Americans Use A Lot of Gas

There’s so much going on with this article in Jalopnik that I love. Let me break it down for you in rough order. First…. cars and geography and we all know how I feel about those. Second, the point of the article, which is to show we use a lot of gas in the US. But those are just the superficial, kinda uninteresting bits, especially to geographers.

The really cool part for me rests in a two things. This is an excellent example of how to lie with maps, or at least deceive. We know the US uses a lot of gas, but where and why is a bit of a mystery. One theory is the ‘fly over’ states tend to have older and less efficient cars and most importantly trucks. Furthermore, they tend to drive greater distances because they’re more spread out than an urban area like NY or LA. If you use the swipe bar in the middle (more on that in a second), you can flip between two views of the data. The left map shows annual gallons of gas used per capita and it clearly shows the middle of the country is the worst offenders. Again, the efficiency plus distances would make sense for the average person to use more gas than someone in an urban or suburban environment. However, the picture changes dramatically when you look at the map on the right. Here we see not per capita use, but total use, and it’s the more urban areas that tend to be the worst offenders. As Jalopnik points out in the text, the math is pretty clear – it’s because there’s more people. Even if a large number of people only drive a short distance in highly efficient cars they can still use a lot more gas per year than a small number driving large distances with inefficient cars. So how do you lower gas use? Thus far the focus has been upon fuel efficiency standards, but it looks like that might not be the only approach to take to tackle the problem. I just love the idea you can look at the same data totally differently and get a completely different compelling argument. It’s kinda awesome, I think.

And to round it out, the final really cool thing about this post is the great use of a swipe for displaying two maps. We use it a lot in our professional work as GISers, but I’d love to see more use like this ‘in the wild’ so to speak. It’s such a compelling way to present counter arguments just like this.

CAFE Standards for Cars in the US

We all know greenhouse gases are all in the news the last decade or so. On top of that, fuel dependency gets a lot of airplay. Those two things drive a lot of the decision making for car fuel economy standards. In the US, that’s translated into a rather arcane system called the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards. Jalopnik has a pretty good breakdown explaining the logic and implications behind CAFE standards. CAFE regulations have had a huge impact on car development around the world, particularly in the US. Ever wonder why small trucks like my personal favorite, the VW Rabbit Truck aren’t made anymore? Completely counter to logic, it’s actually the CAFE standards that have driven these more efficient vehicles out of production. Ever wonder why modern small cars go from pristine to ‘totaled’ even in relatively small wrecks? Again, CAFE standards drive much of this. Yet most people really don’t understand how and why CAFE standards work.

If you’re even remotely interested it either fuel economy, greenhouse gas issues, or cars, check out the link for a great breakdown. It’s really worth your time.

World’s Oldest Message In A Bottle

First, let it never be said I passed up an opportunity to make a The Police reference.

Now that we have that over, The Guinness Book of World Records has officiated the oldest note in a bottle ever found. The note is over 98 years old and it is an old National Geographic note from a 1914 scientific study concerning ocean currents. The note asks people to return the bottle to Captain C. Hunter Brown of the Glasgow School of Navigation. Apparently they released nearly 1,900 bottles but only got back a bit over 300. That seems about right for survey return rates, I think ūüôā

The $6,000 Car for Africa


Cars + Geography = Frank in heaven. The car company Mobius Motors has created what is for gearheads like me might be darn near perfect car. The founders of Mobius recognized that access to transportation is critical to modern existence. Anybody doing, say, site location work will tell you one of the biggest factors is how far people have to travel to get to the service. Africa isn’t known for it’s bustling transportation infrastructure and thus any cars that operate there have certain challenges. They have to be cheap. They have to do a lot of different things well. They have to be rugged. They have to be fixable. In short, they have to go like Stig. The Mobius concept is to realize all of these in one vehicle. The drive train is the garden variety Toyota that’s everywhere. The frame is everyday tube steel. The body parts are mostly flat panels you can replace with any other flat panels. It’s a solid 4×4 offroader. It’s back can seat 8 in the old school Land Rover Series 2/3 fold up seats. Fold’em up, and suddenly it’s truck. The Mobius is a true SUV, but its also a delivery truck, a hospital truck, a cab, a pickup… it’s pretty much whatever you want. And it’s super cheap for a new car – a mere $6,000.

Let me tell you, I’d LOVE to get one of these in the US, although I expect safety standards would keep it from being street legal. It seems like the perfect all around ticker with it until it rusts apart type of car. So a gearhead salute to Mobius Motors for one cool little car!

The Cost of Carbon

Ars Technica is reporting that some researchers are having issues with the US’s pricing of carbon emissions. The price of carbon emissions is notoriously difficult to pin down, but these researchers are suggesting the US might have missed the mark by as much as a factor of 12. The problem centers around the discount rate, which is the cost of not spending the money on other uses, such as interest or capital investments, for instance. Apparently the researchers claim the US is setting this rate too high. They do not seem to be factoring in certain work that’s been done not just within climate change research, but also with economics and discount rates more broadly. It seems to me this shows an interesting interplay with different social and physical disciplines. Often what’s going on in one area isn’t translated or accounted for in another. Then policy makers have to come up with some sort of semi-educated guesstimate of how to integrate all of this stuff into a cohesive policy. It’s a thorny issue that’s beyond just climate change. However, I unsurprisingly believe we geographers might be a good nexus point within disciplines for just these sort of complex issues. Perhaps we should get involved more deeply with these sorts of estimates to attempt to redress such widely variant estimations. That’s not to discount the important work geographers are already doing, but just to suggest maybe we can get a little more vocal about our great work and how we can contribute.

NPR Laments the Death of Paper Road Maps

Paper road maps are becoming obsolete, claims a NPR report. Well, not completely obsolete, but less and less used by daily drivers as GPS and SatNav have taken over. A spokesperson for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials believes map printing may be one place state transportation departments cut to ease budgetary issues. Apparently Washington state got rid of printing them complete in 2009! I understand the view completely as technological has taken over. That being said, even this techno-gadget junkie will miss the days the paper map. There’s something to be said for a product you can toss in the back, or stick in your back pocket, or fold over the wrong way, or write all over willy-nilly because you don’t care what happens to it. Oh paper road map your dad yelled at you for ‘folding it wrong’, how you will be missed!

Lego, Australia, and Build with Chrome

There’s a good 124 (ish) reasons I love this site – Building with Chrome and Lego. The most important are because it’s Lego and a Map. The basic premise is you can grab a plot of land and ‘build’ your lego construct virtually on that plot of land. It can be a house or an abstract sculpture or pretty much anything you can envision in Lego (except those weird Lego Bonicle things my nephew lovs so much). It is also great to see Google really pushing the envelope of what’s possible with Chrome and HTML 5. More ‘food for thought’ is a great thing for near future HTML 5 work that anyone involved in web stuff is going to have to embrace. My only real problem with the site is that even though it is tied to space, it is a space most people won’t know. The constructs are unlikely to represent Australian in any meaningful way. But hey, you can’t have everything!

Now if Lego would just move the experiment a tad South East and render all their Lord of The Rings Lego, we could recreate the movies in Lego on the map. Maybe that’s just too much awesome for one app ūüôā

The Most Popular Street Names in the US

Cars and geography go hand in hand if you ask me. After all, transportation is one of our fundamental layers in GIS, right? So Jalopnik’s post detailing the most popular street names in the US really struck my interest. I guess its no surprise that numbers are the most popular names, nor that trees are second. Personally, I wonder the popularity of tree names in areas compared to the trees they grow. Do more cities in, say, the pacific NW like ‘Pine Street’ than the middle states? I’d also bet there’s a lot of spatial clustering of names so that the numbers and trees tend to group together. Its pretty interesting that most polls show Abraham Lincoln as the most popular US President, yet George Washington gets all the street names.

ChronoZoom and Big History

Ars Technica featured a pretty nifty new site, ChronoZoom, that attempts to show the history of everything in an easily explorable format. ¬†Several things caught my eye with this site. ¬†First, it’s written using HTML 5. ¬†I’m really impressed how functional it is given the spotty support of browsers with HTML 5 (although they’re getting better day by day). ¬†Second, it’s a pretty nifty way of presenting complex, multimedia information in a¬†reasonably¬†digestible¬†way. ¬†The site has a ‘depth’ to it which allows them to¬†collapse¬†complex information into a small area. ¬†If you’ve used or seen Prezi then you’ll feel right at home. ¬†Try clicking on one of the Thresholds, say the birth of Humanity, and you’ll see the timeline zoom in pretty quick. ¬†The whole thing is based upon an approach to history called Big History, which attempts to span large epochs of time, say the Big Bang to modern times, and find common themes. ¬†It’s cross disciplinary to find themes in both physical and social sciences. ¬†I can’t say that I’ve ever studied Big History as most of my work centers on the extremely tiny tail end of that swath of time, but the idea is pretty¬†intriguing (although I might call it “GINORMOUS History”, but that’s just me).

Play around with ChronoZoom and I think you can see how that basic idea might be used in geographic work.