Tag Archives: technocopia

Environmentalism & Politics

I actually wrote this last year on my other blog but I think it’s still pertinent. What often happens with government is that they focus on whatever the media starts paying attention to. And the moment the public looks away, they go off in another direction. Although the economy is of great concern, so is the environment still and always important. Moreso now when recycling companies are not making as much a profit and therefore it isn’t “economical” for them to recycle or for other places to buy the products.
There has been quite the hullabaloo in the media lately as politicians have woken up from a twenty-plus year hibernation to look around in sudden alarm and go “Oh my, we have an environmental problem.” Hello?

When I was a teenager I wouldn’t litter and a friend asked, oh why bother? I said, well it may only be me today but then tomorrow it might be me and someone else, because they saw me not littering. And the next day there could be three or four, etc. I feel vindicated that at least recycling has become more of a norm (at least in some provinces) than it was in my teens.

And at least by the time I was in my twenties I was reading about the Gaia Hypothesis (how the world is one symbiotic living organism and what you do to it in one place affects the whole) and how our pollutants were wreaking havoc with the world and if we stopped all smog causing agents, then it would take at least fifty years to see any positive results.

In 1998 I wrote for a now defunct e-magazine (victim of the dot com downfall) called technocopia.com. It looked at how new technology was changing one’s life and lifestyle, from cell phones in third world countries to robotic heart surgery. I was researching fuel cells and hybrid cars and came across the Kyoto Protocol. Governments had already signed up for it. So how is it in 2007 various governments have dropped out of fulfilling the requirements and now cry it will break the bank because there’s not enough time? That was ten years of time.

I hear Stephan Dion say on CBC that pollution has just become a problem? What!! Just? Puhleese. I’m not sure what the benefit was to Tony Blair to stand up and start waving the big green flag but it suddenly looked like the cool thing to do and Canada jumped up beside him. George Bush of course is still in right wing crusader war mode. Environmentalism might mean putting collars on his pals, the oil and car companies.

But I’m cynical enough and eyes open enough to wonder why politicians would suddenly go on about this when a lot of us have known there’s been a problem for over twenty years. Well, hmm, minority government. Who wouldn’t want to keep our country green and with air we can breathe? For Harper it’s a surefire way to garner a shiny star on his report card. But it would be much more believable if saving our resources wasn’t done because of political maneuvering and was just done because it’s the right thing to do.

And yet, the Conservatives whine and shuffle their feet and say oh we can’t meet the Kyoto Protocol. Or, maybe we could but it would cost gadzillions and all you poor Canadians that we normally only care about when you’re voting will pay the price. A few weeks ago on CBC, The Current had business leaders from various sectors and they were saying that they were on board with changing and implementing environmentally safe processes and procedures. The interesting thing here was that all of them said that it would be more cost effective and they would probably actually make more profit by switching over. So how is it that the Baird Report says we’re going to have to pay with our first born?

Perhaps I’d almost believe that maybe, just maybe, our lovely government was actually concerned with the environment and not with losing power if it wasn’t that I see this as a big smokescreen. What have polls of recent years shown is the number one priority for Canadians: universal medicare. So why aren’t we hearing more about this? Because it needs a massive overhaul. And we’ve all turned to look at the shiny new green flag being waved so that we won’t notice the huge cutbacks, the ever longer waiting lists, the rampant deadly infections running amok in hospitals and killing people. Because the government can win votes easier with this lovely green beast than with the monster of medical coverage.

I was willing to let go some of my frustration, anger and disgust with the head-in-the-sand attitude various Canadian governments have had if it meant at least something was being done. But then we get the Baird Report; more stalling about actually really doing something.

I’m trying to do my part and have for years. I could do more. We all could. I’d get a hybrid car if I could afford one. What part is the government really doing? Will they put teeth into their policies or leave them to gum the ankles of corporations and groups that continue to pollute? I’ll wait and see.

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The Ins and Outs of Cat Doors

I first wrote this forTechnocopia.com back in 1999.

If you’re in a flap about how your cat makes its entrance, here’s a few ideas.

My neighborhood is typical of combined renters and owners. We’re a cat neighborhood, with a few dogs. My neighbors to the left have one cat, to the right have two cats, above me have four, and I have one. As people move in and out of the rental places and the co-op housing there’s always a new cat or two plus the regulars on the block.

There are tabbies and black cats, tiger-stripped gingers and grays. There’s old cats, spry young ones, cats that are fixed and those that are toms. In the cat realm there are cat politics, alliances and wars. Figment, my outdoorsy cat, has some friends and a few territory scuffles.

He used to drive me crazy, squeaking dirty, wet paws across my bedroom window, late at night, before I had an acrylic door put into my house door for him. It’s a bit of a trick at first getting a cat to go through something so strange. It leaves them in a vulnerable position, half outside, half inside and anything could attack right then. I started by taping the see-through flap open to get him used to moving through the hole this creates. Cats tend to like this right away because there’s no waiting for that lazy human to come and open the door at her whim.

The next steps progress at what you think your cat can handle, and work best if you have juicy tidbits to entice him through the opening. You begin by taping the door open but with less and less open space. The cat may shy from this at first. Figment did, but you stand on one side saying encouraging things and hold up a delectable little snack. For Figment it was smoked salmon (a true yuppie cat). He’d hesitantly put a paw up to the door then push through with his head.

Continue lowering the flap more and more until it is completely closed. Then you still have to stand on one side and waft appealing aromas through the flap and tell your cat to come on in. You may have to encourage him the first few times. This process takes from one to two weeks. The flaps close as the cat exits or enters without slamming on their tails. One tail slam and the cats would abandon the entrance and the manufacturers would be out of business. And because there are no big motors, the noise doesn’t upset the sensitivity that cats show around vacuum cleaners and other motorized monsters. Once the cat is used to the door, he’ll come and go at will. No more noisy 3 a.m. yowls at the door or window.

Figment liked to lay on the carpet and watch the world go by his cat door. When an enemy walked by he’d barrel through to make his stance. Which comes to one of the weak spots in cat doors. The simple plastic hinges can break if hit hard enough. But Figment was fifteen pounds of pure cat muscle. They stand up to normal usage just fine and have an insulating nylon pile to help seal out drafts when the door is closed. Most doors can be left unlocked for in and out access, as well as locked in one direction or the other, and can be locked completely for times when the cat needs to stay home.

The one real problem with a cat door is the free access. Most cats won’t know how to use them. One of our neighborhood toms did. Fortunately Figment liked him but I still had a moocher and once in a while, that unpleasant smell of unneutered cat urine. I didn’t want to lock the cat door and keep Figment out so I looked into an electromagnetic cat door. The only difference between a manual cat door and the electromagnetic door is the magnet key that is hung from the cat’s collar.

The door has the electromagnetic switch, which is run by batteries, or as Mark at Mark’s Pet Stop told me, with an electrical cord (about $30 higher in cost). All the doors have locking switches. Mark told me people generally find they work well and have no problems except for one woman who wanted to keep her neighbor’s cat out of her house. She purchased the electromagnetic door and loved it so much she told her neighbor, who decided to get one for his cat. Same brand, same magnets, same switches. The neighbor’s cat had free reign of two houses once again.

The tom moved on and I never bought the door. I had reservations too because I’ve never managed to keep a collar on Figment for long, due to his territorial wrestling. All I’d need is an $80 door that my cat couldn’t get into because he lost his collar.

The only problem I had was that one of Figment’s little friends would come sit at the door. She didn’t know how to go through it but she would sit outside and bat the door so it swung back and forth.

The regular, manual cat door runs about $20-$30, with the electromagnetic ones starting at $80-$90. The English Pet Mate (Cat Mate in Canada) runs on the magnet key for the collar. The Staywell has a nonmagnetic collar key. The super deluxe Solo Motorized Door works by sensor on the collar and the door moves out of the way by the time your pet reaches it. It closes by gravity. These ritzy models begin at $360 and go up to the dog-sized door price of $800. Spare keys can be bought for all the electronic/electromagnetic door which do lock once the pet is through them.

Installation does involve having to cut a hole in your door (or in some cases, your wall), but a template of the correct size is supplied with Pet Mate. The frame is easily mounted with a screwdriver. Some of the electronic doors can be wired into the walls. All come with a warranty.

Addendum: Eventually I had problems with raccoons coming into the house, through the cat door. I did buy the electromagnetic door. I had to lock it to keep Figment in for a vet’s appointment. But Figment, always desperate to be outside, clawed at the door until he knocked the plate off where the wiring was. He shredded the copper wiring and lost the spring that actually opened and closed the door. And true to form, he lost his collar in a fight.

I wrote the company with my sad tale and it gave them a laugh. They sent the new piece but I never installed it. Figment just wasn’t good with collars. I locked the door so that nothing could come in but Figment could go out. This worked out well enough though I still had to let him in at nights.

Then Venus came along. I purposefully didn’t teach her how to use the door because she was very mean to Figment and at least he got the range of the outdoors without her bugging him. Figment passed on from cancer a year and a half ago. Venus has full range and although I never taught her how to use the door, she figured it out. This doesn’t stop her from meowing for me to go and open the door for her.

And Jasper, the big fluffy gray cat that used to be Figment’s buddy, waits outside the cat door peering in. It used to drive Figgy crazy because he wouldn’t go out with Jasper standing there. Venus just hisses.

PET DOORS

http://www.petdoor.com/elecdoor.html

http://www.petmate.com/

http://www.petdoors.com/just_cat_doors.htm

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A Caveat (or 2) About the Technocopia Articles

For clarification, from time to time I will be posting some articles here that I originally wrote for Technocopia.com (now defunct). This web magazine was owned by Hillary Rettig http://lifelongactivist.com/ and covered new technologies of many sorts and how they affected us in day to day life. A what-if of possibilities. Hillary has given me permission to print these here.

The articles were written in 1999-2000 and Hillary held them to rigorous standards. They went through many drafts before being published. It was fun and I learned a lot. I haven’t bothered to update these to 2008 information. I thought it would be interesting to show what was happening in 2000 and how some things have changed or progressed. Consider them historical articles.

It’s up to the reader to do further research. Should I do more research I’ll probably write up articles and sell them as opposed to posting them here for free. However, most of what I write here are opinion pieces…mine. The Technocopia articles are articles. They were researched at the time and written with what we knew and what the experts knew. I’m not an expert in any of the fields I wrote about, so if anyone else wishes to get all grumpy pants and feel superior, and post insulting comments, go for it. Maybe these will inform. Maybe they’ll be entertaining. Maybe they’ll make you think.

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Fuel Efficient Cars

This was scheduled for Technocopia, but I believe wasn’t published. It was written in 2000. It’s interesting to note that when SUVs hit the market in Canada they were allowed to have higher emissions, fitting into a little caveat that had all trucks under farm vehicles. The result was that emissions, which were on their way down, shot up again as more people bought SUVs. I was driving behind a Hummer the other day, the ultimate in conspicuous consumption. The guys in it had the nerve to open their door and drop a can to the ground. A true picture of the mindset of a Hummer driver in the city.

With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, and the invention of the car a little over a century ago the world’s pollution has increased to unbearable levels in many cities. Places like California (which has a serious air pollution problem) have “Super-Ultra-Low-Emission-Vehicle” (SULEV) pollution standards that will require 10% of all cars sold in California to have zero tailpipe emissions by 2004. That’s no pollution whatsoever.

That may not seem like a large percentage of greener cars, but it means a lot of research, testing and cost to car manufacturers. Alternate fuels like natural gas, propane, methanol, ethanol and diesel, as well as alternative energy forms like electric batteries or fuel cells are being tested. In the forefront of alternate energy vehicles that we’ll see next are electric, hybrid gas/electric and fuel cells. California, Colorado, Arizona, Chicago and Vancouver, British Columbia are test beds for the new cars and energy as the world works toward a cleaner future.

Gasoline

Cars powered by gasoline use internal combustion engines (ICE). They average anywhere between 20-40 miles per gallon. Tailpipe emissions are high with carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, lead, oxides of nitrogen and sulfur dioxide causing human health problems, smog, global warming, acid rain and greenhouse gases. There is often government regulation on the type and quantity of emissions and new cars are being developed with lower emission standards. Gasoline, though fairly cheap in comparison to other energy sources, is a non-renewable resource and as Newsday (04/25/99) reports: “Within 50 years, or perhaps sooner, experts say, the world’s supply of fossil fuels will begin an inexorable decline.” And when those fuels decline we’ll be using lower grade, “dirtier” fuels that will be more expensive.

Gasoline-powered vehicles are the most common, therefore mass-produced and of reasonable price. There is a well-developed infrastructure of car repair centers and fuel stations across the country and throughout most developed nations.

Although not known for fuel efficiency, car manufacturers are working on lowering the emissions in their gas-powered vehicles. All of Ford’s 2000 model pickups and SUV’s will have lower emissions. The “’99 LEV Ford Explorer, for instance, is 42% cleaner in terms of carbon dioxide, hydrocarbon, and nitrous oxide production than the non-LEV ’98 version. Honda produces ULEV Accords and Civics (ultra-low-emission vehicles are 50% cleaner than LEVs), Toyota has a ULEV Camry, and DaimlerChrysler a ULEV Neon. And Nissan, Honda and Toyota all have gas engines that meet SULEV (super-ultra-low-emission vehicle) standards–one-tenth the emissions of a LEV. SULEV Sentras and Accords are expected to hit the market early next year.” Fortune Magazine, Time (10/25/99)

Combustion Process: air (oxygen), fuel and an ignition source are required for combustion. Lighting a fire or starting a car involves combustion. The spark from a spark plug ignites the gasoline and oxygen to create the energy to power cars.

Compressed Natural Gas

Cars built for gasoline can also use natural gas with some modifications to the fuel system. Government incentives help lower the cost of changing over. Refueling is relatively cheap and tailpipe emissions are reduced but not eliminated. The Arizona Republic (01/03/99) showed a comparison between a 1998 Ford Crown Victoria using compressed natural gas that “produced 66 percent fewer hydrocarbons than a comparable gas-fueled Crown Victoria,” and 40 percent less carbon monoxide with zero emissions of oxides of nitrogen. Natural gas vehicles are often used for transit or fleet vehicles.

There are many refueling stations but not as many as gas, so a cross-country trip needs planning. As well, a natural gas tank that has to be installed will take up room in the trunk. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel and a limited resource. Some natural gas cars by manufacturers are: Honda natural gas-powered Civic GX, Ford Crown Victoria and Dodge’s natural gas-powered Charger R/T.

Diesel

Diesel engines use oil, where the air is compressed and heated and oil sprayed into the chamber and ignited. Although the engine is more expensive the fuel is cheaper and used more economically. However, diesel is notorious for its black, smelly emissions. Car manufacturers believe they can make a cleaner diesel but it is still in development. (Having been in Delhi, India, where diesel was predominant, we were black with diesel and it had saturated clothing within a matter of hours.)

Electric (Battery Powered)

Electric cars have been around as long as gas-powered cars and were considered more reliable in the early days of the car industry. They cost more than a gas-powered vehicle and are not as easy to find. At present they can only be leased. However, they cost less to run and charging stations are free for the time being. At home the cord can be plugged into a regular 110 V outlet. Battery-powered cars emit no pollutants and are completely quiet while being driven. Government incentives exist and everything from a golf cartlike vehicle to a full-sized car is allowed on the road. New developments make the electric car faster than its predecessors.

Electric cars can take up to three hours to charge and in California there are over three hundred charging stations (where the cars are being tested) but still drivers are concerned with the limited range (about one hundred miles depending on vehicle type). The batteries are lead acid and disposal is still an environmental problem. New nickel metal-hydride batteries are being used which double the driving range. Though decreasing in size, batteries increase the car’s weight and can still take up a large amount of space.

Dick Thompson, director of communications for GM’s advanced-technology vehicles says that the electric car is “transitional, leading to who knows what’s next?” The Arizona Republic (01/03/99). Some electric cars include GM’s Saturn EV1 (leased since 1997), the Honda EV Plus, Toyota RAV4 EV and Ford’s TH!NK (available in Norway). (Last week–June 2008–CBC radio interviewed Alexandra Paul in California. An actress and environmental advocate, Paul said that GM had crushed all their EV cars years ago. She has done a movie called Who Killed the Electric Car? http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/223/paul-interview.html)

Hybrid Electric

Hybrid cars will be the next mass produced vehicle using a combination of gas (also diesel or natural gas) and an electric motor. Driving range is farther, the gas tank and engine are smaller and the emissions are reduced. The cars get around 55-70 mpg. Government incentives are in place for these cars, like all low emission vehicles.

The battery self-charges through a unique system that equalizes between the gas engine and the battery, using the most efficient energy for the situation, such as acceleration (electric) or driving (gas). The regenerative braking system not only slows the car down but also captures that energy to charge the battery. The battery only weighs about one hundred pounds compared with twelve hundred pounds for an all-electric vehicle. Cost for a hybrid vehicle is still higher than gas-powered cars.

Hybrid cars include the Chrysler Intrepid ESX2 (hybrid electric-diesel), Honda Insight, Toyata Prius. Ford and Nissan also hope to have hybrid electric cars in production in the next three years.

Fuel Cell

Fuel cell technology is the most revolutionary. Ballard Power Systems, Inc. in Burnaby, BC, with Ford and DaimlerChrysler are working on fuel cells for cars.

A fuel cell causes a chemical reaction between hydrogen and air, which is converted into electricity. It is similar to a battery but needs no recharging and the only emission is drinkable water or vapor. Though used in some test vehicles like DaimlerChrysler’s Necar 4 and buses in several areas, the fuel cell is still in development and researchers say we will not see fuel cell cars until 2004.

Hydrogen is highly combustible and fuel tank storage on a car, as well as refueling poses some high risks. If used with the next most likely fuel, methanol, it produces some emissions. Hydrogen can be extracted from gasoline but it is a costly process. A variety of fuels can power a fuel cell. As soon as fossil fuels are used manufacturers run into the problem of pollutants once again, although emissions would be greatly reduced compared to gas-powered vehicles. Other deterrents include the lack of infrastructure such as fueling stations. Mercedes-Benz, Mazda, Toyota, Hyundai, Ford and Daimler-Chrysler are working on fuel cell cars.

Fuel cells and electric cars will lead to a cleaner, quieter run on the roads. Several problems stated by manufacturers and media holds back this future:

  • People are reluctant to change to alternate energy vehicles
  • These vehicles are too expensive to buy or lease
  • Manufacturers are losing money with each car built
  • The support infrastructure is not present for refueling
  • The cars are heavier and too slow (some top at 85-100 mph)
  • Refueling, in the case of electrics can take too long (three hours or more)
  • Some cars (GM, Nissan) use inductive charging systems while others (Honda, Ford, Toyota) use conductive—leading to a need for different charging stations

Although no one states these reasons it seems that lack of media attention, car manufacturer’s reluctance to advertise alternate energy vehichles, and the oil industry’s stranglehold on fuel may be what’s really holding back the advent of a cleaner car.

Ways to bring about the cleaner car:

  • Inform people of government incentives and make information readily accessible
  • Advertise energetically
  • Vehicles may cost more initially but they save in fuel consumption
  • Every mass-produced car started out as an expensive prototype
  • Interested people can write or call dealerships & manufacturers
  • Governments, manufacturers, communities and energy companies can make a concerted effort to build fueling stations
  • All new vehicles should have compatible fueling ports/tanks
  • Promote limited range electric cars as a good alternative for commuting and city driving

Imagine the old Pony Express—mail delivered by someone going from town to town, getting a fresh horse to move as fast as possible. Fueling stations for electric cars could supply fresh batteries, taking the used ones and recharging them for the next customer.

The future looks brighter with new energy efficient vehicles on the way. The big question is whether this race was started soon enough or will it be a case of too little too late?

 

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