Monday, December 30, 2013

3000 Days

As you may know.  I'm not from around here.  Despite having lived in Dallas for 11 years, I'm only now starting to refer to it as 'home.'  Because I'm not a native Texan, that means I have family back where I grew up, Harrisburg, PA (hence my fascinated interest with cities that go broke.  See: Detroit).  So each holiday season I have to go back east which might as well be North of the Wall, inhabited by White Walkers and Wildlings.  Such is my distaste for the cold.

And it tends to mean some time in the car.  I'd love to be able to fly in and train to my destinations, but not all of the households I need to visit are accessible that way.  Woah is me.  Instead, we fly in and rent an SUV (for shame!) just in case there is some bad weather in the Poconos between Harrisburg and New York.  There usually is.  Whilst in the car, you have to pass the time while keeping the driver awake because the driver must stay awake for safety but is typically bored out of their mind.  We played some kind of riddle app.

Most of the riddles were pretty good, but a bit formulaic and thus solvable if you paid close attention to the wording (which works on my fairly underdeveloped listening skills).  However, there was one riddle I was unable to solve.  It's "The Case of the Missing Dollar," which you can find here.  It poses as a math problem.  However, it happens to be two separate math problems and the riddle gets you to confuse the two.  The math works both ways, but it is asking two separate questions (SPOILER ALERT!).  I did the math both ways in my head but couldn't quite piece the logic together required to spell out the answer that it's asking two separate questions.  Frustrated (and the only riddle I did this for), I grew impatient and just demanded the answer.

I was reminded of this riddle over the weekend after I got back in Dallas.  I think I was sipping my coffee and enjoying the short stint of 60 degree weather while watching the Premier League or something or other when an Exxon commercial came on.  It wasn't so much asking a riddle but a quiz.  How long can you charge your phone on a gallon of gas?

Now, logistics aside of how you would pour a gallon of gas into your phone (I don't recommend you try), let's think about what this is really saying.  Which is, I don't know what.  It's intentionally confusing the two things of gasoline for your car and your smart phone, an interconnectivity device becoming the ever-more dependable (and energy efficient) form of transportation (see my piece on this subject).

They're talking about the energy density of gasoline which is absolutely true (so maybe we shouldn't burn so much of it?).  Gasoline doesn't power phones.  Gas powers cars.  Your phone is charged by electricity which comes from coal, or nuke, or wind, or some combination of those and other sources of energy depending upon where you live.  However, your phone isn't transporting you and the thousand pound metal cage around you several thousand miles a year.  These two things are fundamentally incompatible and often times at odds (see: texting and driving campaigns).

The smart phone is far more advantageous for the walker to coordinate where to meet friends or the transit rider catching the next train (or in the case of Dallas, trying to figure out the convoluted and incredibly inefficient and deleterious-to-ridership bus routes).  So while your phone might be able to be powered for 8 years or so if you have a gallon camelback filled with gasoline on your back and somehow plugged and combusted into your phone, is that gasoline really that efficient when all it (and the roads we build) is make us drive more.

Let's think about that gallon of gasoline, its efficiency, and the cost for a minute.  Let's say you're like the average American and you commute about 30 minutes each day to and from work.  If you're in Dallas, safe to say that is probably all on highways because the system is designed as a funnel limiting choice and mobility.  So if you're lucky you're going about 60 mph.  That means you're travelling about 30 miles each way or 60 miles each day.  That's 300 miles each week and if your car gets 20 miles per gallon that's 15 gallons of gasoline you're burning each week.

So that's about a tank of gas meaning you're filling up your tank once a week, 52 times a year.  The national average gas price is about 3.31/gallon at the mo' equalling $2,581.80 per year just to get around.  Now compare that "efficiency" of gas to a more walkable city that provides increased and improved choices of mobility, including walking and transit that doesn't take twice the time to get somewhere as driving (incidental thought of the morning, if driving is always the most convenient way to get around, your entire city is equally and poorly connected and thus densification is a stage set.).  Both are more energy efficient than that gallon of gas because it ends up using far less energy, which is effectively a tax on the efficiency of the city as a socio-economic reactor.

It's confusing the two math problems.  But maybe that is their goal.  Don't pay attention to the man behind the curtain.  Instead, take their simple math at face value.  Get frustrated at the actual math involved and demand the easy answer (BIGGER HIGHWAYS!).  But maybe that is the goal.  To confuse you and the real issues at hand.  And you wonder why millennials distrust advertising.