December Pieces Of My Mind #2

Left: the designers of Drakborgen / Dungeonquest. Right: the authors and editor of the new book about venerable Swedish boardgame publisher Alga.
  • Played the phrase “We like cookies” in Duolingo on the slow setting to hear the details, and the dude sounded like there was some really major innuendo going on there.
  • A daily recurring annoyance. I open a Google Doc and hit CTRL-F to search for something. However, Google Docs is not yet fully awake. So instead of getting its own search function that looks at the entire document, I get the web browser’s search function that only looks at what’s visible onscreen at the moment. Gah.
  • I’m travelling in January, and looking at climate-friendlier alternatives. The fastest non-flight alternative takes more than three times as long and involves sleeping on a bus and getting off it at 6 am. Don’t know the price. The fastest non-flight alternative that lets you sleep in a bed takes four times as long as flying and costs almost three times as much. I wonder what the prices would be like if government subsidies were moved from air to rail.
  • The modern Polish word for “a man” used to mean “several women”.
  • Karl Bartos gets annoyed by a judge on the train talking loudly and endlessly on the phone about a case. He starts to read ostentatiously out of Barry Truax’s book Acoustic Communication. She flees.
  • Napped in an easy chair at the library. Had to lean my baldy head against a cold and hard wall. Made an innovation: put a glove in my woolen cap as padding and wore it. This served two purposes: it made me comfortable enough to nap, and it made me look like a crashed-out homeless person.
  • What’s the main difference between elitism and meritocracy?
  • I wonder if lazy normal life adapted into extremophiles or the other way around. Relevant to the search for extraterrestrial life.
  • ESA will launch a Mars rover next year! Every Swede will be a co-owner!
  • Everybody, try the app AI Dungeon! I’m peeing my pants here! As my friend Martin F characterises the experience, ”It’s as if it almost understands what I say, but then it decides to smoke weed instead and ignore me”.
  • One of the many bizarre quirks in AI Dungeon is that it has trouble keeping what I do apart from what other people do. Several times I have threatened to kick another character’s ass, or even given the command KICK [THAT GUY’S] ASS, and that guy has responded with a reassuring “Don’t worry, I would never really kick your ass”.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

30 thoughts on “December Pieces Of My Mind #2”

  1. The US probably has singularly inefficient intercity trains. The 2016 ORNL report had Amtrak at 1,551 BTU per passenger-mile and domestic scheduled air travel at 2,320 BTU per passenger-mile. (That latter figure ignores the fact that domestic flights often carry cargo as well as passengers. Amtrak trains are passenger only.) Air travel is definitely more energy intensive, but by increasing air flow bypass on jet engines and cramming more passengers into the typical flight, air travel has nearly doubled its energy efficiency since the late 1990s. Amtrak gear, by mileage, is diesel, but its most heavily used route, running from Boston to Washington DC, are electrified. I’m guessing European trains are more efficient. The ORNL numbers for buses are for transit buses, 4,102 BTU per passenger-mile, but that includes a lot of stop and go and idling in heavy traffic. I assume intercity buses use maybe half of that. Have you considered virtual reality?


  2. Airplanes use lots of fuel during takeoff. Once they are at the flight altitude they are quite efficient. For long distance travels, flying can be the least polluting alternative. And sometimes the only one.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, the experts I have read seem to agree that if we are going to keep a climate we can grow barley in, we will need to travel a lot less. (Aside from the energy cost, surface travel across an ocean will never be a casual thing in a world of wage labour). Europe, with trains and Flixbus, feels luxurious compared to Canada! I agree with Lassi that its a good idea to work out the actual CO2e not try to rely on intuitions.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree, that is part of the problem. People hear “flying is bad” not “burning lots of fossil fuels is bad, activities which emit a ton of CO2 include driving X km in a medium-sized automobile, flying y km in a wide-body airliner, travelling Z km by train …” Transparent carbon pricing would really help people understand the problem.


  5. “What’s the main difference between elitism and meritocracy?”

    People use words in different ways, but generally meritocracy means power to those who have earned it, and elitism is power to those who inherited some sort of status.


  6. Here’s a tip I have learned from keeping careful track of the fuel consumption in my last two cars, one in Australia and one in HK.

    Both cars could take ‘standard’ (lower octane) petrol, which is cheaper than ‘super’ (higher octane) petrol. Using super in both cars did not result in improved performance, in terms of acceleration – it made no difference. So why would anyone want to use higher octane fuel than they need to, given that it costs more?

    Because what I found, in both cars (one Japanese and the other German, both with four cylinder turbocharged engines), is that I get much lower fuel consumption using super than using standard, and that more than offsets the higher cost of the fuel per litre. So I always use super, even though I don’t need to.

    Does that apply to *all* cars that can use lower octane fuel? I don’t know, but based on my experience, it at least seems worth trying.

    Also, using higher octane fuel keeps your engine cleaner, which reduces engine wear. That also helps to keep fuel consumption down.

    The other thing I will say is never use fuel from any refinery in mainland China, that stuff is awful, but that’s probably not a problem any other readers here need to be bothered with.

    I’m hoping all of this quickly becomes irrelevant through all motor vehicles switching to using hydrogen generated using renewable energy, but the way things are going I am beginning to doubt that I will see that in my lifetime. It could happen a lot sooner, but it isn’t. It’s a better option than electric vehicles.


    1. The higher octane does not provide more power. Rather, it is needed for engines with a higher compression, because otherwise ignition will be too soon, causing inefficiency (and noises).

      On the other hand, while Diesel engines are more efficient (and simpler, leading to a longer life), one reason they use less fuel is that Diesel has more energy per litre than petrol. In countries where Diesel is significantly cheaper than petrol, this leads to a large number of Diesel cars.


    2. The problem with “electric cars will let most adults continue to own and operate a four-wheeled motor vehicle” is that the energy to power them has to come from somewhere, and its not obvious where. If we turn in a direction where we might still be able to grow barley and pasture cows and use the Port of London in 2100, there will be a lot of other urgent calls on all available low-carbon electricity generation.


    3. Phillip – Do you have a technical explanation for my finding that higher octane fuel gives better fuel efficiency from engines that can take lower octane fuel? I haven’t, I stumbled on it by accident and had to check my figures multiple times to make sure it is real. But it is real, at least in the two cars I have tried it in.

      In Australia, the government imposes a much higher tax on diesel than petrol, which greatly reduces the attraction of using diesel engines. I don’t know the reason they do this. I suppose because they can. A lot more people would use diesel engines if the pricing was more sensible.

      Sean – The real problem with electric vehicles is that, if you take into account whole life cycle including manufacture, they emit 80% as much carbon as vehicles which burn fossil fuels, but that is getting the electricity from power stations that burn fossil fuels. In Australia, which has abundant wind and enough solar radiation to roast a goat, it’s perfectly feasible to install solar cells on your roof and a power wall battery in your garage to charge your car overnight, so electric vehicles could work really well. So what is the government going to do? It’s going to impose an extra tax on electric vehicles. Democracy, ya gotta love it.

      The other problem with electric vehicles is that they use a lot of cobalt, most of which is mined in Africa, much of it using manual child labour rather than mechanisation, and a lot of people have a problem with that, including me.

      Most countries are less fortunate than Oz in terms of renewable energy sources. Because of that, Australia should be leading the world in use of renewable energy, but it is not. Why? Because it has large coal and natural gas reserves that it wants to sell. So Australians suffer energy shortages and pay huge electricity bills, when they should be swimming in cheap energy and renewable energy. It is cynical beyond belief. So many people now have solar cells installed and are generating so much solar energy that they are feeding back into the power grid that they are causing problems for the privatised power companies, making them unprofitable. Solution? The government is going to stop letting them get paid for the renewable energy that they feed into the power grid, in order to prop up the privatised power companies.

      Privatisation of the power companies was a massive mistake in my view. The whole power situation in Australia is a really bad joke that desperately needs to be sorted out, but it is not being addressed. Another big win for Western liberal democracy. [Sarcasm.]

      Liked by 1 person

    4. Don’t bother to answer my question. I googled it and found lots of answers, some saying that using higher octane fuel than your engine requires will reduce fuel consumption, that it will reduce it only slightly, that it will reduce it significantly only when the engine is working under heavy load, and that it won’t reduce it at all. So I guess it depends on the vehicle and driving conditions. Turbocharged and supercharged engines seem different from normally aspirated engines, so maybe that’s it.

      Some of the more modern vehicles will actually detect the higher octane rating and will automatically increase the compression ratio in response, and that will give lower fuel consumption. The most modern Subarus and German cars are capable of that level of cleverness. My last car was a Subaru, the current one a German car less than five years old. Both have been turbocharged, both are pretty quick (the current one qualifies as a high performance car), and for both the manufacturers say that the lower octane rated fuel is OK.

      Conclusion: I’m not imagining things or suffering from confirmation bias (my measurements have been careful, and repeated multiple times, and initially I was not expecting it, I just tried the higher octane stuff out of curiosity to see what would happen, if anything), but just because it has worked well in my last two cars does not mean that it will make a significant difference in all cars.

      Second conclusion: It pays to be curious and to try things yourself, rather than just believing what other people say.

      Third conclusion: Do *not* use lower octane rated fuel than that recommended by your car’s manufacturer – almost everyone agrees that’s a bad idea. There’s a lot of stuff on the Internet about ‘quicki-mart’ fuel suppliers in the USA which I don’t understand and is irrelevant to me, but the general gist seems to be that they flog fuel cheaply that is pretty crappy, full of twigs and dirt (?) and whatever else. American style capitalism is a wonderful thing. [Sarcasm font.]


  7. John: there are also big technical problems with replacing fossil fuels in the steel and concrete industries. The catch 22 is that to massively expand solar and wind power generation, we need lots of steel and earthmoving which costs energy which will mostly come from fossil fuels …so most of the studies I have seen come down to “to switch energy systems without triggering runaway global warming, the rich world will have to reduce its energy consumption per capita for some decades.” Never having owned a car, a world where everyone else in a city cycles and take public transit has no fears for me.

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  8. I don’t see why wind and solar need lots of earthmoving. Why? Wind farms need some steel, obviously, and foundations, which means concrete piles. But by far the biggest users of concrete and steel are buildings – the amounts needed for wind farms are almost trivial in comparison, and I don’t see them needed for solar at all. I have to question the conclusion.


    1. When people run the numbers for what will be required to replace fossil fuels without drastic cuts in standard of living, pretty soon they are throwing around ideas like “cover 5% of the land area of the UK with solar panels as part of a multi-pronged strategy” (David Mackay, =Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air=). Any project to build something over 5% of the land area of the UK is a massive earthmoving project.

      I know that the government of Australia does its best to keep adult discussion of these issues out of the media, but if you have not read books like Mackay’s , I really recommend them. If we want to preserve civilization as we know it, a lot of things are going to have to change, and we need to think like engineers and ecologists.


      1. OK, I will try to think like an engineer. It won’t be easy, mind, but I’ll try.

        I haven’t read Mackay’s 2009 book, but I see he was proposing that all transport should be replaced by electric vehicles. I think that’s a bad idea and that hydrogen is a much better option. Or am I just allowing myself to be seduced?


    2. Or to put it another way: a lot of things are going to change over the course of this situation, whether we just let the sea rise and the dead zones expand and the weather get weirder, or we start bringing emissions down. Its important that as many people as possible talk about the options and the pros and cons of different choices, and don’t let themselves be seduced by people telling them that they can just replace gasoline with hydrogen fuel cells then return to an eternal 1990s. Any choice we make will mean big changes and winners and losers, and its important that everyone has a say.


      1. Heavens to Betsy, I wouldn’t dream of trying to suppress anyone’s freedom of speech, I leave that to the experts like the CCP, but you have to realize that 10% of the adult population are too stupid to tie their own shoes (only a mild exaggeration).


    1. We could have a discussion about whether it was technology or overpopulation, or overpopulation enabled by technology (counting, e.g., the Green Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s as technology), but massively depopulating the world in the short/medium term is not an option (except in the view of some environmental extremists), so yes, technological solutions are required. My concern, which I seem to share with Greta Thunberg, is that the solutions are not being developed fast enough because governments don’t feel the urgency and are not making it a high enough priority. And it’s all very well to blame governments, but governments are elected by people (mostly).

      Almost bizarrely, I thought that in 1967, when I was one year older than Greta is now, and my view on that hasn’t changed. I guess at least I have been consistent. Back then, my father and I were already pretty deeply into the idea of living ‘off the grid’ as much as possible: composting, growing our own vegetables, using solar and wind energy – we were not permitted by local government to erect our own windmill and still wouldn’t be. I could claim that we were forward thinkers for our time, but a lot of the problems were already apparent to people paying attention and thinking.


  9. Scientist on another blog made a very funny comment about being too terrified of peasants with pitchforks to say anything publicly. But really, that is now the reality, and it’s really not funny. Too many peasants with too many pitchforks.


  10. Relevant to the discussion. I’m going to make a leap of faith and assume the writer is an adult, and one who is not controlled by the American government/oligarchs. Also, I suggest reading to the end, instead of dismissing and deleting as soon as you realize that what he is saying does not accord with your own opinion – he’s not saying that the best case scenario looks great. It doesn’t.

    We’re Getting a Clearer Picture of the Climate Future — and It’s Not as Bad as It Once Looked.


    1. Right wing populist politicians are to a great degree inept confirmed criminals. Your first thought when you see people voting for them is probably that these voters must be stupid. Some of them probably are, and many of them have poor education. But I don’t think most of them are actually stupid. I think they’re conscious political vandals, nihilists if you will, who just want to throw a spanner into the works of a machine that hasn’t given them what they expected or felt entitled to.


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