My Smart Car

Sunday, August 16. 2009

Pic of Smart CarThere’s a lot on the web about the Smart car, so when my turn came to either cancel the reservation for a new Smart, or place my order for one, I was not ignorant of the car. The reservation was placed in June of 2007, based on my wife and I feeling that it would be a useful replacement for our 1992 Buick Skylark. And we thought two seats would be just fine for an in-town driver.
Unfortunately, my wife passed away in August 0f 2008, so in November when I received an email requesting my specific desired configuration of my Smart, I was very conflicted about whether or not to carry through with the purchase. However, my delivering dealer told me that I was totally committed at the point I handed them a check for the car, so I went ahead and configured my Smartie- a 2009 grey body with a silver tridion cell, usual power stuff, fancy radio, air conditioning, heated seats for cold Iowa winters, and the alarm option to keep people from messing with it (a friend had his Smart car picked up and tipped over on its side in his front yard; the young people who did it probably thought it was funny; it wasn’t).
On the web site, there is a four-page description of helpful tips for getting better gas mileage, some of which I try to follow. I do run the air conditioner in the city (Iowa summers can be uncomfortably warm) and my highway driving on the interstate tends to be not paying as much respect to the speed limit as I should (when I notice the speedometer showing 80, I do immediately slow down). So while the Smart is described as “a vehicle that has a 2009 EPA estimated MPG rating of 33 city / 41 highway making the smart fortwo the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid gasoline powered vehicle in the United States today” that works out best for drivers who are very mindful of fuel economy as a primary objective.

This spreadsheet shows my actual experience:

The best mileage, shown at the fill on 11/29/09 with 48.6 mpg, was driving from Flagstaff, Arizona, altitude almost 7000 feet, to Phoenix, altitude about 1100 feet (508 meters) — mostly downhill all the way! Then perhaps another fifty miles of that was relatively slow-speed (50-65 mph) interstate driving in town. The next leg was driving from Phoenix through Flagstaff almost to Gallup, NM and some of the uphill climbs were at full throttle trying to maintain fifty mph. The remaining segments were fairly flat interstate driving where speed limits in some cases are up to 75mph, and I drove more or less at the limit.
It’s difficult to say definitively, but it does seem that using lower octane gasoline does impair the gas mileage.
The Smartie was not used for probably three months; in December, I washed it and my minivan, and put them both in the garage. It started snowing! My first task was to clear the driveway, and that meant, after seeing how deep the snow was, deciding which vehicle I would then drive. I decided the Smartie was nice and clean, and I’d like to keep it that way. So I cleared the driveway behind the van, and that meant the snow-blower piled about a two-foot drift behind the Smart car’s side of the garage. It snowed again. And the wind blew. And the drift grew. And it frizzled (a freezing drizzle). And snowed. And blew. The snowdrift, now firmly hardened, remained about three feet high, and did remain close to that until sometime in March 2010. I could probably have maneuvered the Smartie around and out of the garage through the van’s space, but then I’d be left with no space to park the van. So, what’s the point? Sigh.

When the sun finally came out and melted the snow, I went to get out the Smartie. Dead Battery. Well, the book has instructions on how to access the battery compartment, so I went into it. Used jumper cables from my Oldsmobile minivan, and started the Smart car. Of course, the plastic covers over the battery, once removed, no longer fit back in place, and the floor panel isn’t quite as well placed as when the car was new. But simply driving around for a while charged the battery and it has given me no further trouble.

In June, drove the Smart car from Sioux City to Detroit; then down through Indiana into Southern Illinois; then back to Sioux City, with stops at Zarda’s BBQ in Blue Springs, MO and of course many other places. Swung by Central Missouri State University, which is now something else and nothing like it was when I worked there in the 1970’s.

The 6-CD changer gets me through a lot of “talking books” on these long trips. The CD player, which I believe I heard somewhere was manufactured by Grundig, has the unhappy characteristic of playing about a half-second of each new track before it continues with the entire track, kind of like an individual “stuttering” at each new track. It doesn’t seem to do it on music CDs, however, and not all “talking books” do it.
In June of 2011 I drove the car from Sioux City to Jacksonville, FL for a Masonic High Twelve convention. The GPS took me through downtown Atlanta, where I felt like a tumbleweed on the desert amid the buffeting winds of seven lanes of traffic, hoping no drive screws up… and after the convention, heading west on Interstate 10 at least at the speed limit, in 98-degree heat, a/c on full, car still did fine. Its now had its 20,000 mile oil change and routine service (an expensive one at $350. but that was expected).
Most recent trip was a short jaunt to Mitchell, SD to look at the Corn Palace, the Mandan Indian Village archeological dig, Telstar Motors Mustang Museum of vintage Mustang automobiles, and other general memories of an earlier trip twelve years ago with my wife. Actually less than a three-hour trip, so no big deal for the Smartie.

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Man or Cockroach?

Wednesday, April 15. 2009

One last elevator in our city still requires a human operator. I rode to the third floor in it, exchanging a mere pleasantry with the man who closed the door, operated the control to go up to the third floor, then opened the door; I casually mentioned I’d be back in a couple of minutes.
I concluded my business in the accountant’s office, walked out and pressed the button for the elevator—the operator obviously had a few ups and downs in the meantime (a pun too apparent to avoid). A stool in the back corner of the elevator, used by the operator when no one needed the elevator, held an open book, face down. The title, something like “Where is God?” intrigued me, and I remarked that it looked like serious reading. The operator, a somewhat elderly gentleman, said “Yes, I’d just been thinking, if there isn’t a God, what is the difference between a man and a cockroach?” We exchanged “Have a good day”, and I went on my way.
We live on a world where six, almost seven billion other human beings live. There surely are more cockroaches, but such huge numbers have to give each of us pause as we contemplate our own place in the universe. To the best of our knowledge, we are the only species on earth, arguably the only species in the universe, that could actually think about such abstract ideas.
What really is the meaning of any human’s life? Hold a human skull from some archeology dig in your hands. What can you say about the human of which it was a part? It was borne of a mother; it lived, and it died. Such will be the fate of each of us, ultimately. Some of our names will be known for a longer period of time than others, but most of us will be soon forgotten, a fate even Hamlet could lament.
If that seems so, it gives us all the more impetus to wish for, hope for, pray for, dream about, scheme about a life that goes on after our earthly body dies. Most religions make an important point of promising a life after death, each one setting its own conditions for who will actually live afterwards. Any thinking person, studying some of the religions in depth, has to conclude that no one knows anything about any form of life after death. Every religion so inclined, claims on the basis of a once live human being’s authority, that some “spirit” or “soul” lives on after the human body dies. I don’t think anyone claims that cockroaches have souls, though perhaps some Indian religions might make claims for cows and such.
Scientific study of the brain provides no evidence of a “soul”, and little understanding of what is actually cognition, though doctors (anesthesiologists) can to a pretty good degree start and stop it. The best understanding of thought I have run across is from William Calvin, in his book “The Cerebral Symphony: Seashore Reflections on the Structure of Consciousness“. I highly recommend a reading of this book, and Amazon has many used and inexpensive copies available.
The human brain is a miraculous organ, having perhaps ten billion neurons, each connected to other neurons by many synapses, multiplying the complexity. Was this a natural creation? When you think about a number like that for your brain, it might give you a big head. But consider how vast our solar system is about one star—and a CNN story reports Australian astronomers have estimated that there are 70,000 million million million total number of stars in the known universe. The figure–7 followed by 22 zeros or, more accurately, 70 sextillion–was calculated by a team of stargazers based at the Australian National University
It’s also about 10 times as many stars as grains of sand on all the world’s beaches and deserts.
We can be awed by the complexity and structure of us, of the human animal with an absolutely amazing brain, but it pales into inconsequentiality when compared to the immensity of the universe we inhabit.
Does this mean our lives are insignificant? Is my place in the universe, my time on earth and beyond in the expanse of humanity, simply as insignificant as a grain of sand, or as a cockroach?
So, based on only hope or faith totally without evidence, that something of us may live on after we are borne, have lived, and died, we recognize that it may be a possibility, but if we take a stance that evidence of some sort is required for a belief, such an afterlife can seem very improbable. Therefore, we contemplate what else there might be that will give our lives significance. Actually, the “we” probably is much too inclusive, perhaps many people never think about such things.
What other thoughts, besides an afterlife, may give us a reason to regulate our lives? Perhaps only this: whoever, whatever, created the galaxies, the stars, the sun, the earth, the oceans, the beaches, and us, made each person, each being, each grain of sand, individual and unique, fitting into one place in the universe. As some particles of sand on the beach glisten like black onyx with unique striations, and other particles sparkle in the sunlight, so each of our lives at any given time may sparkle in interaction with our fellow human beings. And when our time on earth is over, and the oceans have washed away our remains, it will not have been in vain, for we will have fulfilled our place in the universe for our given allotment of time. Some numbers of other people—what number is unimportant—will have memory of the form and shape of our place, and will create their own form and shape fitting around what we have left, where we have been. In the vastness of creation, our space may have indeed been small, but to those around us, it is not insignificant.

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