In a world where time becomes more valuable than brains.
I don’t own a car. I haven’t owned my own car for about 6 years, though a shared one for the first 4 of those. I’ve lived happily car-free for the last few years. This lifestyle isn’t possible for everyone, so most of us buy a car. But how do we chose? And why do car commercials get to arrogantly advertise their pick up has the best MPG in class of 27 MPG? 27 is a really crappy number. My first car, a 98 Chevy Cavalier got 32 MPG and I was a wild teenager driving that thing. Why have we progressed so little in the past 15 years? Why does a Google search find fuel efficient to mean 30+ MPG and not 50+ MPG?
I sat down to do some research about the historic relationship of acceleration vs MPG in America. We have, as a country, systematically chosen power over efficiency. A blogger, Dan, at blogger.com put together a wonderful article that I will pull from for this post. He speaks to a big political document called the Light-Duty Automotive Technology, Carbon Dioxide Emissions, and Fuel Economy Trends: 1975 – 2013 (which reads a lot like I imagine the IPCC report reads to non-climate folks…). It’s long and a little tedious to the uninitiated. So, just like I do with the IPCC, I’ll highlight the most insightful graph:
The fuel economy, or MPG, of cars has basically flat-lined since 1980. Without changing much about the vehicles weight, car manufacturers have dramatically increased performance. This graph gives well researched evidence that car manufacturers have no real drive to improve our efficiency. Okay, so why does this happen?
Now here is something really cool that Dan did: he made a lovely correlation plot of efficiency and power. He found that for every percentage drop of fuel economy you give up, you get 3 percentage points of power. This means that it always feels like a better deal to give up a little efficiency to gain a lot of power. Ugh.
What does that power really get you? Wouldn’t you rather save the money at the pump? I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind with this. But it’s worth thinking about. Luckily Obama has some legislation in place that will help efficiency get to were it ought to be. But for now I’m happy to live car free and hopefully by the time I want a car I will have more options for “high efficiency” vehicles. …and then I found this:
I can’t even tell you how many versions of this meme I found! I have no words…
Winter is coming… and going… and coming again here in Minneapolis, MN. I can’t believe this week has low temperatures below freezing. It’s April!
This winter has been colder than normal. I wanted to get some sense of how much colder it was. So I pulled a bunch of data about Minneapolis’s 2013-2014 winter weather off of Weather Underground. I looked at data from November 15, 2013 (the last day the high was above 50F in 2013) through March 30, 2013 (the first day the high was above 50F in 2014). These are the 134 days of my definition of the Minneapolis winter. 134 days out of 365 is almost 40%!
40% is a whole lot more than the 25% percent of the year that is supposed to be “Winter.” But, what’s cool is that this is basically the Golden Ratio of warmth to cold!! Which makes Minneapolis, MN pretty cool (pun intended).
We had a lot of “below zero” days this year. Currently, below zero days are defined to be days where the low is below zero. These days really suck. They are the days when your snot freezes in your nose, when you need flannel lined jeans AND long underwear, when you overheat as you get dressed and then your sweat freezes to your forehead as soon as you get outside. Suffice to say, these days are less appealing than most to wait for the bus in the morning…
Here’s a graph of the daily highs and lows for the past winter. I have helpfully marked the zero Fahrenheit line on the graph. Because below freezing is bad, but below zero is worse. Perhaps I can provide a more emotionally accurate view:
I’m working on my infographic skills, so let use a cute snowflakes in a bar chart to count these crappy days! I’ll just consider the weeks when there were below zero days. So we are restricting our attention to the dates between December 6th, 2013 and March 6th, 2014.
That’s a lot of days! 50 days is 13% of the year. For comparison: only 3% of the year is federal holidays and your birthday is only 0.02% of a year. Here’s that percentage breakdown for you with a snowflake to represent the percentage of days which are below zero. I put my birthday on there too… it’s just so small you can’t see it.
Over the same interval (Dec 6 to March 6) there were only 14 days when the high was above freezing. This is why snow that lands in Minneapolis in November tends to still be hanging around in April. The weather is never warm enough to melt anything of consequence.
This winter has been long. For the last 40% of a year, it’s been cold. Today is still cold with lows below freezing. But not bitterly cold in a below zero kind of way. Is this normal? Well, 50 or 60 years ago, below zero days were much more common than they are now. This is because Minneapolis has been getting warmer over the decades. (Kind of like our planet!)
This winter could be a case of increased climate variability. Climate scientists have been talking for decades about increased variability in our climate due to global climate change. Global warming produces instability in the weather patterns. Thus, while the whole planet is warming on average, certain locations could be experiencing colder than average weather. There are plenty of predictions that these extreme weather events will become more common. So while I would like to end this article with the hope that next year will be better, it’s entirely possible that next year will be just as unpredictable as this one. I know it’s only April, but here in Minnesota I think we should assume that winter is always coming.
I think this article is lovely! Attending a math conference dinner is a really hard thing to do. Mathematicians, as a community, are very good at talking about math and very poor at talking about other things. I think this article is a lovely take on that.
Originally posted on Sarah Zureick-Brown:
Seminar dinner, conference dinner, generic math gathering, I want to be there. This shouldn’t be surprising. I love eating and drinking, and I enjoy both of these activities even more in the company of smart and interesting people.
Still, at more than one math dinner, I’ve been told, “I’m surprised you’re here. My wife would never want to do this.”
This makes me feel strange, like some mutant math groupie (which, in truth, I am).
I understand where these other non-mathematician partners are coming from. Mathematicians can be abrasive, and it can feel isolating when you can’t take part in the dinner conversation because you don’t understand the math. But there’s a lot of fun to be had at these dinners, and sometimes you have to do it for your partner. So here are my tips for having a good time…
1) Let people talk about math
Nothing is going to…
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