Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Funkadelic Philatelic

A collection of interesting stamps, all on one envelope, which by the way was the vessel for the Master's thesis that a student I supervised mailed me. Cool, eh? Click the pic for the big version!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

58 Miles Per Gallon

That's right, I GET 58 MILES PER GALLON, consistently, in daily commuting, without fancy devices or expensive add-ons, and YOU CAN TOO!! I'll share the secret to my success with you, DEAR READER, not because I want your money, but because everyone deserves to benefit from such AMAZING FUEL ECONOMY!!

When I moved to Holland, I sold the two cars I owned in USA: a 1998 Acura Integra and a 2003 VW Jetta Wagon. The Acura averaged about 29 mpg, and the VW about 27. Not bad, compared to the average American's ride, but not stellar, either. Here, I bought a Volvo V40, same vintage as my previous VW -- however, with the exchange rate and the higher cost of cars here, the Volvo purchase depleted the sale value of both the previous cars! Bummer...

Luckily, the Volvo is a nice car. Comfy, quick, good for a growing family driving to Switzerland and such. When shopping for cars here, comfort and efficiency were of main importance, so I was immediately comparing tax costs and fuel economy. The tax (paid quarterly, more like a registration cost than a sales tax or such) on a car in the Netherlands is determined by its weight and fuel economy. The Volvo is middle of the road for both, but the fuel economy numbers were the interesting ones for me. How does 9.4 Liters/100 kilometers sound? Compared to what, you say? Inverting that figure and converting to English units, that means 25.5 miles per gallon (mpg). A little worse than our American cars. It is interesting to note that the average engine size in USA is 3.6 Liters. Here, it is 1.8 L: half! Ever the wiseguy, though, I'm countering these statistics. Both the VW and Acura in US were 1.8 L cars, and the Volvo here is a 2.0! The Volvo can roll with about 31 mpg on the motorway when driving long distances, but much of what we use it for is trafficky, low-speed driving in the local area, where it dips as low as 21. Surely, there is something better, right?

That's right. Now, I get 58 mpg.

The story of this amazing transformation begins with coffee, or koffie, as it's known here - sounds the same, though, except maybe a little more closed "o" sound for the first syllable, unlike the midwest/Rochester "flat-a" sound that you may be familiar with. Anyway, when I lived in America, I never drank coffee. Despite all the Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and McDonald's, despite growing up near Seattle, despite engineering all nighters, I never picked up a coffee habit. But, my first week working in Holland, I was hooked. At work, coffee is free, and it's dispensed by a wonderful, shiny, touchscreen automat that is always ready to please. Coffee is a social thing -- several times a day, someone pops into my office, "Wil je koffie?" or "Becky?" (Becky -- my spelling -- is a shortening of the word "beker," or "bekertje," which is a coffee cup, though the word reminds me of a chem lab beaker.)

Dutch coffees are tiny. Forget venti and grande, a Dutch coffee is smaller than short. It tops out at about 4 ounces, 118 mL, especially the Mokka I typically get from the office automat. So, when I tell you I now drink a couple, sometimes even four, coffees per day, I think I'm still consuming less than one Starbucks...

What does all this coffee have to do with miles per gallon? Simple. I put a cyclocomputer on my Gazelle commuting bike, reset to 0 kilometers on 21 September, 2009. I also started keeping track of my coffee consumption at work (which is why I know that, on average, I drink about 160 mL of coffee per workday). In two months, I have biked 304 km, mostly on my 8km daily commute, but also including some grocery runs and some rides through the woods with my fuzzy dog. In the same time, I have drunk a whopping 12.7 Liters of coffee! The result?
58.1 miles per gallon of coffee!

And, if you think that 12.7 Liters is a lot, consider that in the same period of time, I have consumed 106.5 L of water, just at work. At home, I regularly drink another liter or so per day. Oh, and also some tasty Belgian beer, but not every day... Mmmm, Trappist... topic for another day.