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   vehicular vaporware
Tuesday, October 16 2007
I was in the bathtub (or at least approaching it) this evening with the latest New Yorker in my hand when I saw the advertisement on its back cover. It depicted a droplet of water hovering above a white background, casting a vague shadow beneath it. To its right was a picture of a BMW with some blue writing on its door. At the bottom was the following text:

Wash your hands of CO2 pollution. The BMW Hydrogen 7 boasts a 12-cylinder engine with near-zero emissions., producing water vapor rather than harmful CO2. It's an idea so advanced, we're waiting for the rest of the world to catch up before we start production. Learn more about our clean future vision at

Seriously, are there really still people out there, particularly in the New Yorker readership, who still fall for the "Hydrogen is cheap and plentiful because it comes from water! And burning it only results in water!" argument? It's a little like saying "There is a trillion trillion dollars worth of molten gold near the center of the Earth! All you have to do is dig a hole deep enough to pump it out! Making hydrogen from water, much like mining gold from the puddle doubtlessly concentrated near the center of the earth, is hard work that takes a lot of energy. But after raising the hopes of the ignorant, BMW quickly dashes them with the line about how they're waiting for the world to catch up before they start production. From what I've read and seen (in such movies as Who Killed the Electric Car), there's a lot of catching up that has to happen first:
  • People have to get used to paying a million dollars for a car.
  • People have to get used to ranges of only a hundred miles in their cars.
  • People have to wait for the widespread installation of hydrogen-dispensing pumps at fuel stations.
Who Killed the Electric Car dramatically demonstrated that the myth of the imminence of the hydrogen car is deliberately maintained by the oil and automotive industry to keep the regulatory environment favorable to their existing paradigm. To keep it alive, we occasionally see ads like this reminding us that "clean burning hydrogen cars" are coming any day now. But they've been doing this for years, and the cars are no closer to production.
If BMW was really thinking outside the box, they'd be working on tiny cars that burn tiny amounts of widely-available fuels, as opposed to the unnecessary 12-cylinder have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too nonsense of the vaporware car in this ad. When I was in Scotland recently I rode comfortably in a four-door Toyota that gets 70 miles to the gallon burning conventional gasoline without using any sort of fancy hybrid technology. Why can't I buy that car in this country?

The project I've been working on, finishing the solar deck annex so it can receive the new hot water solar panel, has caused me to revisit the half of the annex that is finished so as to reacquaint myself with the measurements and compromises I had to make a little over a year ago when I was building it. This is valuable information, since my current project is to build a mirror image of the completed part of the annex.
Some things I wanted to measure are now inaccessible, so I was forced to approximate the measurements by looking at things from afar. If I know, for example, that a wooden structure is 9.25 inches wide and it looks as if a metal strap is stretching two thirds of the way across it, I can estimate that that part of the strap is about six and 85/512ths inches long. I can then go into the shop, look for another piece of the metal that strap was bent from, and bend it to make a strap closely approximating the mirror image of the one I observed from a distance.

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