Is Your Car Green, Really?

It seems like I receive yet another brochure about the huge advances various government entities, enterprises, vendors, or energy companies making in protecting the planet every month. Everyone seems to think that their technology is going to be the next green thing, when the facts simply don’t bear them out. The previous post I wrote on this topic, More People Noticing that Green Technology Really Isn’t, discussed the issue that some informed people are discovering that all that green technology out there is really just designed to sell more products—not help the earth in any significant way. The problem is one of complexity, which is the case with the green car.

Driving an electric car might seem like the right way to reduce emissions. However, recent studies show that your electric car might actually be worse for the environment. I say might here because it all depends on how the electricity is generated. In some cases, your electric car actually is better than gas at the first level. That is, the manner in which the electricity is generated produces fewer pollutants than driving a car with a gas engine would be. For example, sunlight and wind are both plentiful in Nevada, so driving an electric car could make sense there. However, as I’ve noted in previous posts, solar and wind power both rely heavily on special materials, the mining of which actually produces a serious amount of pollution. The studies available right now also assume that the manufacturing processes for the supposedly green cars are actually no worse than the older technology they replace. Consequently, even though it might appear that your electric car is a win, it may not be right now.

A problem with all the entities making the promises and telling you just how good they are at fulfilling them is that they lie. Sometimes they even get caught. For example, the EPA finally caught VW in the act of lying about its emission test results. The only problem is that those cars are still out there producing millions of tons of lung killing smog. In fact, it’s hard to tell whether any of those green technologies actually do anything at all, except make you pay a lot more when buying the vehicle, and to run and maintain it later. Add to this the fact that some people are now saying that the solar industry is dying (and would already be dead were it not for government subsidies) and you have to wonder just how long these green cars will even maintain the appearance of being green.

Some people are saying that we should simply get rid of cars, which is obviously not going to happen. If people really wanted to use mass transit, it would have happened already. In addition, there isn’t any evidence that mass transit actually reduces pollution either. The vehicles are often poorly maintained and spew a horrid amount of pollution out of their exhaust (as evidenced by the stench when you drive behind a bus). In addition, mass transit only works when you live in or around a major city, which won’t work for those of us who live in the country.

The best way to create a green car is not to drive it any more than necessary. I’ve taken to planning out my trips so that I drive the fewest possible miles. Because I’m self-employed, I don’t even start my car five days a week (getting everything done in just two days). Not only does my strategy save time, but I’ve reduced by gas bill by half in the last two years. Green often equates to not using a resource such as gas. Using the resource will inevitably produce some sort of pollution. Through careful planning, you can significantly reduce the number of miles you drive and you can drive more of them at once (a warm engine normally works more efficiently and produces fewer emissions). You also want to reduce gas waste by starting up slowly, stopping over a longer distance, and keeping your engine from idling. In fact, there are a wealth of tips you can find online for making your car more efficient (such as removing all that junk from the trunk).

You can make the world a cleaner place and still keep your car. All it really takes is planning and careful maintenance. Unfortunately, there is no magic that will just make the problems with pollution go away. Driving that electric car or paying more for a vehicle with dubious emissions extras isn’t going to do much. What it really takes is a bit of self control. Let me know your thoughts about green cars at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Naturally Probiotic Foods (Part 2)

I was a bit surprised by the number of e-mails I received about Naturally Probiotic Foods. It seems that a lot of people are having the same problems as me with our highly processed foods today. One of the main questions I was asked is whether I feel that pasteurization is a bad thing to do. That’s a loaded question. Most food questions come with trade-offs. Pasteurization helps the milk last longer and kills potentially harmful bacteria. When you get raw milk, you must consume it within 7 to 10 days, which is a much shorter time than pasteurized milk. In addition, people with compromised immune systems aren’t good candidates for raw milk because bacteria that would never cause a problem in a healthy person could cause problems with someone who doesn’t have a fully functional immune system. You must also know the farmer or store from which you get the milk. It’s way too easy for raw milk to contain substances that will make you sick. All this said, a lot of people the world over have drunk raw milk literally for centuries and we’re still here. There is a definite trade-off to consider though, so when getting raw milk, shop smart.

Many other items you buy are also pasteurized. For example, it’s entirely possible that the eggs you buy from the store are pasteurized to kill any bacteria on the surface of the egg. When you buy fresh eggs from a farmer or a store that provides such eggs, you do take a small chance of getting sick. The same can be said of any other unpasteurized product you buy. However, to be human is to risk getting sick and you can’t avoid all contact with bacteria. Society has become increasingly germophobic over the years and even that choice creates trade-offs. For example, it’s now thought that a lack of exposure to various germs and bacteria are actually causing problems with children in that they’re exhibiting symptoms like additional allergies. The point is that you must make a smart choice based on your own personal needs—I truly can’t tell anyone whether raw products, such as milk and eggs, are going to cause problems or will help with specific needs.

A number of people have asked what I think about homogenization. I know that when I was growing up, the milk I bought from the store would separate. It was possible to see cream at the top of the glass bottle at some point (often scooped off for coffee and so on). Today, milk doesn’t separate in most cases because of homogenization. Logic tells you that if the milk normally separates (breaks down) and now it doesn’t, that your body is probably going to have a harder time digesting it as well. A number of articles online bear out this fact. However, homogenized milk can cause other problems. For example, a number of sources claim that it can promote cancer. Because I’m not a researcher into this kind of information, I can’t verify these claims, but in reading the information, it does tend to make sense. Over-processing food has certain negative effects and you need to think about the pros and cons of buying it. I found other sites that state the contrary, that homogenization makes milk more digestible. My personal experience doesn’t bear this claim out. In drinking milk that is just pasteurized, I still experience fewer digestive problems than when the milk is also homogenized. However, I’m not you and you are the one who needs to make the required test.

A number of people also asked about alternatives, such as goat’s milk. I personally love goat’s milk as long as it’s cold and not over five days old. After that magic five day mark, the goat’s milk develops a “goaty” taste, some people call it a musky taste. Theoretically, goat’s milk (at least) is more digestible than cow’s milk. At least, that’s the case for me. I can drink goat’s milk without using Lactaid (or a similar product). Again, you need to know the source of your goat or sheep milk in order to be certain that it’s safe to drink. Unlike cow’s milk, goat’s milk actually freezes really well, so when I’m drinking goat’s milk, I keep only enough in the refrigerator for three days and freeze the rest.

Raw foods, those that haven’t been processed, can contain natural probiotics that make them easier to digest. Humans have been consuming these foods for centuries without problem and our bodies are naturally attuned to them. However, processing does have benefits and you truly can’t ignore these benefits. For me, I find that the raw foods work best because of the probiotics they contain. Your experience is likely to be different from mine. Keep those e-mails coming to John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Naturally Probiotic Foods

As I’m getting older, I’m finding it helps to have a little assistance in digesting food. Given that I’m into self-sufficiency and tend to look for natural ways of accomplishing what I need to do, I started looking into probiotics. Probiotics can help with things like lactose intolerance, bloating, gas, and other unfortunate (and uncomfortable) digestive ills. Of course, you can get probiotic pills, but in reading the labels, I found that these pills vary greatly in quality and that the best pills tend to cost quite a bit. I also like to save money when I can, so I looked for an alternative. However, before we look at probiotic foods, you need to know that certain foods host certain helpful bacteria and that a specific food may not help your specific problem. If you you truly need a blanket cure for your woes, then you need to get a high quality probiotic pill that contains as many different kinds of helpful bacteria as possible.

The naturally probiotic food that most people know about is yogurt. Unfortunately, not just any yogurt will do. There are actually three kinds (or levels) of yogurt: the kind that doesn’t have any live culture (which is most of them), the kind with live culture (always marked on the label), and the kind that has added digestive aids added (usually only available at health food stores). The kind that most people get, the one without the live culture, doesn’t have any probiotic benefit and won’t help your digestion. The best option to get for the money conscious is a yogurt that is marked as having live culture. I currently have yogurt, instead of milk, with my breakfast cereal, and find that it has gone a long way toward solving certain digestive ills.

It turns out that sauerkraut, kimchi, and other fermented cabbage dishes have probiotic features. However, what you may not know is that heat kills the helpful bacteria that help with digestion. The only way to get the probiotic effect of sauerkraut, kimchi, or other fermented cabbage dishes is to eat them fresh (which means making them yourself). That jar you buy in the store isn’t actually fermented in the first place (they use vinegar to simulate fermentation) and it also has been canned, so it doesn’t contain any probiotics.

Fermentation is one of the keys in finding a natural probiotic food in many cases. For example, Japanese miso soup (made with fermented soybean paste) is also naturally probiotic. However, you’re again looking at getting the soup fresh. It’s important to note that many of these foods also contain antioxidants and tend to be high in B vitamins.

Some probiotics don’t actually survive the digestion process in some people without a carrier. You may find that the expensive probiotic pill you buy doesn’t do much because your digestive tract destroys the beneficial bacteria before they actually get to your intestines. If your probiotic pill doesn’t use an enteric coating, you may as well not take it Cheese is a helpful carrier food for probiotics. However, like many other foods, cheese comes with a caveat—you must find a cheese that is made with raw, not pasteurized, milk. Fermented cheeses commonly made with raw milk include Gouda and aged cheddar. Always check the label though to determine whether the cheese is made with raw milk (either goat or cow milk works fine).

If you want to gain the benefits of helpful bacteria and yeasts, then you should look at a beverage such as kefir. Like all of the other foods described in this post, you need to get kefir made from raw, not pasteurized milk. The kefir can act as a carrier to ensure that the helpful bacteria and yeasts survive the digestive tract. Ingesting helpful yeasts can help with a variety of problems, including certain allergies (which is part of the reason that I also use locally obtained honey for some needs—it contains yeasts and pollen that serve to keep allergies low).

Not all cooking techniques destroy probiotics. One such exception is sourdough bread. I wasn’t able to find a lot out about this particular option, except that it must be made with naturally occurring yeasts. In other words, you need a bread that relies on fermentation to obtain the effect as far as I’ve been able to determine from my research, but I’d love to hear from someone who has more details.

Buttermilk and acidophilus milk both have probiotics in them. In this case, someone adds the probiotics to the milk. Theoretically, the milk acts as a carrier for the probiotic to help it get past the digestive tract. My research hasn’t verified what sort of buttermilk you need at this point, nor have I been able to determine whether there are differences in acidophilus milk brands, so this is one of those options that you need to try to determine whether it works for you.

Brine pickles, those made in a crock and left to ferment, contain probiotics. Like other fermented vegetable products, you need to eat this one fresh and not canned. If your pickle recipe calls for vinegar, the result won’t contain any probiotic benefit. Brine pickles, like sauerkraut, rely on salt and water to start the fermentation process.

You can find a host of other food choices, such as tempeh, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, oatmeal, red wine, honey, maple syrup, and legumes that contain probiotic qualities. Each of these options will likely include different helpful bacteria that may or may not make it past your digestive tract. Unfortunately, there isn’t any way to know which foods will work best for you because everyone is different. Experimentation is the best way to determine which foods will work best. The big thing to remember is that these foods are less expensive than pills, generally provide some level of nutritional benefit, and can contain other healthful benefits in addition to their probiotic qualities. Let me know about your favorite probiotic foods at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Technology and Child Safety

I recently read an article on ComputerWorld, Children mine cobalt used in smartphones, other electronics, that had me thinking yet again about how people in rich countries tend to ignore the needs of those in poor countries. The picture at the beginning of the article says it all, but the details will have you wondering whether a smartphone really is worth some child’s life. That’s right, any smartphone you buy may be killing someone and in a truly horrid manner. Children as young as 7 years old are mining the cobalt needed for the batteries (and other components) in the smartphones that people seem to feel are so necessary for life (they aren’t you know).

The problem doesn’t stop when someone gets the smartphone. Other children end up dismantling the devices sent for recycling. That’s right, a rich country’s efforts to keep electronics out of their landfills is also killing children because countries like India put these children to work taking them apart in unsafe conditions. Recycled wastes go from rich countries to poor countries because the poor countries need the money for necessities, like food. Often, these children are incapable of working by the time they reach 35 or 40 due to health issues induced by their forced labor. In short, the quality of their lives is made horribly low so that it’s possible for people in rich countries to enjoy something that truly isn’t necessary for life.

I’ve written other blog posts about the issues of technology pollution. One of the most recent is More People Noticing that Green Technology Really Isn’t. However, the emphasis of these previous articles has been on the pollution itself. Taking personal responsibility for the pollution you create is important, but we really need to do more. Robotic (autonomous) mining is one way to keep children out of the mines and projects such as The Utah Robotic Mining Project show that it’s entirely possible to use robots in place of people today. The weird thing is that autonomous mining would save up to 80% of the mining costs of today, so you have to wonder why manufacturers aren’t rushing to employ this solution. In addition, off world mining would keep the pollution in space, rather than on planet earth. Of course, off world mining also requires a heavy investment in robots, but it promises to provide a huge financial payback in addition to keeping earth a bit cleaner (some companies are already investing in off world mining, but we need more). The point is that there are alternatives that we’re not using. Robotics presents an opportunity to make things right with technology and I’m excited to be part of that answer in writing books such as Python for Data Science for Dummies and Machine Learning for Dummies (see the posts for this book).

Unfortunately, companies like Apple, Samsung, and many others simply thumb their noses at laws that are in place to protect the children in these countries because they know you’ll buy their products. Yes, they make official statements, but read their statements in that first article and you’ll quickly figure out that they’re excuses and poorly made excuses at that. They don’t have to care because no one is holding them to account. People in rich countries don’t care because their own backyards aren’t sullied and their own children remain safe. So, the next time you think about buying electronics, consider the real price for that product. Let me know what you think about polluting other countries to keep your country clean at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Remembering to Rest (Part 2)

It’s important to rest—to stop working for a while and to do something different, something enjoyable. In Remembering to Rest, I talked about Wildcat mountain, a favorite place to go in the fall to unwind a bit after a summer of hard work in the garden. Once the work gets to that magic point where it’s possible to take a little break, reflecting on the summer is a good way to get ready for the rigors of winter. This year I went to Wildcat mountain a little later than usual because the weather has been warmer than normal and it takes me a bit longer now to get to that magic resting point.

Of course, my first stop after my picnic lunch is observation point. I went to Wildcat Mountain on a Tuesday, so I more or less had the park to myself. Yes, there were other people, but we all seemed to sense the need to respect each others’ privacy. I did ask one young lady to take my picture at observation point. As you can see, the fall colors are past their peak, but it’s still a beautiful view.

John standing at observation point in Wildcat Mountain.
Observation Point at Wildcat Mountain

I took my Old Settler’s Trail hike. It’s a 2.5 mile trail that I’m sure some people would consider a bit mundane, but I find it plenty exciting and more than a little exercise. The 1.5 to 2 hour hiking time only counts if you’re in shape and I definitely don’t recommend the trail if you have a fear of heights or any problems whatsoever walking. I finished the trail in one hour and 43 minutes this time—not my best time, but I took extra care because I was alone on the trail. Of course, the first thing you see on this trail are the steps down. I took this picture looking back up the steps once I got to the bottom.

Looking back up the first set of steps.
Looking back up the first set of steps.

Most of the hike is on uneven ground, but the trail is clearly visible. Staying on the trail is a good idea because you don’t really know what you’ll encounter otherwise. I saw quite a bit of wildlife, including a beautiful buck who refused to allow me to take his picture. One of my favorite places along the trail is the foot bridge over a creek. It’s a nice place to take a few moments to rest and just enjoy the gorgeous scenery.

This footbridge goes over a small creek and provides a wonderful view.
Footbridge Over a Creek

The trail does provide resting points. You do need to climb up to them. However, they do provide wonderful views of the countryside while you rest.

The resting places provide a beautiful view of the countryside.
Step Up to a Resting Place

For me, the highlight of the hike is Taylor Hollow Overlook. The view isn’t quite as amazing as those provided by some other Wisconsin parks, but you really can see quite a distance and when the colors are just right, the patchwork is really quite colorful. By this point in the hike, a lot of people are starting to get a bit tuckered out, so this particular bench doesn’t require any climbing. You can just sit and enjoy the view.

A place to sit down for a while and enjoy the view.
Tailor Hollow Overlook

It’s at this point where you might want to turn around if you suffer from any vertigo at all. The trail becomes steep and there are no handholds to speak of. The drop would likely result in broken bones or other injury. The point is that you want to take care to traverse this part of the trail with great care.

A combination of steep steps and no handholds makes this part of the trail difficult.
Step Steps and No Handholds

It isn’t long after you get past this part of the trail that you loop around and rejoin the trail you originally used to get down the steps shown in the first picture. This time you go up the steps. By the time you’re finished, you’ll likely be a bit out of breath and will definitely know you’ve had a workout. Still, what a place to workout! Let me know if you’ve ever been to Wildcat Mountain at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

What Net Neutrality Means to You

I’ve written about Net Neutrality before in the Understanding the Effects of Net Neutrality on Web Programmers post. The post described how Net Neutrality affects developers in particular and made a passing reference to its effect on other users as well. The issues haven’t really changed. Enforcing Net Neutrality could mean free and equal access to the Internet by everyone who needs to use it, but nothing I’ve seen so far really defines what the government means by free or equal. I have concerns that some high priority needs, such as medical or real time communications, will suffer under Net Neutrality. However, the longer I think about the issue, the more I come to realize that some form of Net Neutrality is essential to the health of the Internet as we know it now. In addition, most medical posts I’ve read favor Net Neutrality as being essentially good for patient access to healthcare needs.

A number of things have happened since that post. The most notable is that Net Neutrality has become an issue of Democrats versus Republicans, rather than an honest effort to provide the sort of service that everyone wants. As I predicted, the whole matter ended up in the courts where an appeals court has decided to allow the FCC to implement the Net Neutrality rules. To counteract the court decision, House Republicans have added riders to a must pass bill to fund the government that affects the FCC’s ability to enforce Net Neutrality rules. Apparently, the cable companies have called in the favors they provided politicians in the form of campaign contributions. The Republicans are taking this action despite evidence that most people support Net Neutrality regardless of political identity.

The whole Net Neutrality issue has taken a new direction—one that is becoming all too familiar to Americans. One side, the Democrats in this case, choose to champion an issue and the other side, the Republicans in this case, decide against it. Our legislators seem determined to waste time and energy fighting with each other, rather than accomplish anything resembling real work. In the middle of it all are companies offering money—paying legislators to do their bidding. In this case, the people are on the losing side of the equation. Everything I’ve read tells me that this is a situation where the government really doesn’t care what the people want—it’s all about the money.

Of course, there is a group of people who are caught in the middle of all this—application developers. Actually, anyone responsible for ensuring content moves on the Internet is caught in this current decision to do anything but act responsibly on the part of the government. It isn’t possible to create applications that perform well when you don’t know how the communications used to transfer the data will work. Until the government gets its act together, developers and other IT professionals will simply have to take their best guess as to how to make applications perform well and that hurts everyone. Let me know your thoughts about Net Neutrality and the developer at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Chips from Wood, Really?

Sometimes I encounter an article that takes me completely by surprise. I’ve always had a strong interest in computer hardware articles because I started out as a hardware guy (many years ago). Of course, that interest has become stronger since writing Build Your Own PC on a Budget. However, even with the amount of reading I do, I didn’t expect the ComputerWorld article I read last week, Computer chips made of wood promise greener electronics.

Anyone who has read blog posts such as, More People Noticing that Green Technology Really Isn’t know that I have a real problem with technology that only makes you think it helps the environment when it actually creates more pollution. Unlike many green technology failures, making chips using a wood substrate could potentially fulfill it’s promise. No, it won’t eliminate pollution, but it will create less of it. The most important thing to understand about the ComputerWorld article is that chips made of this material will decompose over time and that they use 99.9 percent less semiconductor material. I find the whole idea really amazing.

According to the article, the new chips are a win for vendors as well because they cost less to manufacture. So, not only do you get a greener chip, but one that costs less as well. This is the sort of winning scenario that I’d love to see happen more often. The last time I had such good news to report was with my CFLs for Free post. However, the problem now is to get enough people to actually use this material to create chips to make it worthwhile. If only a few vendors decide to make chips from wood, then the effort is lost—we won’t see an actual reduction in pollution as the result of this innovation.

All this leads me to wonder what sorts of other materials could eventually make an appearance as chip material. I’d love to eventually build a PC that uses all biodegradable components. You could throw it away and be sure that nature would eventually turn it back into source material for new items. What a concept! Let me know your thoughts about biodegradable chips at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Contemplating the Future of Prosthetic Devices

I keep up with the technology used to help people live fuller lives when they have a special need in as much as is possible. Of course, even if I devoted full time to the task, keeping up with every innovation would be impossible. Still, I try to find articles and other resources that go along with some of the concepts I originally discussed as part of Accessibility for Everybody: Understanding the Section 508 Accessibility Requirements. I recently read a Smithsonian article that helped me better understand precisely where prosthetic technology will be going in the future. Hugh Herr has turned a terrible life experience into something incredibly positive by creating prosthetic devices that work more like the flesh and blood counterparts they’re designed to replace.

The technology described in the article is simply amazing. However, the article also underscores some of the underlying issues that anyone with a special need faces. People automatically think that anyone with a special need is somehow deficient or requires special treatment. Given the resources, training, and devices available today, most special needs people can live as if they don’t have a special need. In fact, as far as they’re concerned, they don’t have one. So, while the article does describe really cool technology and tells of the heroic battle fought by several people to live normal lives, it also tells of a society that just isn’t ready to understand how technology can level the playing field and what a desirable response to special needs people should be.

Which brings me back to my book. When readers write me about my book, they often miss the point. Yes, my book is designed to help developers create really cool applications. It’s also designed to help people understand their legal and moral responsibilities in helping people with special needs. A few readers even get the idea that they’re likely to require special aids at some point in their lives. However, almost everyone misses the the point that I wrote my book to help people, all people, feel acceptance for who they are—no matter who they might be or what their requirements are.

Forward thinking people like Hugh Herr really are important today because technology such as bionics have the potential to change how we view humans as a species. A recent MIT Technology Review article highlights where Dr. Herr is going and where he wants to take us. If he can realize his vision, the things we’ll be able to do boggles the imagination. More importantly, the loss of a limb will no longer be an impediment to doing anything at all. Perhaps the makers of The Six Million Dollar Man had it right all along.

Where do you think we’re going with technology designed to overcome special needs in a way that makes them all but invisible? More importantly, what do you feel are the changes society needs to make with regard to treatment of special needs people? Let me know your thoughts at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Self-driving Cars in the News

I remember reading about self-driving cars in science fiction novels. Science fiction has provided me with all sorts of interesting ideas to pursue as I’ve gotten older. Many things I thought would be impossible, have become reality over the years and things that I thought I’d never see five years ago, I’m seeing in reality today. I discussed some of the technology behind self-driving cars in my Learning as a Human post. The article was fine as it went, but readers have taken me to task more than a few times for becoming enamored with the technology and not discussing the reality of the technology.

The fact of the matter is that self-driving cars are already here to some extent. Ford has introduced cars that can park themselves. The Ford view of cars is the one that most people can accept. It’s an anticipated next step in the evolution of driving. People tend to favor small changes in technology. Changes that are too large tend to shock them and aren’t readily accepted.

Google’s new self-driving car might be licensed in Nevada, but don’t plan on seeing it in your city anytime soon (unless you just happen to live in Nevada, of course). A more realistic approach to self-driving cars will probably come in the form of conveyances used in specific locations. For example, you might see self-driving cars used at theme parks and college campuses where the controlled environment will make it easier for them to navigate. More importantly, these strictly controlled situations will help people get used to the idea of seeing and using self-driven vehicles. The point is to build trust in them in a manner that people can accept.

Of course, the heart of the matter is what self-driving cars can actually provide in the way of a payback. According to a number of sources, they can actually reduce driving costs by $190 billion dollars per year in health and accident savings. That’s quite a savings. Money talks, but people have ignored monetary benefits in the past to ensure they remain independent. It will take time to discover whether the potential cost savings actually make people more inclined to use self-driving cars. My guess is that people will refuse to give up their cars unless there is something more than monetary and health benefits.

Even though no one has really talked about it much, self-driving cars have the potential to provide all sorts of other benefits. For example, because self-driving cars will obey the speed laws and run at the most efficient speeds possible in a given situation, cars will become more fuel efficient and produce less pollution. The software provided with the vehicle will probably allow the car to choose the most efficient route to a destination possible and provide the means for the car to automatically navigate around obstructions, such as accidents (which will be notably fewer). People could probably be more assured of getting to their destination on time because they won’t get lost either. Working on the way to work will allow people to spend more quality time with family. It’s the intangible benefits that will eventually make the self-driving car seem like a good way to do things.

The self-driving car is available today. It won’t be long and you’ll be able to buy one. You can already get a self-parking Ford, so the next step really isn’t that far away. The question is whether you really want to take that step. Let me know your thoughts on self-driving cars, their potential to save lives, reduce costs, create a cleaner environment, and make life generally more pleasant at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Renewable Energy Inroads

I’m all for making the planet less dependent on fossil fuels, if for no other reason than they represent a finite resource. Renewable energy offers to replace the finite resources we use now with something we can harvest forever. The problem is that many renewable energy sources are really quite dirty. For example, the solar cell that adorns your roof may be killing people in China. In my opinion, we really don’t need to clean up our part of the planet by making China’s part of the planet even dirtier. In the long run, we won’t benefit by that strategy. Just think of all the really interesting poisoned toys China will send our way—toys poisoned by our own toxic waste. The toxins we generate in other countries tend to come back to haunt us.

It was with mixed feelings that I recently read that solar energy will become a major energy source within 15 years. The reasons for the increase in usage are many, but the basic reason is that solar is becoming less expensive to install and maintain. The costs of the solar panels and their installation has gone down considerably, so it’s possible that solar power might actually become less expensive than using fossil fuels at some point. Of course, the savings assume that you’re not storing excess power in batteries. Adding batteries to the picture greatly increases costs and makes solar quite expensive indeed.

There is one benefit to solar energy that many people don’t think about. If the solar panels appear on people’s rooftops in a decentralized configuration, the ability of terrorists to disrupt the electrical system is greatly diminished. A decentralized setup also reduces costs associated with power transmission and could actually do things like reduce cooling costs in summer. Of course, the utilities aren’t crazy about decentralized solar because it cuts into their profits, but the fact of the matter is that we need a better setup than the one we do now. Our system is so fragile right now that I’m often surprised a storm or other simply cause doesn’t knock out major sections of the country.

The bottom line for me is that we really do need to reduce our power usage and embrace renewable energy sources. However, we need non-polluting renewable energy sources or at least sources that pollute less than the ones we have now. I last tackled this topic in More People Noticing that Green Technology Really Isn’t. The fact is, nothing has changed in the technology, but the need to address the technology shortfalls has just become greater. Before a technology that pollutes our planet quite a lot becomes entrenched, we need to come up with answers to deal with the pollution—preferably a better technology.

What are your thoughts on renewable energy? What forms do you feel pollute the least and provide the greatest benefit to people as a whole? Do you see renewable energy becoming the only power source at some point? Let me know your thoughts on these and other energy concerns at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.