When People Don’t Think: Terrace Heaters

heated terrace: Bogoviceva, ZagrebSeveral years ago, I was amazed (and quite repulsed) to read about a café in Paris which supposedly had an open terrace and kept it heated throughout winter, with tropical plants in pots and matching décor and guests. It sounded to me a bit like a golden toilet bowl, or a personal shopping assistant, or drag racing – roughly equally senseless. I was caught unprepared by the idea that it might appeal to people, but didn’t think much about it at the time.

In the short years since then and now, these heated terraces have stopped being a foreign curiosity and have instead become a frequent sight in the café-inundated parts of the city. Cafés, restaurants, fast food stands, pizzerias – they all have people sitting in jackets and scarves, sipping their tea and coffee, chatting away about one thing or another. Heated terraces have become so pervasive that there are café catalogues which list them as a category and tick it off for the cafés which have one. Some places promote them as their unique selling point: “[…] It also has an envied feature of a heated open air roof top terrace […] makes this bar unique amongst other bars in the area. With a wide selection of…” Then they go on about various kinds of fabulous drinks, the atmosphere, work hours, special programs and so on.

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Cars? Really? You can’t be serious.

Perhaps the most appropriate summary of modern transportation is “the car”. It is an invention only a century old, but it literally and fundamentally changed the way civilization works: this is equally true in the business, social and cultural context. Millions of people drive to work tens of kilometres from where they live, asphalt has in a sense become a criterion for measuring the reach of civilization (one can hardly talk of civilization in any place detached from the global road network), classes of cars have become status symbols and so on. The same way the Vespa liberated a generation of Italian youngsters during the ’50s, the car is seen today as a precondition of a free and comfortable life in the West. People in the rest of the world desire it, but it is still out of their economic reach.

The car has had its problems, too, and we will get to them in a moment, but it is important to notice that the global automotive industry is effectively addressing one issue and one issue only: electrification, the cause of the current hybrid and electric drive hype. What car makers are working on is increasing range and decreasing price of electric cars, mostly because people no longer feel as comfortable as they did burning petrol to move around and because people assume hybrid and electric vehicles do less damage to the environment.

Knowing that for every 100 litres of fuel burned about 2 litres are spent on actually transporting the driver from point A to point B (details below), one has to be grateful that a major efficiency problem is being looked into. However, there are two issues with the effort. Continue reading “Cars? Really? You can’t be serious.”

Plane travel? Not a very good idea.

Nightmare TakeoffThere are two questions people usually think about when it comes to air travel: can I free my schedule for the trip and how much is the ticket? The reason this happens is because these are the only two criteria directly impacting the person in question. However, there are a few other….

A British physicist called David MacKay was frustrated by the amount of hand waving and vague assertions of “huge amounts of this” and “gigantic amounts of that” which people frequently mention when discussing energy use. He decided to put an end to it so he prepared a framework for people to intelligibly discuss the issues: it comes in form of a brilliant book called Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air. The reason the book is brilliant is its basic idea which is to list key energy sources and uses, provide simple models to get rough estimates and in doing so, allow people to get a feel for where we are in terms of energy use and what it means to be sustainable. One of the chapters of the book has something to say about air travel considerations other than time and money.

Continue reading “Plane travel? Not a very good idea.”