Friday, February 28, 2014

The big H over the 4 corner states

I'm a weatherbug. I love to watch the weather to see what is happening around me. Part of what I love about Utah is that we actually have weather compared to Southern California. But I've noticed that lately, the weather has been pretty tame.

For decades, I've noticed the big H over the four corner states, a high pressure ridge that develops due to the mountain ranges in the west. Go east of that, and you get inclement weather in spades.

I've also noticed why that has happened and that there is a negative feedback loop for weather in the west. Years ago, NOAA started a survey of local gravity around the world. They found that local gravity was slightly higher in the deep south than in the west. This is due to the constant rainfall in the south that has built a tremendous water table there.

We are riding on land masses that float on the mantle, a hot layer of molten rock far below the surface of the earth. The continents float on the mantle like boats on water, but they move much more slowly. The elevation of the continents varies with density.

NOAA has estimated that the water table in the deep south has depressed the crust of the earth upon the mantle by about 1200 feet. In other words, if there were no water table there, the deep south would be about 1200 feet higher than it is now.

Contrast that with the west where, compared to the southeast, there is very little rain. In geologic time, our mountain ranges are here to stay for a long time due to the weather patterns they create. The west has been like this for millions of years and there is no change in sight in the near future. It is only as the earth has warmed that the weather pattern has become even more pronounced.

So if you're not a big fan of rain or snow, move out west. Otherwise, hang out and enjoy the snow, the rain, the hurricanes and the tornadoes.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The irony of the secrecy surrounding TPP

Controversy swirls around a new trade agreement, the TransPacific Partnership, aka, TPP. Politicians and trade representatives beseech the public with respect for their secret negotiations. Don't worry, everything will be alright once we get this thing passed in Congress. It'll be great! Free trade for all!

Why so much secrecy then? The media has been banned from negotiations. Unless you're in favor of the agreement, no one involved in the talks will discuss it with you. The New Zealand Trade Representative insists that to break secrecy on this deal would destroy it. The USTR has nothing to say if journalists are around. So secrecy is the word of the day, even though few in government will utter the word.

This is ironic considering that President Obama was elected on a platform of transparency. One of the first official acts he signed would require federal agencies to err on the side of disclosure when presented with a request under the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act. This is a big deal and overturns another executive order that Bush had signed to do the opposite.

So for all of this secrecy, there is one thing on my mind that few if any have talked about. While most people are focused on who will be hurt by this trade agreement, what I want to know is, who will be protected by the agreement? Is this another agreement where we thrust out the middle class out to be in direct competition with the low wage workers of the world while protecting the professional classes like doctors and lawyers? That's what NAFTA turned out to be.

They're calling the TPP a free trade agreement. Well, if it is so great, secrecy shouldn't be a problem because we can all see that the TPP is in the public interest, right? I mean, the government serves the people and the people are the stakeholders. Oh, wait. No, no, no. That's not right. The people are not the stakeholders or they would have been invited to participate.

Who are the stakeholders then? That's a secret.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Recycling like we've never seen it before

As I wrote this article on energy a few days ago, I began to imagine a world that is carbon negative, where carbon is pulled from the air to reduce the CO2 levels from over 600 parts per million down to prehistoric levels of 350 parts per million. A world where no factory ever has to release pollution again. The only way to get there is to counter the flow with cheap, abundant, carbon free or negative energy that can be used to capture and reform the waste.

Years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to silica bed waste oxidation for pollution control. In a nutshell, he works for a company that helps factories redirect their effluvia, the gases that we would call pollution, and turn them into carbon dioxide and water. The systems he builds generate 97% of their own fuel to run. You can find out more here, but the point is, we don't really have to pollute when we can take the waste and reform it before releasing it.

There are now reforming systems for plastics, organic waste and complete systems for removing metals from the waste stream. All of them require some external source of energy. What I see in my mind is some sort of crucible that we can dump all of our solid waste into and out comes raw elements or basic materials in pure forms, at various levels of the crucible, like a refinery.

Years ago, while working for a retirement home, I saw a huge number of batteries being trashed, so I proposed to find a recycling solution to management. With the Big Green Box, I buy a prepaid hazardous materials shipping container, a cardboard box designed for the job. Then people come by and put their dead batteries inside. When the box is full, we put a label on it and ship it. The Big Green Box will shred everything - batteries, phones, small electronics - and sinter it down to pure elements and sell the elements on the open market. Nothing goes to waste there.

Nothing in nature goes to waste, all the way up and down the food chain. There are scavengers everywhere, looking for waste as food, most of them are insects and bacteria. They're the ones at the bottom, keeping the forests and the oceans clean. We need to create economic incentives to get this done at the human scale, because, as we have seen, capitalism often fails at this without government intervention.

While learning about thorium, I also learned that the molten salt reactors run at a temperature high enough that the waste heat can be used to create fuels out of carbon dioxide in the air. A fair number of experiments have run worldwide on how to create fuel from air. This takes time and energy, but it can be done. With nuclear power at our disposal, cheap, safe and abundant in the form of the molten salt reactor, we can do this. Even with uranium, the molten salt reactor creates a tiny fraction of waste compared to the fragile, inefficient light water reactors we have now.

We can learn a lot from nature. Recycling everything, and I really mean everything, can do wonders for our economy and our environment. From gum wrappers to cars, we need to find a way to put it all back into a raw materials stream that can be used again. I can even see a future where we mine our landfills and recycle their contents. My dream for humankind is a civilization where nothing goes to waste.

Is it worth the effort? Sure it is. Just ask the residents of Danville, Virginia.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Capitalism cannot assign value to that which cannot be owned

This is a tragedy of the commons, one that capitalism fails to address. While capitalism has done a fine job of assigning value to things that can be called "property", it has utterly failed to address that which cannot be owned. It's easy to assign value to a hammer, a radio, or a car. But when it comes to the environment, capitalism shies away from any notion of value. If we can't own it, capitalism is silent.

So while we have the best technology here in the United States, the *only* reason we have anything resembling a clean environment is due to government regulation. Coal ash spills, oil spills and nuclear reactor failures are just the tip of the iceberg - if there are any left. Every time we see such an accident, we see that capitalism is incapable of regulating itself outside of making a profit. Worse, capitalism is incapable of recognizing a common good.

So while capitalism can place a value on a 5 bedroom home in Beverly Hills, it cannot place a value on the destruction done to the environment to get the money needed to buy that house. Capitalism isn't designed to recognize the commons. It is designed to privatize the commons. From culture to government policy, capitalism seeks to privatize the profits while socializing the costs.

It has been said that capitalism is the most efficient system for allocating scarce resources. This may well be true, but when it comes to that which is common to all, the air, the water and the land, capitalism is silent unless it can appropriate the environment for a profit.

In my previous article, I talked about how we need to start with how energy is produced. We still need to start there when it comes to where we live and keeping it clean. How we create energy has done the most damage to our environment. It has altered the atmosphere in such a way that it is hard to see how the environment will recover with us. If we can learn to let go of our conventional ways, allow someone new to set the stage for the evolution of our species, we can start with energy production. Thorium, the artificial leaf, and eventually, nuclear fusion, can lead the way.

I honestly don't know what the answer is, but capitalism has surely failed to protect the environment. Unless we become willing to recognize the value of all that is common to us, the air, the water and the land, and learn to respect it, the environment will find a way to live without us.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

It all comes down to energy

As I look across the internet, there is significant news about "The Day We Fight Back". This is the day we fight back against massive, unrestrained surveillance by the US and UK governments to name a few, against the rest of us. This is no small movement, this is worldwide, and from what I can see, it's going to be big.

The surveillance state really starts with energy, where we get it and who gets to use it. We could have cut back on carbon years ago, but the carbon energy industry has centuries of entrenchment in our culture, in our politics and in our way of getting around. But despite our indulgence in carbon for energy, we need to take a long hard look at what that has cost us.

The surveillance state arises from a war on terrorism. The war on terrorism arises from our dependence on oil. To keep things hot in the middle east, we are playing both sides, funding the Arabs and funding the Israelis. We have helped to fuel the debate by giving one side no reason whatsoever to want or desire peace in the region - that's Israel. Take away their funding and their business and suddenly, a two state solution seems practical with peace as a bonus.

Add global warming, the end of snow, rising tide lines, and throw in really severe weather worldwide, hey, you'd think that would be enough, right? Not even close. The people are thinking about changing, but the governments are a lot slower about it.

We could have avoided most of the mess had we picked the right nuclear energy solution. We could have used molten salt reactors instead of the light water reactors. The molten salt reactor works well with uranium and thorium. The MSR leaves behind far less waste than the light water highly pressurized water vessels we're using now.

We could go solar, worldwide. The sun drops 1000TW of power on our planet every day. We only need to harness a small fraction of that to power our world. Dr. Daniel Nocera has come up with some nifty materials for splitting water in sunlight. This can be a power source for everyone.

Wind and hydro power are interesting, but they don't scale like nuclear and solar. We have options. We can look to the sources of energy before we consider violence, mass surveillance and the like. So while people are fighting back, let's hope they get the big picture. It's all about the energy. Start there.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Long ago, I gave up on control

Control is an interesting concept, but for many who have tried it, we find that control is an illusion. We try to control our weight, but many times our weight confounds us. We try to control our schedule, but, as John Lennon said, "Life is what happens to you when you're making other plans." We try to control other people, but other people have other plans. We try to control our own behavior only to find that our subconscious has still other plans.

Control over anything is an illusion. The heartbeat, the digestive process, the thinking process, or just an itch - all of it is really beyond complete control. I can guide it, but there is so much stuff going on before I make the decision to move my hand, I'm really just a facilitator. I depend upon the cooperation of all the cells in my body to do what my brain says to do. As long as those cells cooperate, I live.

Going a few orders of magnitude deeper, I am, like you, composed of a buzzing cloud of countless electrons, protons and neutrons. Each particle in my body is subject to quantum mechanics. Each particle is there and not really there. It is only the consciousness that notices that I'm here. Each atom is comprised of 99% empty space. The analogy is that if the nucleus of a hydrogen atom were the size of a basketball, the orbiting electron would be about 20 miles away. We're much ado about nothing when it comes down to it.

So when I see my daughter crying over teething pain, I know that control is of no use here. It is only when I have the ability to accept what I see and help Emily work through the painful introduction to a new lower canine tooth, that I can surrender control. Once I surrender control, I can finally be of service as a comforter, a facilitator, a soothsayer.

When I read the news and see the suffering around the globe, the nonsensical violence, the outrageous corruption, the enormous damage humans do to the environment, and the bile that is strewn across the internet in every direction, I just have to remember to breathe. I can take heart that when I do want to exercise control, I find that I can err on the side of peace, with supreme ease, if I choose to do it. I do it because I know the pain of doing otherwise. For to impose my will upon others is just an obstacle, a challenge to them, that they will surely rise to meet.

Once I admit that I am powerless over the pain in the world, maybe again, I can help to bring peace to the world by being peaceful myself and sharing that with others.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Writing is my morning coffee

I learned to write in school as so many of us do, by hand. While school teaches us the basics, grammar, spelling, punctuation - we have to do the rest. We add the creativity, the tone, inflection, the pace, the perspective. We give life to the characters in the alphabet.

There is something quite fascinating to me in the process of writing. I can take an idea in my head, put it here in the computer, and then send it to many people, all at once, if I choose. I love watching the words stream onto the page, one by one, mirroring the words in my head. Sometimes I don't know where they come from, but I satisfy the urge to put those words in front of me by writing.

I gathered enthusiasm with writing as a kid. I am hard of hearing, so I don't fare so well in conversations. As a kid I lost every argument I ever had with my sisters. Why? By the time I was able to figure out what they were saying, formulate a response and delivery, they were already onto the next subject. So I conceded speaking to writing.

If I have a disagreement with someone, I can write a letter to them, as I have done many times before. I can organize my thoughts, create a coherent structure to what I want to say, and have the last word, all without being interrupted - I just hate being interrupted. It's me against the paper, and the paper loses every time. The reality, though, is that the paper is my friend. At least he was my friend before the digital age.

Since the dawn of the digital age in my life, I've forsaken handwriting for typing. I learned to type in high school, thinking, "Hey, I might meet a girl in typing class. I might even have a use for this later in life. I mean, I'm going to work for Dad as a sheetmetal worker, but I'll take this class, just in case." Good call.

Writing on a computer is a joy because I can hit backspace to clear a mistake and I can move anything I want around. I recall the days of typing a paper, and realizing that I needed to move a paragraph on the piece of paper in the typewriter. Natch! I'd have to rewrite that page again and I hated that. But when the computer came along, that all changed.

I took a few college classes in the 90s in social studies, thinking I wanted to be a counselor. I can recall the grades I used to get on my papers at Cypress College. I got A's for my writing almost universally. Putting those papers together on a computer completely changed my attitude about school. With a computer, school became fun because the writing became fun. I loved doing the research, the analysis and then putting it into a file on a computer. Then I'd print it out and turn it in and get feedback from the professor. That was a source of joy for me.

Just a quick thought. I know that plagiarism and ghosting are common in college today. This is something I don't understand. Why would anyone want to miss out on writing a term paper? I never needed to copy from anyone else or to have a ghost writer for my papers, no sireee. That task is mine, all mine and I would never give that up to anyone. I love writing papers!...but I digress.

I didn't start getting into writing for others until I started this blog, around 2006. Then I thought I'd just write for fun and share it with others. That's something I really enjoy. I love the process of watching words come from seemingly nowhere, to this moment, on this page and it all makes sense.

I've experimented with writing during different times of the day. The morning works best for me and I know this from experience. My most creative times are in the morning and I could never figure out why. I've tried writing in the evening, but by then, I'm spent from the day, and the words don't come easy. In the morning, I'm fresh and ready to pour the contents of my brain onto the page.

I write a morning page every day. I just set up a word processing document in LibreOffice and type a full page in the same document every day, each page headed by the date and the day. This is my morning exercise. A warm up for the blog. I do this in the morning to let myself talk about the stuff that no one else wants to hear. To ramble on about what happened yesterday and grouse about some perceived slight or inconvenience. To think through an idea when its time has come. I have found that this makes me more available, more receptive to other people for the rest of the day. Now I feel uncomfortable if I miss it even for one day. I am not perfect, but I make sure I write a morning page every day.

I'm a father in training and I have a one year old kid whom I love so dearly. I want to give her as much time as I can. But I also need to write. So I make sure that she's sleeping when I'm writing. Thus, I have tried waiting for the evenings to write. I had to give that up for a very simple reason. Writing is like caffeine for my brain. The last time I tried writing at night, I was awake for two hours after that and simply could not get to sleep any sooner.

There I was, fresh from an evening sprint on my blog, and all I could do was think. I just could not stop the gears from turning in my head. Voices, words, and ideas were all dancing in my head, vying for space on a page somewhere. While I was trying to get to sleep.

So writing is reserved for the early morning hours, when everyone else is asleep. It's about 4:30 am now. I don't know how long I've been writing. But I'm glad to be here.

Friday, February 07, 2014

If low taxes create jobs, Wall Street has some explaining to do

The line we've been hearing from conservative pundits and the Tea Party Republicans is pretty consistent: cut or eliminate taxes and the economy will boom. Well, that might be interesting if it were true. Since 1980, we've cut taxes and they have remained below pre-1980 historical levels since then. Yet, we now have an economy that can only be propped up by bubbles every few years in order to function.

By nearly all accounts that I have read, federal income taxes are the lowest in decades, so where are the jobs? Investors have a 15% capital gains tax, are they investing? If you look at the indexes, they are still higher than before the bubble burst in 2008. Seems like they are investing. But we're still down by 8 million jobs since the bubble burst.

Even the top marginal rates for income taxes are far below their zenith prior to 1980. I can recall the anticipation of the tax cuts when they were proposed by Reagan. So many people were rubbing their hands with glee over that victory. Since then, there has been no steady economic growth without a bubble to prop it up. We had the stock bubble, then the housing bubble and they were great, but they were unsustainable. Interest rates are still at historic lows, too. The Fed can't make the rates go any lower than zero. Yet, there are still no jobs for the 8 million or so who want one.

The tax free zone that few are talking about is the trading floors of our security exchanges. It is estimated that $5 quadrillion changes hands on Wall Street every year. Seems like that kind of money movement would juice the economy very well, but it hasn't. It's just changing hands between the small clan that circulates the vast majority of money between themselves - on Wall Street. With each exchange, they make money, don't they? They must or they wouldn't persist in the high-frequency trading that is all the rage on Wall Street. So tell me, do these high frequency trades create jobs? Not as far as I know.

Some people have taken notice of this high frequency trading business and have suggested that we ought to place a small tax on the traders on Wall Street. 1% seems reasonable and I doubt that would be missed by anyone trading on Wall Street. Well, someone might notice, and they'd howl at Congress to remind them of who it is exactly that they work for and then such a bill would die in committee for their sins. I find it strange that so few are even willing to consider taxing the financial sector this way when the same people who promote low taxes are more than happy to cut food stamps, unemployment insurance and Social Security just to balance the budget.

If the argument that low or zero taxes would create jobs were to hold any water, all that fussing and trading in Wall Street with zero tax burden should be creating jobs. I don't see that happening, do you?

Wednesday, February 05, 2014


I seem to have mastered the art of sleeping. After I got married, my wife made the observation that I'm asleep about 5 minutes after hitting the pillow. I can sleep in airports if the need arises, as long as there is someone to wake me up when the whistle blows. I've fallen asleep in staff meetings after lunch and woke up when it was my turn to give my report. I find it easy to take a nap when convenient to do so.

I've never used sleeping pills and can't imagine why they would be necessary. I've even read studies that associate sleeping pills with a higher rate of mortality. Some people like a beer. Some like a book - that was me for a time. Some find that exercise is great for sleep, I know I have. But for the most part, all I really need is a pillow and a flat, soft place to rest.

For more than 20 years, I have not needed an alarm clock. I stopped setting the alarm when I began to notice that I would wake just as the alarm was about to go off. After a few weeks of this, it didn't make any sense anymore, so I just used it for timekeeping. I can sometimes set my own alarm. If I want to get up at 4, I imagine the clock reading 4am before going to sleep and I get up right around that time. I usually get up around 5am and have found on many occasions, the clock has read exactly 5am when I woke.

I also know that as I have aged, I need less sleep. I don't know exactly why that is. I have tried going to sleep at 8:30. But I get up at 3 when I do that. So I make sure I stay up just long enough that I'm tired enough for sleep and somehow, I wake up at the right time.

This morning, Emily woke up very early in the middle of the night. Emily had been weaned from nursing weeks before and still finds a pang here or there for some motherly comfort. But this morning, that was not going to happen. I watched for many minutes as my wife tried in frustration to find the magic that would help Emily fall asleep, but there was none.

When I could see that Alice had all but given up, I decided to try something that had worked before. I picked Emily up, carried her to the rocking chair and laid her on my chest, and let her head fall on my shoulder. Then I started to rock the chair and hum the Blue Danube.

There is something incredibly satisfying in helping Emily to relax and find sleep. There we were, rocking together, while I'm humming songs. I enjoyed her warmth and could feel in her, the satisfaction of having someone hold her and care enough to help her fall asleep. This is something my wife has done many more times than me, but it's pretty hard to compete with nursing.

Emily did not fall asleep in a snap. The process was gradual and took time to take hold. Emily tried to stop and turn around to have a conversation, but I put her back on my shoulder so that she could find the sleep she needs. She shifted and I would help her find a comfortable position. Eventually, I could hear her breathing, but she had settled down.

Then I turned out the light and laid in bed with her on my chest. Then I rolled her slowly to my side. Then I gradually worked my arm out from under her, restored the blanket to cover her and came here to write. I like to share my ability to catch some sleep with Emily and to share that story with you.

Monday, February 03, 2014

A free agent in a bag of skin

I have reached a conclusion after years of observation. The only way one person can think of and execute an act that hurts someone else, is if they are sure that their fates are not tied together. How can it be that any crime is justified in the mind of any man or woman? They would have to believe that they can do it without harm coming to themselves.

I'm particularly focused on the titans of industry in my country. I see how easily they lay off thousands of workers. How they live in gated communities. How they accumulate wealth even when they're not working while almost everyone else is too busy to notice. It's as if they truly believe that by accumulating all that money, living in a separate community and exercising the power, they can actually separate their fate from others. Are we now ruled by an upper class of sub-clinical psychopaths?

Alice Walton, heiress to the Walton family fortune, and one of the wealthiest women in this country is a case in point. Officers testified in court that at the scene of her car accident, Walton said “Do you know who I am?", as if that would absolve her of any guilt in her actions. She refused to take a breathalizer thinking that she didn't have to like anyone else. Here is a woman who doesn't believe she should share the same fate as the rest of us by virtue of her inherited wealth.

We see acts of economic violence every day, and often it is subsidized. The people who commit such acts seem not to think they are connected to their victims. They act as if they are a free agent in a bag of skin. Such a person cannot see his fate as being even remotely connected to anyone else's. This is a term I got from a book, The Wisdom of Insecurity, by Alan Watts. In that book, Alan writes about the free agents in a way that puts everything in perspective. He shows how everything is connected. It's actually a very insightful and well thought out book by an active alcoholic at the time. But it points out something else I've noticed.

Once a man has a taste of wealth and security, he wants more, and that will never be enough. There will always be some other weakness he will spend money to sew up and secure. A free agent in a bag of skin will never see himself as one of us again. He used to, but now he's different. Now that he has wealth, the world is against him and he must do everything he can to loosen or eviscerate the ties that bind his fate with others. Maybe he was born with wealth and never saw anything outside of his coddled existence.

So he lives in a gated community, away from us. He works in secured buildings, with cameras everywhere, except his office when he's working. He builds monuments to remind people of him and his greatness, afraid that everyone else is out to get him. A free agent cannot imagine a world where the world isn't out to get him. He needs to be sure that he is free to act upon perceived aggressors and be able to snuff them out without complaint or revolt. He buys cooperation from officials with money. He thinks love is something you earn or buy, not a gift from God or someone who happens to love him.

A sober man who has little money and power, on the other hand, needs to cooperate to survive. He is sure that what he does affects the people around him and makes nice to ensure that his needs are met. He is exposed to all sorts of danger and inconvenience and knows it. He shows up for work as a worker among workers. He is faithful to his family and friends.

Now this isn't to say that all wealthy people are paranoid and seek to distance themselves from others, and that all poor people are nice to others. However, today's billionaires are not that far off from Howard Hughes and William Randalph Hearst. Once in the stratosphere, it's hard to come down to be with the rest of us again. It's hard to see how connected we all are when there is little incentive to see it.

I have observed enough to see that, when you push on the universe really, really hard, be prepared to duck. Like it or not, the fate of all of us is tied together. Global warming is a case in point. The titans of industry have insisted for decades that carbon fuels were the trick and have succeeded in convincing many of us that it's OK to foul the air with carbon dioxide. The earth is now warming, and will probably cool down once enough fires have filled the air with soot, but the trend has set in.

The wealthy need to understand, at some point anyway, that what they do affects all of us, including them. There is no "there" out there. Either you're a part of this community and respect it, or you're going to get noticed for not playing nice with everyone else.

Fortunately, there are some who do understand. Examples are peppered throughout our culture, and maybe there are enough of them to make a difference. The CEO of Costco believes in paying a decent wage. There is Nick Hanauer, a wealthy and successful linen manufacture who understands that the middle class are the job creators. And there is Dean Baker, a noted economist who believes in free markets that support the middle class. So there is hope.

But until we learn to spot the psychopaths running the businesses that in turn subvert governments for their own purposes, it will be slow going. Once we can replace the accepted wisdom that business owners are job creators, we can once again make government work for everyone, not just the 1%. Perhaps one day, the titans of industry will notice that they are not free agents in a bag of skin.

Feather the pedal

I believe in smooth driving. My driving philosophy has allowed me to go 53,000 miles before replacing the front brake pads on my car after buying it new years before. It has allowed me years of peace on the road. In this article, I would like to share with you some insights I have learned over the years while driving.

When I was a young man, I had an interest in performance driving. I was a big fan of Car and Driver magazine and I had been raised by a lead foot dad. So when I reached my early 20s, I began to read up on driving. Along the way I read a book by Bob Bondurant and learned about weight transfer, tire slip and a few other things that helped me to understand the basic dynamics of a car. I even learned how to get a car to "take a set", getting a car to squat down on the suspension in a turn.

In my early 20s, I also discovered a video game that never really took off from what I can tell. It was called Hard Drivin' and it was a very realistic driving simulator. In that game, I learned through simulation the dynamics of a car on a track at high speed. The steering wheel had resistance and the resistance grew at speed in the turns. If the car became airborne as it often did in the simulation, the steering wheel was loose. When I went over objects, the brakes and steering wheel had feedback from the road. It was very instructive and those memories are with me when I drive.

What I learned saved either saved my life or my car and I will never forget them. But the one thing that always stuck in my mind since then was to be smooth. In that book by Bondurant, there is a passage wherein he discusses the success of Jackie Stewart, one of the greatest Formula One racers in the history of the sport. I don't remember the exact quote, but let it suffice that the key to his success was being smooth on the track. Smooth with the brakes, smooth with the gas, smooth with the wheel. Being smooth in handling the car is what I'm always thinking about on the road.

I had an experience early on that taught me this lesson. I recall driving my car to give my sister a ride. I can recall seeing her, in the corner of my eye, bobbing her head as the car moved. I immediately assumed that I might be giving my passengers a rough ride, so I altered my style of driving to reduce any jerky motions for my passengers so that they could more easily endure my driving. I don't like to scare my passengers. After that, I thought of how it feels to ride in a limo. Limo drivers are very smooth, and when I have passengers in the car, I think of them first.

I have enjoyed reading Car and Driver magazine for many years. In the early years of my reading with them, their themes were nothing but 0-60 and top speed. They were a car magazine for the lead foots. They would take their test cars out to the track to get the top speed of a car, flat out, foot on the floor. One memorable example was when they tested a hopped up Camaro Z/28 to 212 miles per hour. Their articles were exciting, humorous and quite informative.

But then, at some point in time that I can't pinpoint now, they discovered efficiency. They correctly pointed out that fuel efficiency means power and that power and efficiency were not mutually exclusive. This is well known in racing. Racing teams are strictly regulated and must meet a certain set of specifications for their car to be qualified to race. From intake diameters to curb weight to gas tank capacity, they must follow the rules. After that, they are free to find other ways to increase efficiency. Why? They are given a limited amount of fuel for the race.

I distinctly recall reading an article in C/D, an article not on how fast a car would go, or how much power it had. No, this was an article where the test team did everything they could think of to get the maximum mileage in a car. I don't remember all the tricks they did, but one stood out. They drafted another car during the test. Drafting is something that race car drivers do, too. As a car moves through the air, it has to push the air out of the way, and that requires energy to do. Drafting is the art of following another car so closely, that greater fuel efficiency is realized. Yeah, the editors at C/D did that to get the most miles per gallon in a test car.

When I'm driving, I like to drive for efficiency. When I was a young man, I liked to drive fast on the street. Now that I'm older, and growing a family, mortality is more easily seen in my rear view mirror. But I also like to save on gas. I've noticed, for example, how getting into the throttle even in an economy car will cut mileage, noticeably.

I measure my efficiency by filling up the gas at the same time and place each week. This way, what changes is the amount I pay each time I fill up. I have a routine and I can see a difference from week to week depending on trips and driving style. If I get into the gas pedal for hard acceleration a few times during the week, it shows. If I fill up only when the tank is near empty, it is much harder to track the mileage. Here, consistency is very important if you want to track your gas mileage.

I've seen many people pass me up on the freeway, but to pass me when I'm already doing 70, that takes a lot of energy. I estimate that a person annoyed with me on the road is going to burn about a half mile of gas just to show me his disgust. So I don't waste gas on passing people who are slow. I just take my time, wait for an opening and gradually pass them. Gradual acceleration is much easier on the tank than full throttle acceleration. I get the satisfaction at the pump.

I rarely use the brakes on the freeway. When I want to decelerate, I let resistance do the work, so I just let off the gas until the speed I want has been reached and I resume cruise. I give enough space in front of me that I can manage the distance between my car and the car in front of me with just the gas pedal. The brakes wear a little each time you use them, and the amount of wear depends on the speed of wheel rotation. At 70 mph, your wheels will rotate much faster than at 30 mph. A tap on the brakes at 70 might be worth 10 taps at 20 or 30 mph. So I let the rolling resistance of the tire do the work of slowing the car down when I can.

There is one final thing I'd like to pass on: never assume that the other person can see you. Always, always, always, assume that no one can see you and that they are not paying attention to you. The world just isn't that small. If I am going to change lanes, I make sure that there are no cars in the lane on the other side of the lane I want to merge into. I also plan my exits a few miles before I get there, that way I'm already in the lane I want to be in when I approach the exit. Before I even get into my car, I have planned the route, so I don't worry about getting lost before I get there.

All of this experience has brought me years of peace on the road. I hope you find it brings you peace on the road, too.