Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Are we going to hell?

The "shop with no name" in Nibong Tebal.

Sitting here at the Seminar Hall of the Engineering Campus, 1:07 pm, 19 May, about one and half hours too early for my talk. Second time this month to talk about sustainability here this month to new staff. And the third time this month, including the one on main campus last week. The problem is not the “students”. The problem is me – I hate repeating myself too often.

Bummer, the network is down so am wordprocesing instead of blogging. Why so early? Kiasi or Kiasu? Well, I didn’t know how to time it. I took the Getz for first 1,000 km service and came straight here with the intention of supporting the informal sector. As it turned out, the service was done in less than one hour (I called up and was told maybe it will take 40 minutes but I was a little kiasu so gave myself lots of slag).

Had early lunch at the “No Name Curry Mee-cum-Hokkein Mee-cum-Koay Teow Thng” stall in Nibong Tebal town. I wouldn’t have discovered it if not for Richard taking me there the last time I was here. I was quite impressed the first time I had the curry mee so I asked the hawker in Teow Chew (country man, it seems) what the place was called. He appeared stumped and then pointed to the shop opposite and said “opposite Kim Choo (Pearl or Mutiara) seafood”. This time around I looked out for the name of the road; its Jalan Ooi Kar Seng. Quite easy to find. Coming from north, as you go over the Nibong Tebal town bridge (old steel structure), swing down left and make a U-turn under the bridge to get to the town. Keep going until you see CIMB bank and that junction on the right is Jalan Ooi Kar Seng; very short distance from the bridge (I think 2 traffic lights). So turn right and maybe 300 or 400 metres down the road, is a no sign “shop” right opposite a sign that says “Taman Nibong Tebal”. It’s actually a semi-D single storey house with extended “carporch” which houses the hawker. My wife says probably “no license” lah, that’s why no name. Tried the hokkein mee today. Not bad. But I think I liked the curry mee better. See if you can tell the difference from the picture. We need to support these small businesses. What I like about this stall is it still uses porcelain bowls and metal spoons. Unfortunately, they have to tapau with plastic bags.
Which appeals to you more? Curry mee (above) or Hokkein Mee (below)?

After lunch went to take a spin around Parit Buntar town which is less than 5 minutes from the campus. Wow, that place has grown really big – ehh, but I’m not sure its got much character. Me and buddies in our Master Planning Studio studied the place a looong time ago and it was just so tiny. Not sure, but I think much of the old town has been rebuilt.

Ah, the Getz. I get advice from co-workers who say Korean car not good lah. Kia for instance – one lady in USM have to either change the whole engine (will cost something like RM10,000 or RM15,000) or keep waiting for the spare part to come. How long has she been waiting? 15 months, it seems.

You know the the gadget that tells you how many litres to 100 km is your consumption? My kids say that its probably fake or not really realtime. On the road this morning I was driving at a steady 80 kph and looking at the display and it was showing 7.6 litres/100 km. That’s only 13.2 km/litre. The salesman was quoting something like 16 or 18 km/litre. Don’t have Internet to check but whatever it is our cars are the most outdated dinosaurs of the industrial revolution.

Did you know that the body of the cars (made of steel mainly) is soooo heavy that lots of the energy is used to move the car rather than the passenger? Well, in the first place, the internal combustion engine is quite hopeless. About 80% of the energy from burning the gasoline (petrol) is lost before it reaches the wheel. That’s right, only 20% reaches the wheels. But most of it is used to move the weight of the body and to overcome wind and surface resistance.

Guess how much of the energy consumed is used to move the driver? Only 1%!

Is there any hope? Yes, the idea of hypercar has been around for more than a decade, pioneered by the guys at Rocky Mountain Institute who put the blueprint in the public domain to encourage competition. Huh, you say? Well, putting it in the public domain means nobody can patent the idea. Everyone can use it for free, i.e. don’t have to pay royalty to some genius who just sits around and collect money for his brilliant idea. In the old history of the car, a patent lawyer name George Selden had registered a patent for a “Road Engine” and demanded royalty from all the car-makers. Henry Ford refused to pay and so he got sued. But this guy Selden had never built a working car before and when the Court asked him to prove his invention he failed to built a working version of his patent. And lost the case. So, that’s one of the reasons why Henry Ford was able to built a car for “the great multitude”. Of course he was the genius behind the assembly line which made it possible to built cars cheaply. But look at the problems he created. Urban sprawl, pollution, deaths from collisions, injury, gridlock, global warming, depletion of fossil fuel …

So the hypercar will save the World? Probably not; we need more than that. When it comes true (not if), the internal combustion engine will be dead and your hybrid-electric hypercar would even become the power generation plant of the future. Yes, when you park your car and spend the whole day at your office desk, the fuel cell in your car will be generating electricity and pumping it into the grid. You will be selling electricity! And demand for petrol will be so low it will just stay in the ground, good only for supporting the earth below us. And the body? It will be a carbon composite polymer which will be as strong as steel but weigh two-thirds less. Exciting isn’t it? The Toyota Prius implements some of the ideas of the hypercar. It’s still too expensive for me but I can wait. By the way, fuel cells was invented some 150 years ago but its only now that the components to make the cells have come together. What does that tell you? Don’t worry if your professor says your idea is stupid or far-fetched. Tell him to wait 150 years, and then get back to you.
The new staff at Engineering 19th May (above) and 6th May (below).

[postscript- now at my office next morning: went to and discovered that the Gertz emits 159g/km of CO2. So let’s say 100 km a day times 250 working days a year, that’s 25,000 km times 159 = 3,975 kg or about 4 metric tons of CO2 a year. The Myvi 1.3 coughs out 151g/km; Proton Gen-2 1.6 litre is worst at 176g/km.

And the Toyota Prius Hybrid 1.5 litre? 104g/km – not very impressive isn’t it? Oh, you Porshe guys and gals – you are all going to hell for your carbon emissions 242g/km for the Boxster (whatever that is). And those filthy rich driving around in Rolls Royce won’t even make it to hell – 377g/km! with a 6.7 litre engine] Sorry for being overly dramatic - comes with the job. BTW, the average Malaysian spews out about 7.5 metric tons of carbon per year (2004) and is 37th highest in the World.

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