December 22nd, 2010

RIP Gretta the Jetta

I thought I’d just post this as a coda to our class discussions this fall.

On my way home from the last class, my trusty VW Jetta had a couple of palpitations that turned out to be a sign of a dying injector pump (very expensive on a diesel engine).  Since the car has been starting to rust out badly, we’d decided not to put a lot more money into it, and so this was her last trip – which somehow seemed appropriate!

Still feeling committed to vegetable-oil-based fuels, we went out and found another used Jetta, slightly newer than Gretta.  What’s really interesting about this is that the dealer we bought it from is a young Bosnian guy who came to the U.S. along with his father, a diesel mechanic.  This guy makes most of his living buying mostly German imports (VWs, Porsches, BMWs) and re-exporting them to Europe, where they sell for far more than they do here.  He told me that European automakers are essentially forced to lower their prices in the U.S. because of competition from American and Japanese cars and because they can’t afford not to be operating in the huge American car market.  So this creates a niche opportunity for someone like this dealer who regularly loads up shipping containers with used German cars and sends them back to where they started.

This made my head spin a bit – it’s such a graphic illustration of how fluid the car industry has become and how cars become essentially vehicles for moving capital around in the global economy.

~ Cathy

December 8th, 2010

Discovery channel: Car Time line

Here’s something interesting, the discovery channel website has a car history time line, here.

December 8th, 2010

Mandatory Rear-View Cameras?

The federal government proposed that rear-view, or backup cameras, should be installed on all models of cars by late 2014. The government wants this mandatory addition to be made on all cars because the majority of people injured or killed in backup-related accident are infants, and there is nothing more tragic than the death of a child, especially if the tragedy can be stopped by something as simple as a rear-view camera. The proposed additions add about 400$ to the price of a car, which is a small price to pay to avoid fatalities and accidents. The proposed plan would require automakers to start making these changes in 2012, with all cars equipped by the end of the year in 2014.

I think that this proposal is an excellent step towards reducing the amount of fender-benders and injuries that result because of blind spots while backing up. It can be difficult to see everything behind the car while in reverse, and this camera makes it simple to reverse in any situation. This particular feature is helpful to everyone on the road, because instead of having to turn around in the driver’s seat, look in the mirrors, or utilize someone outside of the car for help, the driver can merely turn on the reverse camera and have a view similar to that out the front windshield. I do agree that this addition to cars is beneficial to almost all drivers, but the influx of technology that can do things for the driver should be a cause of concern for people on the road today.

An example of driver’s dependency on these newfangled features occurs in the article, when James Bell said that after operating a car in reverse with a backup camera, driving a car without one is almost impossible. This statement serves to prove my point: if people are so dependent on the features of automobiles that make the trip easier, what if they have to drive a car without them? New safety features on automobiles allow drivers to care less about the fact that they are operating a two-ton killing machine and lull drivers into a false sense of security. The most important part of driving a car is to be alert and aware of the surroundings at all time, because when traveling at high speeds even small disturbances have the potential to turn into fatal accidents. I do not condone all new safety features on cars, but I do think that the modernization of the automobile has created a car culture of people who rely too much on their cars to do the driving for them (i.e. cars that can parallel park themselves), which in turn creates a driving situation with motorists that do not show enough respect and fear for the machines that they operate on a daily basis.

http://www.latimes.com/business/autos/la-fi-autos-backup-camera-20101204,0,5263647.story

Jake Caveny

December 8th, 2010

Another advert!

So I know it’s the last day of class, but I suddenly remembered this advert that I found when I was looking for a car ad to talk about. It reminds of what we were talking about on monday- personal identity in cars. The Volkswagen advert talks about uniformity and individuality, how we’re all similar and different at the same time, and how the car facilitates that.

-Wen

December 1st, 2010

I-93 and Cardiovascular Disease in Somerville Residents

Here is an interesting article that connects to our trip to Union Square, regarding how I-93 has cut through the city. Obvious reasons for not wanting to live by a highway include loud noise and unappealing aesthetics. However, Tufts professor, Doug Brugge is studying the negative health impacts that I-93 is causing nearby residents. Ultrafine particulates emitted by the highways may be correlated with cardiovascular disease and asthma. Check it out!

Erica Feldman

November 29th, 2010

Safety Features Make Better Drivers

This article made me think back to the class Jake and I taught way back on safety.  One of the new trends in safety features is the inclusion of technologies that allow the car to take a more active role in driving.  Car makers are rushing to put in collision detection sensors, lane line sensors, drowsiness senors, and all sorts of other things to enable the car to detect potential problems and either alert the driver or just slam on the brakes all by itself, thereby avoiding a potential accident.  This sparked a debate over how much is too much and whether we as drivers feel comfortable relinquishing control (which after all is one of the primary emotional draws of the car). There were fears that people would become too reliant on these technological crutches and become worse drivers.

The article seems to have found an overlooked compromise in this debate.  For the author, the alerts that the car made were so annoying that he forced himself to become a better driver just so he wouldn’t have to hear them.  In this light, having all these sensors feels like driving around with your father in the car all the time.  I would never get lazy and start relying on my dad to tell me when to brake; instead, I would drive a lot better just to shut him up.

However, this compromise only seems to apply to this sort of middle ground of human control with an automatic safety net.  From what I read in preparation for the class, it seems that the safest and most traffic-efficient method would be to fully automate cars and put them in a communication network with all the other cars so they can work together to get everyone where they need to go.  Personally, I like the idea of laying back with a book/movie and letting my car take care of everything, but then I was never that big on driving anyway.

http://www.boston.com/cars/newsandreviews/overdrive/2010/11/2011_volvo_s60_making_better_d.html

November 29th, 2010

An Interesting Link..

Heres a cool page I found that lets you see by company and by model which country your car’s transmission and engine were made, where it was assembled, and whether it is unionized or not. It’s interesting to see that many of our car companies are not quite as ‘All-American’ as they may claim to be.

Charlotte Rea

November 29th, 2010

Solar Power from Parking Lots: A Groundbreaking Innovation

In the past few months, two topics that have frequently come up in discussion is the environmental and infrastructural impact of car culture in America, and I have found an article in the New York Times that addresses both.
Recently in California, a new eco-friendly trend has been sweeping the school districts: solar paneled parking lots. Though this idea may seem novel and perhaps even shocking at first, it is an innovation that seems as though it may soon become a norm of everyday life. So far over 75 schools, ranging from elementary to community college, have implemented this state of the art technology and seem to only sing its praises. The premise of the idea is this: parking lots are merely vast portions of land that serve no other purpose than car storage. So, why not put this massively underutilized land to better use via clean-energy creation? Parking lots just sit there all day under very useful solar radiation, so these Californian school districts have decided to help alleviate their tight budgets with this potential gold-mine of energy! It’s almost a wonder this idea hasn’t been implemented before.

The apparatus itself is often merely a series of solar panels that create a sort of roof above the cars, and in some instances they are a ‘a broad fan of panels’ that are held by a pole above the cars (some of these can even be used as electric car charging stations!). They can provide a surprisingly large amount of energy and in one school district, during the school year these stations can cover almost 75% of its energy needs, and during the summer all of its energy requirements. In the Bay area alone, these parking lots have generated roughly 20 megawatts, which is enough to power over 3000 homes, and saved one district over $50,000.
Not only does this technology provide clean energy and a much needed income boost for the education system, it also teaches a new generation to accept eco-friendly measures and to view it as an integral part of life. Children in this area will grow up seeing clean energy as a usual commodity and will therefore be confronted with the issue of the clean-energy crisis on a daily basis. Furthermore, as the technology spreads (it’s already began to appear in New Jersey and Canada has become interested in the idea as well), it will, as designer Walter Hood claims, “become more ubiquitous in our landscape” and that one day the public will think of parking lots “as something that is always covered”.

As a whole, this idea is rather exciting! It provides a solution to many of our countries pressing problems: a need for cleaner energy, wasting valuable space, educational budget cuts, and youth who simply don’t seem to care. Yes, this new technology may be a bit hard on the eyes, but honestly, who really cares? It’s not as if parking lots are particularly aesthetically pleasing in the first place. I see this phenomenon as the way of the future. It makes perfect sense to use parking lots as a means to generate solar power and hopefully this idea will grow into a nationwide innovation that can help to push us in the right direction towards technological innovation to unite car culture and eco-friendly ideals. Thoughts?

Parking lots like these have been spreading throughout the country in recent years.

Charlotte Rea

November 29th, 2010

Petrol companies

This advert by shell (which I thought was rather interesting because of the crystal car they made for it) got me thinking about the role of petrol companies in the development of cars. Petrol companies like BP and Shell are so powerful that they must exert a tremendous influence. I also thought it was a good link to the class on wednesday about fuel.

-wen

November 27th, 2010

Text of proposed bills from Denise Provost

Rep. Denise Provost sent along links to the text of the two bills she was talking about last Sunday, relating to the attempt to change the default urban speed limit from 30 mph to 25, and to create “Senior Safety Zones” similar to school safety zones, where the speed limit for vehicles is 20 mph.

~ Cathy

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