Technobabble

Formul(an(archaic)) argument

Well, to start off, I must confess that I have lost the high levels on interest I had in F1 about 2-3 years ago. The reason behind this lack of enthusiasm to follow races was the guilt that struck me about the amount of fuel that is pumped to move those machines. While I have always adored the engineering that goes behind running them at about 300 kmph, the fact that fuel prices in India are increasing way beyond the range that a common man can afford plagued me from getting into the sport.

During the course of a casual discussion with my sister, I was provoked to finding out the details so that I can dispel/root my perception of the sport and its impact on the ongoing fuel crisis.

Outlined below is a summary of my findings.

Petrol consumption in India – 

Volume of one oil barrel = 42 US Gallons
1 US gallon = 3.78 L
Crude oil consumption in India per day = 3500 k barrels [ Source: Energy Information Administration]

Percentage of oil from a barrel that becomes gasoline = 45% approx

Petrol consumption per day in India =
42*3.78*3500*1000*0.45 = 250047 kL per day

Petrol consumed in F1 –
Consumption by one team in one season = 200kL [As per the official F1 site]
Number of teams in F1 = 11
Total fuel consumption by all teams in one season = 2200 kL

Comparison
Case 1 – F1 v/s India
Petrol consumed in one F1 season = Petrol consumption per day in India / 113
Petrol consumed in one F1 season = Petrol consumed by the whole of India in 32 min

Case 2 – F1 v/s a Boeing 747 aircraft – assuming that the same quality of fuel is used [frivolous, but anyway!]
Fuel consumption of 747 = Average of 19L per mile = 12L per km [From the Boeing site]
Distance that can be travelled by a Boeing 747 using 2200kL of petrol = 2200kL/12L = 183334 km
Air Distance from Bangalore to London = 10500 km approx [basic googling will get you this info]

Petrol consumed in one F1 season = Petrol consumed by a Boeing 747 aircraft to make about 9 round trips from Bangalore to London.

Those are interesting figures. At the end of this exercise, I don’t know if I should be happy that the fuel consumed in F1 is not as high as I thought it to be [kudos to those engineers!], or if I should be disturbed by the fact that we are fast depleting the fossil fuels which have formed over the last 600 million years!

PS – I hope I got my math right!

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Confusemerism

CONSUMER– An often ignored term which refers to one of the principle elements that drive any economy. A more refined and respected word is ‘Client’ which many MNCs and businesses use, as it has a classier feel. All of us are consumers or ‘clients’ to some business or the other in our daily lives. Right from the very paste that is used to brush teeth to the electricity, water supply, transport services, food, apartment etc: all are services that are offered to us by some particular entity/organization that is proficient in the respective field. Service providers and clients are like yin and yang. Each cannot exist without the other. In such a setup, ideally, neither should be allowed to take an upper hand. Practically, it seldom turns out to be true. Consumers are usually at the receiving end.

Let me quote some examples from different sectors to demonstrate this.

1. Consider a simple sauce sachet that is available at literally every retail store. The purpose of this is to carry it along and use it with ease while on a trip.

Ideal scenario: Cut open the sachet; spread ketchup on your sandwich and enjoy your ‘meal’.

Practical scenario: Attempt to open the sachet. Irregular, unintentional cuts made; leading to vulgar disorientation of sauce across the plate and hands; attracting vicious scorns from bystanders.

Root Cause: Vertical perforations made on the sachet instead of horizontal perforations; which force the innocent consumer into opening the sachet length-wise; thereby leading to a mishap.

Result: Consumer makes a fool of himself!

Solution: Perforate the sachet width-wise.

2. The same analogy can be extended to biscuit packets that are in stores. Leading FMCG giants Brittania and Sunfeast usually have a plastic lining/mould, wrapped with plastics to ‘protect’ their biscuits. The intention is to be appreciated. But the result doesn’t quite turn out to be good. Once again, the perforations made are such that the packet opens up to a side that is exactly opposite to the open end of the biscuits!

Solution: Swap the directions of the alignment of the plastic lining.

3. Most of us can’t do without music. It is unethical to be listening to your favourite song in a public place; and God bless the invention called the earphone. There are a whole set of products ranging from about 150-500INR, including the neckphone, Bluetooth headset and the likes. Let me target the in-ear headphones that are quite popular amongst the long travelling consumers. “Sony is one of the pioneers in technology with a plethora of products in every domain in the electronics industry.” I openly challenge this statement. From my experience and knowledge, barring the audio output devices and cameras, Sony products fall way below the line when it comes to quality. Oh! I forgot the Blu-Ray disc! Sony deserves some applause for the popularity of the BluRay. There are some movies which deserve to be seen on High Definition video and Kudos to Sony and gang for making it a reality. Be it the immortal pirate Jack Sparrow immortalized by Jonny Depp or the masterpiece ‘The Dark Knight’ [I just can’t stop talking about this movie at every given opportunity, can I?]; BluRay makes each frame bigger and better every second!

So much for the digression. Let me get back to the point. Sony, supposedly the world’s leading electronics manufacturer, makes sub standard earphones whose electrical junctions giveaway at even a small pressure. And it is 200INR flushed down the drain. The shelf life of a Sony earphone is about 3-6 months with decent usage. The Nokia earphones keep popping out of my ear at the slightest movement. Even if they manage to stay on, the never-ending wire length goes all around the place making me look like a line-follower robot! Adding to the agony are the stupid headphone jacks that are unique to every model and every manufacturer. For example, my Nokia phone has a jack that is not compatible with the standard earphones available. Why do we need a “standard” 3.5mm headphone jack then?

Solution: Have a community for Audio/Video devices manufacturers. Prepare a dossier and use only 3.5mm jacks in all AV devices. Have a retractable wire like the ones used in measuring tape so that only the required length is used.

4. Coming to another essential aspect of life – Healthcare. India is one of the most economical countries in healthcare on the global scenario. India also boasts of the maximum hypertensive and diabetic citizens in Asia! While pricing of medicines is to cater to the masses, packaging is also equally important. People who are most hit are the senior citizens. These strips seem to be engineered to take the maximum possible load that may practically be non-viable! It pains me to see my grandmother struggle to pluck out a tablet from an impenetrable, indestructible strip of medicine. There are atleast 5 different tablets that need to be taken every day and this exercise is a daunting event of its own.

Solution: Check the feasibility and have a plastic bottle instead.

The consumer has been impoverished in today’s world.These are only a few examples and I’m sure each one of us will have many more to add to this list. There is an adage which says that the simplest things are often the hardest to do. We owe our service providers for making us understand and assimilate this saying. Consumer courts are only for those who are victims of sale of sub-standard products. I do not know the category the above mentioned products come under.

Why complicate things so much that the very purpose of using that product is defeated? Am I being too obsessively compulsive about the quality I expect from different service providers? OR are they taking us consumers for granted? The fact happens to be that most of us aren’t even bothered about this simple stuff that is integral in our lives. We take anything that is thrown at us and go with the fad. I agree that there is immense competition in most sectors, but is there enough innovation happening? Awareness will take time. Till then, I will bide my time waiting for the day when customer truly is the king!

The Energy Enigma-2

This is in continuation to my previous post on energy conservation. In this post I will be concentrating on conservation of fossil fuels and their alternatives that the automobile industry can work on..

Let me start off with the point I made earlier. The present day supplies from the existing oil sources shall last only for 40 more years. At this rate, and the present dependence by us on the vehicles that use them, there is a dire need to get to the alternate sources. The current petrol and diesel engines operate at a maximum of 35% efficiency. This technology has attained a saturation and very little can be done about the Internal combustion engines. In this scenario, the best we can do, at the ground reality to conserve fuel are—

1. Car pooling – many a time, I have seen single people travelling in huge cars like Innova, Civic etc. What a colossal waste of precious fuel..! People going to the same workplace from nearby localities can take turns and drive their vehicles to work. Or companies themselves can run cab-like systems even for people at the higher managerial cadre.

Today there are many technological parks which house many IT and Finance companies. Instead of having separate Cabs for every company in the same complex, the total transportation can be outsourced to an agency. Now, consider a hypothetical situation for example, say at ITPL: Infy, Wipro, Siemens, Oracle and GE have set up offices. All the transportation concerning the employees of all these companies can be given to a single agency. That way, you’re not having separate vehicles, and saving a lot on fuel. I see some buses with “Global Village Technology Park” on them, good if they are actually doing this..!

2. Public transport – this topic was largely discussed in my previous posts’ comments. Any city can keep its commuters happy only it has an efficient and affordable transport system. From my experience, I can say that an ideal scenario would be buses with high frequency like in Chennai, the quality of the buses being like those in Bangalore, and the autos with fares like in Bangalore. This is obviously an ideal scenario, but transport organizations can work towards this. The BMTC in Bangalore is doing fairly a good job with its services, and is THE largest profit making transport org in India. The much hyped metro rail can ease the load off the buses to a great extent. But I sincerely feel it can be much more successful if intra-city train networks are built underground. So much of space is saved above the ground, that can be used for widening or for construction of flyovers. And talking of flyovers, many of the flyovers today are broad enough to barely give the space they take on ground..! So what’s the point.??! We need better planning. The transport and civil organizations must work in tandem to achieve this. The constructions are outsourced to private companies, which is a good move, as pvt orgs will be result and deadline oriented.

3. Control of vehicle inflow: there was a mention of this on my previous post’s comments. I endorse this view partially. Let me try to put this ‘partial’ part more clearly.

On one side, there is Nano [Tata], which is a path-breaking innovation, on the other there are big luxury cars which many people lust after. Let me take the former first. True, the technology and its pricing are revolutionary. No one actually thought that a car can be sold at 1 lakh Rupees, and Tata has made it possible. The common man’s car is almost here. Tata and the likes can make fantastic business. Everyone has a car. Everyone is happy. Great..! But think of the consequences. There can be two- three Nanos in a single house. This means each person in the family can have a car at his disposal. The car per family ratio will go up from 1 to 2 or even 3..! this is not a good sign considering the current choking scenario on the roads. For people in Bangalore, do you think it is possible to go shopping/roaming peacefully, on a bike to Avenue road or SP road?? [leave alone a Nano or a Maruthi 800..!] so think of the time spent travelling if the vehicle inflow becomes thrice..

Instead, Tata and the likes can take contracts from individual city transport corporations, and can manufacture large capacity cars/vans that can seat atleast 5-6 people, and price it at a competitive price [say 3-4 lakhs per vehicle] That way, there is an alternate means for transport other than the usual buses, autos or even the metro. This can be a comfortable means to some extent and with higher frequency than the buses. The maintenance of these vehicles can be outsourced. And the smooth running can be made possible by having a centralized control unit for the city. A GPS system can be integrated with the mobile service providers that can intimate the passengers when the next vehicle will be coming to their stop. This last measure may increase the overall cost of this operation, but that can be looked into. Monthly/annual passes can be issued to regular commuters [derived from the bus model]

Now, regarding the latter case, the luxury cars [petrol/diesel], people can still buy them, but they cant be driven in cities..for practical reasons which both you and me know. They can be kept purely for the driving comfort and experience of long drives. This is for the driving enthusiasts.

4. In the future, there can be “super-colonies” [I am coining this term, please let me know if this has some other meaning]. That is, a huge land area can be taken by the builders to develop industry on one side, and residential and commercial facilities separately on the other side. The feasibility of the industry should be looked into obviously. I remember seeing in one of the episodes of “extreme engineering” where a 100 floor residential cum commercial locality was proposed for the future. The programme showed all the practicalities and the means to combat accidents/natural disasters and terror attacks. Such a complex is THE thing of the future.

Now for the alternates part

1. Hybrid cars – cars are nowadays made with engines that switch between battery supply and petrol. This way, the mileage attained is atleast 3-4 times higher. The batteries that these run on are environment friendly [non-lead acid batteries].

Recently the Honda Civic Hybrid with Integrated Motor Assist was introduced in India. Its price? A whopping 22 lakh..! but the base price is about 12-13 lakh. This near 100% import duty must be waived off for hybrid cars. Or even better, a concession must be given to such cars. Hybrids have a tremendous potential in the future market, say ten years hence. These can be used for the pleasurable long drive an enthusiast may need.

2. Biofuels – these are derived from decayed organic matter, currently used for powering homes or cooking. Engineering stalwarts like BMW, Honda can do some R&D in this field to tap this for automobiles.

3. Other technologies like solar cars, hydrogen fuel, or the water fuel cell cars have a long way to go before they can be tapped for daily consumption.

To sum up, the faster we find alternates, the better for us. We need to keep in mind that on one fine morning, there is not going to be a drop of petrol left..! the best we can do is to delay that day as far as possible… and all of us have to put in concerted efforts in that direction..

The Energy Enigma-1

The two major crises [ie. other than the economy] ailing the world today are the food crisis and the energy crisis. There is a serious shortage of food among the producers/exporting countries and as usual there is and will always be a shortage of energy. I am not touching topic of the volatile present day economics. In this post I want to talk about the ever increasing energy needs and the ways we can conserve energy, or even better, find alternate sources.

We are incessantly depending on energy to fuel our basic needs in our day-to-day lives. The majority of the energy demand is for either electricity or fossil fuels. Let me show some fancy stats to reiterate my point. The global electricity consumption in 2005 was 16,830,000,000 MWHr approximately. And the present day oil reserves are to be present only for the next 40 years before they go dry. Mind you, this situation is going to be very much in our lifetimes. [Hopefully..! assuming the mortality rate doesn’t increase all of a sudden!]

One thing is for sure, the consumption is only bound to increase by the day. So what can be done about this?

1. We can conserve whatever little is left and prolong the period of the fossil fuels running out/avoid wastage of electricity or

2. Find alternate sources.

There are basically 3 different conventional sources of electricity-

1. Hydro-electric power: as we all know, this is generated by water injected at high pressure that drives turbines which are coupled to generators. The high pressure is achieved by storing water in dams/reservoirs. This is the most popular means of power generation. There are many hydel projects that are very successful, Itaipu dam, that’s located between Brazil and Paraguay is a good e.g,.

2. Thermal power: this is generated by BURNING coal. I just can’t digest this fact. The heat energy thus produced is used to heat water, thereby producing steam to drive turbines. Thermal power stations are becoming unpopular as the wastage is pretty high.

3. Nuclear power: the concept is similar to thermal power except that nuclear fuel is used to heat water instead of coal. Nuclear power is supposedly ‘clean fuel’. Lots of precautions have to be taken to ensure there is no leakage of radiation. [remember Chernobyl??]

There’s the ‘Why’ and ‘What’. Now let’s go to the ‘HOW’…

Energy Conservation—

1. Charity begins at home they say. Aptly said. Firstly, we must put off all equipments when not in use. [at home or work]. A monitor or TV on standby mode uses 50% of its rated power.. its not just about your electricity bills, its about how much energy all of us can save together. The amount of electricity wasted by one of us in a week or so maybe enough to power someone’s house for at least a day. And that shouldn’t be denied. Because, it all comes at a price.

2. Energy efficient equipments should be used; Lighting at homes, or high power equipments in industries.

3. Buildings should be built keeping energy conservation in mind. That is minimizing the use of artificial lighting and air conditioners; and incorporating rain water harvesting etc.

4. And lastly, urban farming can also be adopted. This is a technology newly followed in Japan [ I don’t know much about this] using this, the environment where the farm is situated can be kept cool, thus minimizing the usage of electricity.

The above mentioned 3 sources of energy are not renewable. So there is a dire need to find alternate sources. There are already popular methods –

1. Solar energy: there should be many more solar fields set up like the one in Spain. Here arrays of mirrors are aligned with the sun to reflect and concentrate sunlight on to the top of a tower. There is a differential gradient and the mirrors align with the sun throughout the day. There are a set of pipes that circulate water in and out of the point of concentration. Thus the heated water is converted to steam and used to produce electricity. A very small land area is used to set up these arrays of mirrors. The investment is one time and the returns are high. The electricity thus generated is enough to power an entire city..! For more info on this please watch ‘planet mechanics-solar paella’ or ‘megastructures-man made sun’ episodes. This is ideal for tropical countries which receive ample sunlight that can be tapped.

2. Wind energy: there is a lot of scope for wind turbines to be set up in many countries. Denmark satisfies 33% of its energy need from wind sources. This is the largest in the world. An international commission can be set up to identify specific areas where this can be incorporated. The installation and operation can be given on a contract basis or outsourced.

3. Tidal and geothermal energy are yet to be tapped commercially and need a lot of technical development.

Other than these, more and more companies should be given carbon credits, so that they are encouraged to reduce pollutants.

I shall talk about the alternate sources for fossil fuels in the next post…