chemlawn to soak my lawn with weed-killing chemicles. Also, I will again NOT be moving the back 1/2 acre of our lawn and plan to continue the experiment of trying to return it to native grasses.