Move Forward (audio only)

January 22, 2008 at 2:19 pm | Posted in Lifescape | Leave a comment

via NPR: This I Believe

When Maria Robbins was 25 years old, an intruder broke into her home. The violent encounter made her question the role of chance in her life. But Robbins has found that the frightening event has helped her embrace life experiences more fully.


January 22, 2008 at 1:51 pm | Posted in Lifescape | Leave a comment

Department of “Whatever”

Suffering the gloom, inevitable as breath, we must further accept this fact that the world hates: We are forever incomplete, fragments of some ungraspable whole. Our unfinished natures — we are never pure actualities but always vague potentials — make life a constant struggle, a bout with the persistent unknown. But this extension into the abyss is also our salvation. To be only a fragment is always to strive for something beyond ourselves, something transcendent. That striving is always an act of freedom, of choosing one road instead of another. Though this labor is arduous — it requires constant attention to our mysterious and shifting interiors — it is also ecstatic, an almost infinite sounding of the exquisite riddles of Being.

To be against happiness is to embrace ecstasy. Incompleteness is a call to life. Fragmentation is freedom. The exhilaration of never knowing anything fully is that you can perpetually imagine sublimities beyond reason. On the margins of the known is the agile edge of existence. This is the rapture, burning slow, of finishing a book that can never be completed, a flawed and conflicted text, vexed as twilight.

Eric G. Wilson is a professor of English at Wake Forest University. This essay is adapted from his book Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, being published this month by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Here is the link.

Doubting Teenager

January 22, 2008 at 1:45 pm | Posted in Lifescape | Leave a comment

I’m a doubting teenager

My experience contradicts what I have been taught. I feel guilty and alone.

By Cary Tennis

 Dear Reader,

Please read this thoughtful, well-written question from a high school student and imagine growing up in her house with her parents. Try to see the world through her eyes. She didn’t ask to be raised by the people who raised her. She didn’t ask to start having doubts about what they taught her. But she was, and she is.

Remember when you first doubted what your parents had always told you? Remember when your beliefs stopped giving you comfort and started filling you with doubt? Remember high school? I do.

Dear Cary,

I’m a high school student and I’m experiencing a habitual and hidden internal conflict. I live with both my parents, who are both fairly conservative. My mom is a religious Christian who has taught me values based on Christianity. And until recently, I accepted her views and saw myself as a conservative as well. About a year ago, I started developing different social and political values. I’m not really sure what happened, but somehow I became more liberal. Silently, I started questioning the ideas my mother instilled into me.

The way I see the world has changed. Suddenly, people who were “degenerate” aren’t so sinful anymore. I listened to degenerate music and I enjoyed it.(…) Every Sunday, I went to church but I stopped listening to the sermons. I asked myself blasphemous hypothetical questions: “Could I see myself in a homosexual relationship? Would I ever consider getting an abortion? Did I see myself as agnostic?” More often than not, I gave myself blasphemous responses.

My friends and I rarely discuss social mores. People in my family assume that we have the identical principles that all pious, good Christians should have. Our opposing views confuse me. Now I carry around feelings of guilt about thinking the way I do. Sometimes, I feel like my liberal views are well justified. Other times, there’s a voice that’s telling me I’ll burn in hell when I die. I also doubt the sincerity of my thoughts: Are my liberal views my independent thoughts, or are they just a silent way of rebelling against my parents and fitting in with more liberal-minded people?

 Admittedly, I’m not chronically depressed about my problem. Most days end with me feeling happy about myself. I love my friends and my family. But in the midst of my normal pleasant life there’s just always some inkling of this internal conflict that reminds me of my guilt. I feel like I’ve nobody to confide to, and I was even reluctant to write you this letter. I’m in a moral quandary and I don’t know what to do.

Young and Confused

This Modern World (cartoon)

January 22, 2008 at 1:32 pm | Posted in Art, Current Topics, Dissection, expressions, Fun, Lifescape, Reactions, Reflections | Leave a comment

Tom the Dancing Bug By Ruben Bolling

The Car Of The Future

January 22, 2008 at 1:21 pm | Posted in Current Topics, Lifescape, Lifestyle, scientific advances, Technology | 2 Comments

Jan. 22, 2008 | When is someone going to offer a practical and affordable family car that runs on something other than oil and that sharply reduces both greenhouse gas emissions and your fuel bill? A few weeks ago, I test-drove this mythical car of the future, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle whose mass production might be only a few years away.The Extreme Hybrid from AFS Trinity was rolled out last week at the Detroit auto show. It can run 40 miles on electricity before reverting to running efficiently on gasoline like a normal hybrid, such as the Toyota Prius. Because the majority of people drive less than 40 miles a day, that car can replace most weekly gasoline use, even if it is charged only once a day. The fuel cost per mile, while running on electricity, is under one-third the current cost of gasoline. A full overnight charge might cost a dollar. The car accelerates like a cheetah, though quietly.

Time is running out on developing a truly energy-efficient car. Accelerated burning of fossil fuels is bringing us closer to the tipping point of irreversible climate catastrophe. We are likely to peak soon in the production of conventional oil — so gasoline prices are inevitably headed higher in the coming decades. Meanwhile, the cars we build today stay on the road more than 15 years, so we have no time to waste.

You can buy a flexible fuel vehicle today that runs on 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, and you might even be able to find an E85 station in your city. But corn ethanol is far from a desirable alternative fuel. It doesn’t significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or your fuel bill. That would require low-carbon ethanol from biomass such as switchgrass, so-called cellulosic ethanol, but the country does not have a single commercial cellulosic ethanol facility. It will probably be at least 15 years — and possibly twice that long — before we have large volumes of cellulosic biofuels for sale nationwide at an affordable price.

Hydrogen cars are even farther away from being practical. Carbon-free hydrogen is likely to be more expensive than gasoline for a long time. And the cost of building a carbon-free hydrogen fueling infrastructure is several hundreds of billions, if not more than a trillion, dollars.

Only one zero-carbon alternative fuel is substantially cheaper than gasoline: electricity from renewable sources (or nuclear power). Of course, you’d need a car that runs on electricity, and many people have thought that you would need a technological breakthrough, or at least a major advance in battery technology, to make that practical.

But game-changing breakthroughs in the energy sector are rare indeed. One can wait a lifetime for a major new technology that fundamentally alters the way we use energy. That’s why the Extreme Hybrid, whose electric technology is available today, is so exciting.

We saw all-electric cars in the 1990s, but they failed for a variety of reasons, as explained in the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car?” One problem is that giving an electric car a 200-mile range requires a lot of batteries, which adds weight, takes up space, and increases cost. Plus, it takes hours to fill one up, so if you run out of juice, you are stuck, making it impractical as a primary family car. Ultimately, it lacked support by the very car companies, like General Motors, that built it in the first place.

Everything changed with the success of hybrid-electric cars like the Prius, which combine a gasoline engine with a battery and electric motor. These hybrids charge the battery with energy regenerated during braking or from the gas engine. They prove that a car combining gas and electric drives can be practical and affordable and even desirable. Some groups have been retrofitting Priuses to make them plug-ins, providing the best of both worlds — acting as an electric car for local trips, but keeping the gas tank and engine for long trips and quick refueling.

The key obstacle to building a practical plug-in hybrid has been the battery. Not only do you need a lot more batteries for a plug-in than for a simple hybrid, you need batteries with substantially different capability. Gasoline hybrids mostly need batteries that can provide a lot of power when necessary — such as for accelerating onto a highway — as opposed to batteries that can store a lot of energy, which is what is required to go relatively long distances after a single charging. Designing a single battery that can store a lot of energy and handle power surges is no easy task, especially when that battery must be compact, affordable and safe as it constantly cycles through various uses.

The New York Times describes the problem using this unintentionally amusing mixed metaphor:

“In fact, the problem in a hybrid is not only how much energy the batteries hold, a quality called energy density, but how fast they can deliver it, called power density. The difference between energy density and power density is like the difference between a wine jug and a peanut butter jar — the containers may have the same capacity, but the size of their openings differ greatly.”

Note to NYT: When describing a power battery that can deliver energy in short, quick bursts, “peanut butter” is not the best analogy. A shaken bottle of champagne might be better.

Regular hybrids were made practical by the development of the nickel metal hydride battery, due in large part to a government-funded research consortium. The prototype or demonstration hybrids built to date have tended to use the more expensive, but more powerful and compact, lithium-ion batteries popularized by the electronics industry.

Yet discharging a battery too rapidly, especially the current generation of relatively inexpensive lithium-ion batteries such as are found in laptops and cellphones, can damage it, degrading its lifetime. The question has been: When will we have an affordable, safe, compact and long-lived lithium-ion battery that can deliver both energy (for range) and power (for acceleration) sufficient for a practical car?

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