Roman Sturgis Take care of each other and make good decisions.

December 27, 2009

Dishwashers and Autopilot Cars

Filed under: Blog — Roman @ 11:50 pm

Since posting last month, I’ve been working a lot at the post office (thank God Christmas is over), renovating, and reading some really good books (Master Butcher’s Singing Club, Forever War, Child 44, and Olive Kitteridge). Now is the waiting time in many ways. We are waiting to hear back from Laura’s graduate school applications. I’m waiting to take my EPA license, and for the next semester of the program. We are looking forward to a wedding in Jacksonville in late January. I feel a bit like my worms: going through the motions, passing the winter. (They are doing fine, by the way, and I reckon the third generation has been born, so my worm condo is actually quite dense with biomass—a success!)

Today I successfully installed a dishwasher, my first, and no small feat, though I thought it would be very easy. In principal, installing a dishwasher is straightforward. Connect the electrical, connect the plumbing. Let us say I took the scenic route. A few scraped knuckles and two trips to Home Depot later, Laura and I have a new dishwasher that uses much less water than the previous model. It’s quieter, too, which is a plus when watching a movie after dinner. The electrical part was very easy, no doubt due to my HVAC training. But the plumbing was a major pain, mostly because I stuck with the kitchen’s original copper pipe connections instead of upgrading to flexible braided stainless steel. Won’t make that mistake again!

When researching dishwashers, I found that the difference in cost to operate was a range of $29-$42 a year, read: inconsequential. The major factor is how much water does a cycle require, so I chose a model that had a range of settings, including an “EcoWash” setting, 3.6 gallons per cycle. Compared to the typical 7-9 gallons per cycle, this is relevant. The way to maximize EcoWash will be to soak dishes in the sink (which we do already) and then load them into the washer with some cursory scrubbing, egg, dried sauces, etc… My goal is to further maximize the efficiency that dishwashers offer. Did you know that hand washing dishes typically requires more water than a dishwasher would use? Machines are our friends!

I took two trips to Home Depot today. One planned, one not. (I screwed up the installation of the waste water tube and needed to buy a new adapter.) Those trips gave me an opportunity to time the lights on my stretch of road. In NYC, I heard, if you drive at 28 mph, you don’t hit lights, because they are timed that way. I wanted to know, did my county do the same thing on Highway 17? The answer is: I think so. When I drive at exactly the speed limit, using cruise control, I maximize my MPG and I tend to not hit as many lights. Sure a lot of folks pass me in the left hand lane, but I usually see them stopped at the light ahead, and then accelerating as I coast by. I reckon my driving habits save me one gallon of fuel per fill up which is about $2.50 a week at current gas prices. That would mean $130 a year, which isn’t chump change. I don’t think I’m getting to my destination much slower, driving the speed limit. But I am saving a lot of wear and tear on my car, and gasoline.

It got me thinking…what if we had full-autopilot settings on cars, such that cars could easily caravan at NASCAR distances, safely, because on-board computers would communicate braking and acceleration and turning signals. In high school soccer practice we used to do a drill called an Indian Run, where we jogged around the pitch in a double file, and the back pair had to sprint to the front. It meant that every now and then you had to sprint, but most of the time you were jogging. With cars, the fuel savings would be amplified by drafting. The two cars in front would burn a little more gasoline, but all the cars behind would conserve. Everybody would pay his dues by sprinting to the front and taking his turn leading. As a result, long caravans of cars might conserve significant amounts of fuel on interstate travel. And let’s not forget the other benefits of autopilot travel: the ability to work, sleep, converse, read, watch TV while traveling. Imagine your own private business class transportation. Everyone has a sober, reliable chauffer. And we all win by spending less on an increasingly expensive fossil fuel, and saving lives. (50,000 people die in car accidents a year in the USA.) The GPS infrastructure is already there, so why not?

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