Filling Your Tank for Just $2 Someday April 18, 2008January 5, 2017 But first . . . HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JUSTICE STEVENS Sunday, John Paul Stevens – a hero to liberals and progressives – turns 88. The implications of this overwhelm any frustration we may feel over the continuing primary contest. (Trust me, it will end; we will have a great nominee; the nominee who doesn’t win will strongly support the one who does.) Senator McCain is firmly on record hoping to see Roe v. Wade overturned and wanting to appoint conservative Justices. Please: give $25 or $50 – or $500 – in honor of Mr. Justice Stevens’ birthday so we have the resources to win . . . stanch the rightwing slide of the Judiciary . . . and give Justice Stevens the option to retire, if he ever wants to. We owe him! And now . . . CHECK OUT THE AIR CAR This eight-minute video showcases two prototype cars that run on compressed air, one from an inventor in Nice, another an inventor in Melbourne. I totally don’t get it, of course. (How can there be so much power in compressed air? Why is it so cheap to compress it? Doesn’t it lose oomph as you let it out to run the motor? What if you pumped the pressure too high and it burst? Why did I major in ‘Slavic Languages and Literatures’ instead of ‘science?’) One viewer noted that the air in compressed air is not fuel, it’s a battery. That much I get: Some other fuel, like coal, powers the generator that makes the electricity that powers the compressor that pressurizes the tank . . . which then stores that energy until it is released. [Suggestion: Why not start by getting all the world’s lawn mowers to run this way and work up from there? No one expects a quiet lawnmower.] SUPERCAPACITORS – AND WHAT ALL THIS MEANS TO YOUR OIL STOCKS Here‘s some more encouragement: supercapacitors will capture a great deal of currently wasted energy. Again, I understand virtually none of it, except to say that, now that the world seems finally to have focused its attention on the problem, we’ll have it largely solved in the next couple of decades. (Getting from here to there may not be pretty.) Yet I’d be surprised if oil ever became cheap again – it has too many uses. (Remember when the Shah said oil was too valuable to burn? ‘There are more important uses for oil than burning it to produce energy, for God’s sake!’ Remember when there was a Shah?) Yes, we will eventually wean ourselves off fossil fuels; but all the while, at least for the foreseeable future, we’ll be burning 80 million barrels of cheap-to-extract oil into the atmosphere (give or take) every day. So the supply will continue to diminish – by 80 million barrels a day! – and by the time we need it only to make Saran wrap, there may be just enough left. So the price may remain high even then. An (admittedly imperfect) analogy could be wood. Once our species’ only source of fuel, it keeps getting replaced by other materials – whether by coal (for heat) or plastic (for deck chairs) or pixels (for paper) – and yet keeps getting a little more expensive, outpacing inflation. AND SPEAKING OF TECH BREAKTHROUGHS Remember, for all our considerable problems, Ray Kurzweil’s prediction of technological progress over the next 50 years that will be 32 times as astonishing as over the previous 50. Imagine, a decade from now, memory so intense that an iPod can hold 3,500 feature-length movies. IBM seems to be racing along exactly that track. At around which time, I hope, a tiny Google chip could be injected in my arm, programmed to lodge just where it needs to in my brain. Who could lose a bar bet, or forget a phone number, ever again?