Cars News and Reviews The End of Potholes- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Friday

Spring is coming. Really. Even if you're still bundled up, you're desperate to put away your snow shovel, and you're watching your heating bills soar because a polar vortex has parked itself in your back yard. Even so. It's a sure sign that spring is coming when potholes appear everywhere on the roads.

Photo David Wright

You can learn all about how potholes are born at this site, which includes nice graphics and a short video.

While it's below-freezing temperatures that start the process of pothole making, it is after the thaw that the potholes actually form, and get to work putting dents into your wheels, sometimes the underside of your car, and always, ultimately, your checkbook.

The other day I was riding with a friend who drove his Jeep, at highway speed, through a pothole that must have been nearly two feet wide and at least eight inches deep. I'm not sure my brave Golf would have survived that pothole. As for the Jeep, the physical rattling reverberated in that car for quite a while afterwards, and my friend's cursing for much longer.

But while a new set of shock absorbers can set you back by hundreds of dollars, safety is a bigger issue around potholes. They are a real menace to motorcycle riders. Even in a car, swerving to avoid them can easily get you into the next lane, which is a real problem if the next lane happens to be the only other lane on the road: the one with the oncoming traffic.

It is in the springtime that I see a lot of weaving on the road, especially by high-end cars that tend to get equiped with larger wheels: those have lower tire walls and are more easily dented.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

Here's the secret: Roadways with surfaces that can't chip off don't have potholes. I'm talking about roads and streets paved with brick, stone or belgian block. Such road surfaces don't melt and buckle in extreme heat, and they don't get dissolved by contact with clayground either.

Photo APA

There are many other advantages to stepping away from asphalt and going with brick or stone pavers. Quite apart from the sheer artistic creativity the medium offers.


Brick pavers are sintered to extreme hardness. Stone pavers are even harder, and will withstand large volumes of traffic for a long time: just think of all those old European downtowns which have been paved with stones for hundreds of years.

Easy maintenance and repair.

My parents' street was re-paved forty years after its initial construction, and only because the growing roots of trees had started to make the road surface buckle. The vast majority of bricks were re-used. Compare that to an asphalt road, which needs to be re-surfaced every ten years or so.

A brick-paved road can be repaired in patches. In contrast, it is nearly impossible to patch an asphalt surface, because the seams invariably attracts ice formation and the start of a crack or pothole. Repairing an asphalt road surface properly requires doing all of it, usually with very large machinery.


If you change your mind about the layout of your street, you can re-lay the separation lines with bricks of a different colour, without the need to tear up the rest of the surface. This is very handy during road construction, if you need to divert traffic temporarily while you're, say, laying light rail, or installing fiber optic cables below the street surface. You can make handicapped parking spaces appear and disappear according to the needs to the streets' residents.

Porous surface.

The spaces between the bricks or stones make the road surface naturally self-draining: Such a porous road suface allows rainwater to penetrate the soil underneat, partially relieves storm drains from runoff and helps to prevent flooding of waterways.

Resilient to temperature variation.

Those same spaces act as expansion joints, so that the road surface stays flat even at extremely high temperatures.


If you choose the colour of your bricks carefully, the road surface

need not get very hot in the first place. (Try it: in the mid-afternoon of a sunny day, feel the surface of an asphalt-covered road, and compare that to the surface of the lighter-coloured concrete pavement on the side of the same road). This can reduce the urban heat island effect significantly.


The one advantage that asphalt road surfaces may have, the quieter ride, may not even be an advantage for long: as cars running on internal combustion engines get phased out in favour of eerily quiet electric cars, a noisier road surface will actually help you hear a car coming. Noise will become a safety feature of brick-paved streets.

Snow ploughing.

The smoothness of an asphalt road surface makes a street very easy to plough after snowfall. But a standard snow plough does fine on a brick-paved surface if it has a rubber or polyurethane blade mounted on it, which prevents the plough from digging up individual bricks. These are used in frequently snowbound cities like Chicago and Montréal - or they wouldn't have brick paved streets like they do. For sidewalks, smaller snowblowers are already quite paver-friendly.

All in all, brick or stone paving is the sustainable choice for streets. You don't need oil or oil products at all to build a good street, just a good team of bricklayers. Over the long term, brick paved streets are extremely budget-friendly.

So push your town to switch away from asphalt: the benefits are many. But you don't have to wait for a whole town to make the switch: next time you need to re-surface your own driveway, consider re-paving it with a higher-albedo, higher-porosity alternative. It will be cooler around your house in summertime, and your garden soil will be grateful for the extra water. And you can make it as pretty as you want: there's an immense variety of pavers out there, your imagination is the limit.

This is the real deal in curb appeal!

Driveway by AIC Landscaping



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Cars News and Reviews Year of the Horse: Hot Off the Starting Gate- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Monday

I hear that according to Chinese zodiac lore, this year of the wood horse brings a "fast-paced spurt of extroverted forward propulsion".

So far so fast.

Photo Gabby Canonizado

Here's what's been happening for me: I've been to several sustainability meetings in my town. At one, I proposed a Pay-Per-Throw scheme for household waste pickup. Another one was on traffic and transportation: how could I stay away from that? I was very happy to see a large number of people there were thinking rationally about traffic calming while making sure all parts of town stay accessible to everybody, regardless of age and mobility. This is the kind of inclusive consensus building you need to make things move forward.

Next step: I'm going to bend the ear of the person working on specific proposals for Complete Streets. After all, my home town is arguably the European pioneer for traffic calming and accessibility for all, I've lived many of the Complete Streets measures for years.

Education wise, I've now completed the World Bank's MOOC on global warming, through Coursera. It was a four week course, and a sobering overview of the consequences of climate change in the daily lives of millions. If you've missed the course but want to see what was in it, you can read the World Bank report on which it is based: Turn Down the Heat.

And just when I had handed in my final project for that MOOC, I started on another, this one a Global Warming Science course taught by MIT's Kerry Emanuel through EDX. It's time for me to got down to the nitty gritty.

Meanwhile, I have become more active at a Facebook group, Global Warming Fact of the Day. I'm now compiling Resources for learning about climate change at GWFotD's website, which also has current news and a toolkit for debunking climate myths (see their news widget on the right sidebar of this blog). The resources are accessible to anyone from those completely new to climate change, to those already reasonably familiar. It is very much a work in progress, so check back often for new materials.

Because of snow days, my talk at CelloPlayer's school has been postponed; it will happen in March. Further, I'm lobbying my public library to arrange a viewing of "Years of Living Dangerously", a multi-part documentary on climate change to be aired on Showtime TV in April.

And who knows what the rest of the year will bring!


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Cars News and Reviews A New Type of Car Loan- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Sunday

Pop quiz: what is "Auto ABS" ?

(A) A gadget that helps tone your tummy muscles;

(B) Automatic brake system that helps your retain control of your car;

(C) Bonds backed by loans on car purchases.

The answer could have been (B) except that a car's anti-lock brake system (ABS) always kicks in automatically; all you have to do is brake hard enough to make your car skid in the absence of the ABS. The correct answer is (C): "Auto ABS" stands for "auto asset-backed securities".

Oh brave new world. And of course, after sub-prime mortgages there's ... sub-prime auto loans.

Photo Andrew Smith

And yes, some of those could well be under water. Because the value of a new car drops as soon as you drive it off the dealer lot.

Perhaps these new beasts are direct descendants of those mortgage-backed securities; in fact, it was after the financial crisis of 2008 that all auto ABS, even the riskiest ones of the sub-prime kind, did very well. After all, Americans could live without home ownership - but without car ownership you might as well find a quiet ditch and lie down to die. For most Americans, a car is essential for survival: how else to get to your job?

For this reason, perhaps sub-prime auto ABS are not as risky as mortgage-backed securities. Maybe that's why they're so popular. Almost too popular: 2013 saw the issuance of $21.5bn of auto ABS, and lots of Wall Streeters are looking to get a piece of the sweet pie.

But the pie isn't large enough to feed the appetite (or is it greed?). So creative traders have pumped up the pie with the financial equivalent of high-fructose corn syrup, and cleverly named it "pre-funding".

This is how it works: Instead of putting together a stack of car loans adding to $500million, they put in all the car loans they can find, say $400million, and top off the rest with $100million in cash, with which they buy more car loans as they become available, after the securities are sold.

As Tracy Alloway says in the Financial Times, "It’s the equivalent of spending your poker winnings before you’ve bought the ticket to Vegas."

And that gives you an idea of how safe these instruments are.



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Cars News and Reviews Climate Pickup Lines- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Friday

Over at Twitter, people are going nuts over the hashtag #‎climatepickuplines in honour of Valentine's Day. My favourite comes from @GaryPardy: " My love for you is like the ocean... expanding at an alarming rate."

Or this one by @B_A_D: "What do u say? U, me, a pair of hand cuffs, & the corporate headquarters of ur choice."

Photo by Johntex

Which got me thinking.

And as so often on the internet, one thing leading to another, I found Shakespeare's Sonnet CXXIX, which is arguably the best-worded advice never followed. Changing a single word changes it into a call for reducing consumption.


Th' expense of carbon in a waste of shame

Is lust in action; and till action, lust

Is perjured, murd'rous, bloody, full of blame,

Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,

Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight,

Past reason hunted; and, no sooner had

Past reason hated as a swallowed bait

On purpose laid to make the taker mad;

Mad in pursuit and in possession so,

Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;

A bliss in proof and proved, a very woe;

Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.

     All this the world well knows; yet none knows well

     To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.


Come to think of it, a lot of poetry has acquired an overlay of meaning for me, ever since I woke up to the reality of climate change. Now, undercurrents of sea level rise go through my head when I read the opening lines to Spencer's famous sonnet:

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,

But came the waves and washèd it away...

And then there's D.H. Lawrence's paean to the love life of the elephant, slow moving like the climate but a force of nature once awakened - and even ending in the word "flood".


The elephant, the huge old beast,

     is slow to mate;

he finds a female, they show no haste

     they wait

for the sympathy in their vast shy hearts

     slowly, slowly to rouse

as they loiter along the river-beds

     and drink and browse

and dash in panic through the brake of forest

     with the herd,

and sleep in massive silence, and wake together,

     without a word.

So slowly the great hot elephant hearts

     grow full of desire,

and the great beasts mate in secret at last,

     hiding their fire.

Oldest they are and the wisest of beasts

     so they know at last

how to wait for the loneliest of feasts

     for the full repast.

They do not snatch, they do not tear;

     their massive blood

moves as the moon-tides, near, more near

     till they touch in flood.


What about it? Care to share any poetry that climate change has coloured forever for you?



Shared at Small Footprint Friday

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Cars News and Reviews Super Bowl 2014 Car Ads: Never Mind- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Wednesday

Every year, every automotive writer in the US goes nuts over the car ads that are premiered at the Super Bowl. It's the single most-watched event in the year, and ads cost a cool $4 million for a 30-second spot.

This is apparently such a big deal that the ads merit being "leaked" before the big game. There are official ads for the ads. And teasers for the ads for the ads. You get my drift: there is a lot of hype surrounding these ads.

I was looking forward to shredding a few ads myself, as I did last year and for 2012. But I sat down on Monday morning and flipped through the ads (I don't have TV and didn't watch the game; besides, I'm more into proper football where feet kick a ball, not so much into a game where - mostly - hands throw around an egg-shaped object).

It was dismal.

Ads came in three broad categories: things you can eat or drink (some of it I wouldn't call "food"); things you don't need; and cars. There were nearly 90 ads in total.

This is surreal: half the "game" you watch is dedicated to the ads. And plenty of people watch the game so that they can watch the ads premiere. It's like standing in front of the screen, baring the finely-tuned lyre that is your soul, and seeing which strings will be plucked - over and over - in the coming months as the barrage of advertising washes over you. That's creepy.

This year, the ads weren't even worth the hype. The car ads were mostly mediocre, none of them very funny, and some downright weird. Angel wings on auto engineers? If I were a German engineer I'd apply to BMW first. Stay away from those feathers.

One observer tweeted that for him, the Kia ad ruined The Matrix forever. I guess they couldn't very well have Laurence Fishburn reprise his wonderfully broody Othello in a car ad. Can you just imagine:

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;

It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock

The meat it feeds on -

Oh wait, that would be Iago's lines. Never mind.

And then there was Bob Dylan - Bob Dylan! - hawking Chrysler. Any questions that arise around that have answers that are blowing in an evil wind indeed. Let us say no more about it.

Instead, try this: Here is an ad that is very much worth watching - and would never have made it into the Super Bowl.

Proud To Be



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