Cars News and Reviews Google Maps: directions with options- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Tuesday

First there was "You can't get there from here", that phrase that country folk love to trot out when a hapless out-of-stater got hopelessly lost in Maine and had to resort asking the natives for the directions. Or so the out-of-staters said.

Then there was the AAA Trip-tik: the set of mini-maps where the friendly AAA representative highlighted the route you were to take to get from A to B. Depending on the trip, you could end up lugging a small library back to your car, of the Trip-tik itself, plus the maps and the AAA guides that went with it. For a cross-country trip we're talking the weight of a small encyclopedia.

Photo by Darren Meacher

Then - oh marvel! - there was the GPS device that was built in or (more commonly) precariously attached to your windshield with a suction cup. Super-expensive versions told you the real-time route, accounting for any detours due to road contructions of traffic jams.

But all that is so twentieth century.

Because we all have smartphones now. That hand-held thing that has subsumed the function of a host of large and heavy devices that we used to have to lug around, such as the computer, the phone, the camera, the PDA (remember Palm?), the agenda, the newspapers, the wallet and who knows what else.

Oh right: And the GPS navigator. Using your smartphone, you just enter the address of your destination into Google Maps, turn on the voice directions, and off you go.

Here's the cool thing about Google Maps directions: while they started out as driving directions only, they have gradually expanded the options, which now include directions using public transport, and for walking and biking as well.

So now you can navigate any place like the locals.

Say you're at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, CA, and you want to visit San Francisco's Natural History Museum to admire the fossils and minerals. Google Maps tells you the way, with an estimate of the travel time based on real-time conditions. At the time I queried the map the driving time was about 45 minutes.

Without my explicitly asking for it, the map also volunteered a route by public transit. This takes nearly three hours, perhaps because there were four changes involved. Public transport in the Bay area is still very fragmented, and often transfers between services seem to be designed for a maximum wait. Which is a stupid way to attract riders.

In places where public transport is well coordinated, or frequent, or both, the scales often tip the other way. Here is one such example: Suppose you've having a holiday on England's south coast, say at the popular Brighton beach, and there's an exhibit at the National Gallery that you must see.

In this map, the default route is that by public transport: You take the Southern Line train into London's Victoria Station where you walk to the Underground station and take the tube to Embankment. The trip takes 79 minutes; there is service every half hour. The map tells you the departure time of the next train.

Taking the car in takes 92 minutes - I assume that doesn't include time spent looking for a parking spot. Not to mention dealing with the congestion charge on private cars, which is £10 ($16) a day. This is a no-brainer, really. If you spend a few days in London, you can buy an Oyster Card which is good for all manner of public transport. That, together with Google Maps, will let you zip around like a native.

I was already impressed that the default route should be the one by train - maybe that's because it's the quickest way - but then found out that in South Korea, Google Maps gives directions for public transit exclusively. Try it for yourself: get the directions, say, to the Seoul Museum of Art from anywhere else in South Korea. The map shows all the roads. But no driving directions.

Google, my friends, is one forward looking company.



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Cars News and Reviews The travel bureaus that put Jack Kerouac on the road- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Monday

I may be the most reluctant automotive writer you've ever met, but I'm still an automotive writer, so it's sort of embarrassing that I've never read the quintessential book on autos and motion, "On The Road", Jack Kerouac's paean to high-speed road travel, women and jazz, that marked and inspired the bohemian hedonism of the Beat generation. So I'm reading it now.

I really can get into (or, as the book would say, I "dig") the rejection of materialism, but I can't say I dig the need for speed, the zipping by countless breathlessly beautiful places this country has to offer those who take the time to really explore. All of that natural beauty is just filler material between the cities with their jazz bars and philosophising friends, something to be got through as quickly as possible.

Because all the characters in the book are living from hand to mouth, even a ride on the Greyhound bus is too much of an expense: they hitch rides if they have to, but their preferred way of getting from place to place is by sharing the drive in a private car.

And what cars these are! The most memorable ones are detailed by Dennis Mansker. The photo above is of a 1947 Cadillac limousine, the kind that in the book was whipped from Denver to Chicago (nearly 1200 miles) in seventeen hours, at the end of which it was delivered to its owner's swanky residence, all dented, covered in mud and with the speedometer busted after the first time it was forced past 110mph.

The Cadillac's owner had apparently opted to take the train from Denver to Chicago, and left his car in the care of a "travel bureau". In those days right after World War II, there were travel bureaus in most major cities that matched cars that needed to be driven somewhere with drivers who needed transportation.

They also helped drivers find passengers to share the drive and the cost: it was more efficient than trying to find hitchhikers who were willing to pay for part of the gas. The bureaus also did some (perfunctory) background checks on the drivers. It was a great idea for a nation that had rail coverage, but not enough, and where air travel was still the domain of the super rich.

The travel bureaus were perfect for those who wanted to travel but were penniless - or rather, who got the tank filled before getting their own bellies filled.

Here is a fascinating snippet from the classifieds page of the San Bernardino County Sun, on 20 April 1940, all ads under the heading "Travel Opportunities":

TRAVEL information. To all cities in the United States, private car, share expense plan, save time, save money. Ph. 653-52. Auto Travel Bureau, RS4 Court St. (Private car owners, see us for passengers).

TRAVEL BY BUS SUMMER EXCURSIONS "Cross U. S. A. twice, $69.95." '"Anywhere, any route." SANTA FE-BURLINGTON BUSES 379 E Ph 555-45


TRAVEL ALL AMERICAN BUS East Free meals & pillows. Lowest fares. 266 W. I St., Colton. Ph. Colton 262.

NEGRO leaving for Detroit Saturday, take 2. Phone 613-52. GOING to St. Louis Monday, '30 Plymouth, take 3. sh. exp. Ph. 292-58. Sun.

CAR leaving to New York after Wednesday, take 2. sun Box 120.

PTY. wishes trans, to Grand Junction, Colo., sh. exp. & drv. Box 119, Sun.

This is from 1940, the year before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Phone numbers had five digits. African Americans still called themselves "negroes". And you could traverse the country by bus - twice - for less than $70. You could also go to a travel bureau and wait - sometimes for a few days - for the car going in the right direction. You never knew with whom you would share that car, but I suspect most of them were not as deranged as Dean Moriarty, nor as unsafe.

Today, we don't need travel bureaus: we have the internet! There are lots of virtual travel bureaus that match empty seats with passengers, especially for the commuter ride, for instance, 511 for the San Franciso area, and Commuter Page for Washington DC. This saves stress, gas money, parking fees, and carbon emissions. There are also car sharing services where you can rent a private car for a day or a few hours.

Much like Sal Paradise's itinerary around the 1940s United States, what goes around comes around. Only with changes.



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Cars News and Reviews Watch "Years of Living Dangerously" - but not alone- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Saturday

There's a buzz going around about "Years of Living Dangerously", the multi-part climate change documentary. It premieres on Sunday, April 13 on the Showtime channel. You can watch the first episode free at the "Years" website and on YouTube.

But before you settle in to watch it, you may want to find someone with whom to watch it, to discuss it, to digest it. Because while the documentary is a masterpiece of storytelling and will be easy enough to watch, it may be more difficult to absorb the message.

It may, in fact, be traumatic. After all, this is the story of how, through our own doing, the planet that's our home is steadily falling apart on us, while we are living in it. Never mind the ramifications for our children, and those who come after them.

This reminds me of a different TV broadcast from a different era: I was in college when "The Day After" was first aired, a fictionalised cold-war account that followed one family before, during and after the nuclear warheads were let loose. Help lines were set up, campus religious leaders opened their offices for extended hours, and psychologists were at hand to help students deal with the trauma of watching this realistic account. I thought it was all over the top until I heard from friends who couldn't sleep, or were physically cold for days after watching the movie. Some had to turn off their TV sets, unable to bear watching the whole thing.

"Years of Living Dangerously" is similar in many ways, in its message of a home changed forever from the way we have known so far, and in the global reach of climate change. It's all profoundly saddening. Psychologists have coined a word for this: solastalgia, "a type of homesickness or melancholia that you feel when you’re at home but your home environment is changing around you in ways that you feel are profoundly negative.”

As if that wasn't enough, the premiere of "Years" falls on the same day that the IPCC releases the third part of its fifth assessment report on climate change, and the signs are that even the mainstream news is now (finally) covering global warming. So in the next few weeks, it will be hard to ignore the reality of climate change.

There is a Dutch saying, "Shared joy is double joy; shared grief is half the grief", that speaks to our social nature. It holds never more true than at times like this.

Psychologists concur: Watch "Years of Living Dangerously", but don't watch alone. We will find enormous solace in each other's companionship and mutual support. Just being able to voice our reactions will relieve us of part of the burden. Knowing that we are not alone in this is hugely helpful.

So if you get the Showtime channel, please consider opening your home to friends and neighbours, or even strangers. You can sign up for hosting at, and if you don't have Showtime (or, like me, are TV-free) you can use that site to look for a watch party in your area. Facing these things together will create a bond and make for a stronger community.

Please consider very carefully whether or not you want to watch this documentary with your children. If you do, make sure to give them the support they need; as parents we know best what our children can handle, and when they need to be supported, protected, or simply shielded from a reality for which they are not ready. My previous post on how to talk with our children about global warming has a tips and resources.

And let us not forget: we are a resilient species. We have courage. There is a lot of grim news about climate change, but there are people making a difference, turning things around, providing us with hope and courage to make a difference by our own actions.



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Cars News and Reviews "There has been no global warming since 1998" - Or has there?- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Monday

You hear this statement a lot in discussions about climate change. It is one of the most oft-repeated arguments against global warming: The average global surface temperature has leveled off. And it's true.

Just take a look at this graph, which shows the globally averaged surface temperature rise, from 1997 to 2014, compared to the average temperature in the period 1951-1980. The temperature really hasn't changed that much, if at all.

A careless observer would say, that's it: it's settled, there is no global warming, and we can all go home now (in our big fat SUVs, of course). A climate change denier would take this data and crow in comment threads all over the internet (but never in a scientific journal) that 97% of climate scientists are wrong to say that global warming exists, and wrong to say that humans are causing it.

But that is taking a myopic view of the world. And it's not very scientific.

Because if you just bothered to look beyond the frame of the graph, like any scientist worth his/her salt would do, you would find a different story. We can't look into the future, but we do have data going back well beyond 1998, so it's straightforward to extend the range of the graph, say, back to 1970. And that looks like this:

Graphic from

If you zoomed in on the range 1998-2013, you'd say that the globally averaged surface temperature has been pretty flat, but if you consider the full time range 1970-2013, it becomes clear that the temperature has been rising steadily.

But even that is not the whole story. Notice that I've been careful to say "Globally averaged surface temperature". That's because these temperatures came from measurements of the air temperature at the surface, whether of the land or of the oceans.

Since at the surface is where we live, it's a reasonable place for us to measure the temperature. But we must remember that only a tiny fraction of global warming (2.3%) goes into heating the atmosphere. In fact, nearly all of the heat goes into the oceans.*

Global heat accumulation data from Nuccitelli et al. (2012).

The heat content of the oceans has also been increasing steadily. But while the surface air temperatures have levelled off, the oceans have absorbed heat faster than ever since 1998. So no: global warming has not stopped or even "paused" since 1998. If anything, it has accelerated.

It goes to show that when you're out to measure temperature, you have to think very carefully about where you put your thermometer. After all, if your child has a fever, would you measure her temperature by sticking a thermometer in her hair?

Think about it: Even hair close to the scalp is still outside the body proper. If the sun shines on it, hair gets warmer, and dark hair can get positively hot. If the wind blows through it, it will be cooler than the rest of the body. When hair is wet, it cools even faster.

It's similar with the atmosphere, of which the thermal properties can change depending on which way the wind blows - quite literally. There are several atmospheric circulations that churn air up to high altitudes, or between the tropics and the polar regions, and that affect the surface temperatures measured close to the ground. El Niño / La Niña variations can raise or lower temperatures in a given year. Volcanic eruptions cause a cooling effect until the ash precipitates out of the atmosphere.

In a way, a thermometer put under the tongue is not a very scientific measurement, only a reasonably good estimate of overall body temperature. In contrast, ocean heat measurements are done by an array of devices positioned all over the world, at depths up to 2000m: that's a pretty comprehensive survey, and our most reliable measure of global warming.

So yes, global warming is proceeding apace. And yes, humans are responsible for it.


*This makes intuitive sense: if you were to magically compress the atmosphere to a liquid with the density of water, its average height would be about 10 metres. In contrast, the oceans have an average depth of 4000 metres. Even though they cover only 75% of the earth's surface, there is just a lot more matter in the oceans than in the atmosphere.



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Cars News and Reviews Best of #ReplaceBikeWithCar so far- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Sunday

There's a Twitter fest on this weekend, marked by the hashtag #ReplaceBikeWithCar, where people quote things usually said about bikes and riding but replace them with cars and driving.

Check it out: it's good for a quick pick-me-up. A few of my favourites below





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Cars News and Reviews Fuel Efficiency and the Jevons Paradox- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Saturday

In the discussion of energy (or rather, how to curb our profligate use of energy), often the topic of energy efficiency comes up. And just as often, someone will say, "Energy efficiency doesn't work. Jevons paradox".

That's glib. A bit like saying, "Food stamps don't work. QED."

While we all know what "QED" means, maybe we should take a closer look at the Jevons paradox. This refers to the idea that, as technology improves the efficiency of a widget, that widget will get used more. A lot more. So much more, that the energy needed to run the widget for everyone is more than the energy needed before the innovation came along.

Jevons based this on his observations on the use of coal during the Industrial Revolution: As the newly invented steam machines quickly became more efficient, the price of coal went down. Economists like Jevons would say such a price decrease in energy encouraged the building of more steam machines, so you ended up with a higher total coal consumption than before, even as the amount of coal needed for each machine was reduced.

Photo Chris Allen

Let us put Jevons and his paradox in historical context: The Industrial Revolution was a period of feverish activity and invention. Manufacturing capacity was growing in leaps and bounds, fed by workers newly displaced from the countryside where Enclosure had just deprived them of their means to a livelihood. (Whatever Garrett Hardin may have claimed, the true tragedy of the commons occurred when England's aristocracy grabbed the land that used to be freely available for common use, to the immense loss of the common man).

The late 1800s was the time when industry enjoyed the kind of growth that stock markets today can only sigh over. I think Jevons missed that broader context when he formulated the paradox that bears his name: In his time, enormous growth in industrial activity would have taken place regardless of the price of coal. Perhaps the rate of growth would have been smaller if coal remained expensive, but growth would still have been robust anyway.

The Jevons paradox is still invoked today, and with a similar lack of context. One example is that of air conditioners, of which the efficiency has grown by 28% between 1993 and 2005, but of which the total energy use has grown by 37% over the same period. This narrow focus misses the fact that income has also increased (by 30%) over that same period. People with more disposable income can afford more luxuries, like air conditioning; and when they decide to buy one, very few people worry about the unit's efficiency.

Photo Karlis Dambrans

Of course, Jevons paradox is invoked often when the topic of fuel efficiency is cars comes up, for instance by Alec Dubro who claims that advocating for fuel efficient cars doesn't make sense because we'd all just drive more.

I beg to differ for two reasons. First, the way fuel efficiency is achieved in the US right now is by selling hybrids and EVs. Those have higher up-front costs than conventional cars, which is a real deterrent. It appears that most people have a hard time looking beyond the purchase price.

Secondly, the people who do look beyond the purchase price do so because they are contemplating driving a lot. For instance, if you have a long commute to work every day, its cheaper to buy a fuel efficient car in the long run, because you expect the savings in gas to be more than the price difference between a gas sipper and a guzzler.

So rather than fuel efficiency pushing more use, it's the other way around: If you got a new job that's significantly farther away from home, you will seriously consider buying a more fuel efficient car. The reality is often, that while your commute may take you twice as far every day, it's hard to find a car twice as efficient as your old car. So overall your total use of gas does go up. But fuel efficiency is not the driver of your increased use.

Let's be careful about what causes what.

This is why it's crucial to look at the broader context: when I was a child, my mom worked on the other side of town. It wasn't a big town: her commute took less than 10 minutes by car and half an hour by bike. Still, I often heard relatives and friends remark on how mighty far away she worked from home. Remember, this was a time when people came home for lunch, and preferred to live around the corner from where they worked.

Things have changed. Today, the 50-mile commute is not extraordinary any more, and few people even commute by plane. One thing that that tells you is that the price of fuel is way low compared to the average income. Or it wouldn't pay to do that kind of commute. I mean, imagine paying for a 50-mile commute in one of those 1970s boats that get 10mpg.

Photo That Hartford Guy

Until we change the culture and infrastructure that encourages such crazy commutes, fuel efficiency is still the best, and certainly the quickest, way to reduce our overall energy use. Especially when coupled with the right incentives.

Let me offer a perconal case study: Our previous car was a 2001 VW Golf that got an embarrassing 19 mpg. Two years ago we traded it for a 2012 Golf TDI that gets 38mpg on average. So overnight, we doubled the efficiency of our family transportation. In these first two years, I averaged 8500 miles per year. For the previous car the average was 8000 miles per year. I atrribute the small increase to an increase in my children's activities as they grow.

If you believed Jevons I'd be driving more than 16,000 miles a year now. But where would I go? and where would I get the time to drive twice as much? Does CelloDad look at this car, with its 45 mpg highway efficiency, and suddenly say, "Hey, I could take a job in the city now"?

Heck no. He's got a cream puff job. He gets paid well enough, has extremely flexible hours, and can always make it to daytime school events. Besides, he has moved into the corner office since I put in the new windows and new floor for him, and painted the walls in the colour of his choice. He's all set. Since he started telecommuting, the stairs are the biggest obstacle in his commute. And me. I keep asking him for lunch dates.

A fuel efficient car can save you money and carbon emissions on your long commute. But if you don't commute at all you really save a bundle. And I'm sorry, but Jevons has entirely missed the happiness factor.



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