Thursday, February 26, 2009, posted by Q6 at 5:20 AM
After I posted these photos on my Facebook page, I kept getting the same comment over and over: "I want to go for a ride in it." Yes, you do; and I'm more than happy to take anyone for a spin.

For those who haven't been following along, this is the Honda FCX Clarity, the latest innovation in fuel cell technology for automobiles. It's the greenest car around right now, right down to the interior (which is made of corn-based biofabric). Moreover, it's a luxury car, not an econo-box: this thing has so many bells and whistles I sometimes can't believe I'm driving it. Voice-activated everything (GPS, climate control, radio, cell phone link--all of it through voice commands). The GPS feature is amazing. XM satellite radio. Bluetooth "through the speakers" technology. Dual climate control. Seat heaters. Seat coolers. A hard-disk drive to rip CDs straight into the car's memory (like on-board iTunes). A jack to plug in my iPod and control it from the dashboard. I've even got a rear-mounted camera to assist with backing up. AND two other features I didn't even know existed! One is the Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), which uses the forward-mounted radar (no lie--radar) to automatically apply the brakes if something is too close to the car at too high a speed. Someone cut me off on the freeway last week, and this thing started to beep at me, flash lights, and brake. The other is the Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), which uses the same radar to maintain a driver-specified distance between me and the car in front of me. I tried it, and the car spent time getting radar lock on cars in front of me while braking and accelerating ON ITS OWN. Weirdest driving experience ever, but very cool. (The radar, by the way, is the Honda logo on the front grill.)
The EPA numbers on this car suggest an in-town 77 mpg and a highway 67 mpg (if you consider a gallon of gasoline to be equal to a kilogram of hydrogen, which seems to be the industry standard, then the mpg numbers are directly comparative). Honda boasts a 270 mile range on a single 4 kg tank, but I'm topping out at about 200 miles per tank right now--which is still impressive when you consider I'm not using a drop of gas to do it. I'm sure there's a way to drive this thing so economically that I could get 270 out of a tank (and I'm finding out that other FCX Clarity drivers play this little game, too); I'm determined to get 240 out of it before the lease is up.

In my "spare" time, I've been surfing some of the websites that review the car; I've been paying specific attention to the comments sections to see what "ordinary people" have been saying. I can respond to some of those comments here (I'm not going to actually post to the comments sections of these sites, which have a distinct "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" air about them). First, no, Honda is not just leasing these things to celebrities--I'm proof of that. Second, most experts will tell you that the Hindenburg disaster had more to do with its canvas skin being treated with the chemical equivalent of rocket fuel and less to do with being a balloon filled with flammable gas (moreover, I'm quite convinced that hydrogen containment technology is much better than it was in 1937). In any event, my car doesn't burn the hydrogen, anyway; it just combines it with oxygen to make electricity and water, which is how the Apollo moon missions were powered. (Sidebar: whenever anyone asks me about the "Hindenburg" factor, I ask them to repeat themselves and then reply, "Oh, 'Hindenburg'; I thought you said 'Exxon-Valdez'." That usually shuts them up.) Third, no, I haven't tried drinking my car's exhaust--but I will be getting around to that little experiment. And for those who have nothing better to do than scrutinize the photos: yes, the trickle of water seen in the driveway came from my exhaust pipe when I moved the car--my car is so organic that it actually pees.

The remaining two "hot" topics that people seem to be focusing on are better left for future blog posts, since I probably have quite a lot more to say--and learn--about them. One topic debates the "greeness" of hydrogen; that is, suggests that the isolation of pure hydrogen is a just-as-damaging process that negates any of the benefits of zero emissions (this one is usually suggested by those who think that the electric plug-ins are the future, not fuel cells). The other asks about the hydrogen infrastructure--the lack of filling stations needed to make fuel cell cars viable. I have thoughts on these topics, and I'll eventually get to them.

Right now, however, I think I'll go for another ride. :)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009, posted by Q6 at 5:28 AM
Mine isn't going to be the most popular opinion regarding the nationwide transition from analog to digital TV, but it's going to be the most practical and hassle free:

Anyone who wants to watch TV will need either cable or satellite. Period.

This is what happened back in the day with 8-track tapes. It happened to Beta video. Leaded gasoline. Eventually, it'll happen with gasoline-powered cars and snail mail. Something better comes along, and it phases something else out. Completely. (Better for who? The majority, I suppose. Supply and demand are symbiotic, but demand tends to have the upper hand.)

Nothing makes this point better, I assure you, than this whole analog-to-digital thing. They'd been planning for this to happen on February 17 for almost a decade. A decade. Hundreds of thousands of people couldn't get converter box coupons; then again, those weren't even offered until the tail end of this ten-year plan. I guess the higher-ups thought more people would be on the cable/satellite TV bandwagon by now. (The big digital switch has been pushed back to June. More on that in a minute.)

And it's not like these converter boxes that everyone is clamoring for are doing very well, anyway. Many TV stations shut off their analog towers as planned last week, and those with converter boxes couldn't get a decent signal--in most cases it was either pixellated or it didn't come in at all--which isn't a surprise. Why? The long answer includes a lot of detailed explanations of signal wavelengths, terrains, and limited ranges (the same answer tells you why you lose AM radio when you go into a tunnel). The short answer is this: the digital signal is information heavy, which is why it has to be sent via digital cable or satellite; if it could be sent through the air, they'd be doing it already. It can't be done, not even with $40 off the price of a converter box. It's the ultimate exercise in futility.

What does the delay to June 2009 tell us? It tells us one of three things. Maybe it means that someone came up with this converter-with-a-coupon idea WAAAAY too close to the deadline (if you buy the idea that the converter boxes will save us--which I don't--then the postponement makes sense); or it tells us that the technology isn't ready for the conversion yet, that they can't provide the aerial signal on their own timeline (and it's the government and the broadcasting industry we're talking about here, so who's surprised?); or it could tell us that we are all hell-bent on prolonging the inevitable.

Yes, we're addicted. In this, the "Information Age," we are addicted to the mediums which provide us with that information. And those who control the feed--our "dealers"--are only going to provide it through cable and satellite. Government approved, quality merchandise. When June comes, there will still be those who aren't ready to make the switch. There will ALWAYS be those who won't be ready. When push finally comes to shove, cable providers will win; they'll have the extra burden of making sure they can deliver their product to everyone, but they'll win. (Sidebar: Up until now, cable tv hasn't been considered a "utility" proper, but it's teetered on the edge; in this, the 21st Century, and most certainly after analog goes dark for good, cable tv will be considered a utility just like water and electricity. It will be a utility in both the colloquial and literal senses.)

If you're still relying on broadcast channels (and you're reading this on the Internet so, let's face it, you're not), you need to do one of two things: either contact your local satellite of cable provider and get hooked up, or detox from TV altogether. And let's face it: you're not going to go without the feed.

Of course, there's a larger irony here that everyone's ignoring: any forward-thinking media executive will tell you that the Internet's going to take over our media needs in the years to come. Right now, broadcast customers are on the low end of the spectrum; twenty years from now, cable subscribers will be on the low end of the spectrum and everyone else will be getting their shows on the web. Consider that networks are trying to lower costs by replacing expensive dramas with more talk shows (see "Jay Leno"), then take a quick look at The Internet has all but killed the CD for music, it's quickly killing newspapers, and it's trying to put your local library on the Kindle.

My grandchildren won't even know what a television set is.
Sunday, February 22, 2009, posted by Q6 at 4:19 PM
Well, it's official: my son is a licensed driver (as evidenced by the victory cupcakes his stepmother made to mark the occasion). On test day, he was nervous despite the fact that we spent the previous Saturday driving the streets around that DMV location.* We got there early so we could scope out the situation, see who the examiners were, etc., . . . all the things you usually do to combat nervousness but end up increasing it. We sat in the parking lot long enough to see a couple of people go through the process, and once my son realized that the examinee two spots ahead of him--who had problems parking the car, problems with "gizmo" control, and problems with the English language--passed the test, he relaxed almost to the point of taking a nap.

Almost. His turn came quickly after that, and 14 minutes later, it was over.

As the dad, I'm supposed to be scared about this. I'm supposed to be nervous and anxious and worried. Let's review, however, the path my son and I have traveled on this: there was day after day in the parking lot, learning to operate a stick shift (which even he will admit seems like six years, not six months, ago); there was the paperwork and studying for the written test to obtain his permit; there was the $1000 I plunked down for the exhaustive driving school, which included learning to control skids (during which he was surprised to find that he had the most experience behind the wheel of all the students, some of whom were using their parents' trucks and SUVs with almost no road experience); and we had the hours and hours of on-the-road practice with me in the passenger seat of my own car.

Let's be honest: I trust my son. If I'm worried or scared at this point, I have bigger problems than his driving ability. Besides, he still asks to use the car each and every time. I'm going to trust him until he gives me reason not to.

*Of course, we scouted out all the wrong streets; I watched him drive off with the examiner going the opposite direction. So much for recon.