Maintenance vs. Disposable Culture

Last shots of RX7 before selling.Like some of you, I grew up in what I call a maintenance culture. We took care of what we had because it wasn’t disposable, because we appreciated it, and because we wanted it to last longer. You still find it here and there when you open the hood of a vehicle and see a neatly dressed engine, or when you see a shiny pair of boots. There’s a quiet dignity, though, to the closed engine hood with a clean engine underneath. Most sane people don’t open their hoods to show off. They do it because they feel it needs to be done and they feel better knowing it is done.

I mention all of this because I was chatting with a lawyer not long ago and I summarized some of what we see as a difference between the maintenance culture we grew up in as and the Disposable Culture that now exists.

Cars? Disposable. Shoes? Disposable. Glasses? Disposable. Utensils? Disposable. Computers? Disposable. Telephones? Disposable every time someone comes out with a new phone – status symbols. Everything has been so disposable for so long.

That’s changing, maybe, but not by much, and not for the same reasons.

Reviewed by Bird, Headed for LandfillEntire generations have gone without getting the deposits back on glass bottles – they just threw the plastic bottles away, as if tossing them in a bag or a bin would make them disappear from the Universe. Unfortunately for all of us, the Universe has different priorities and destroying plastic bottles is not one of them – all but the most ignorant see that now.

The same holds true of computers, whose boards house all form of nasty things that don’t belong in a water table.

Some people have recycled for years, sometimes more to claim some moral high ground instead of the Grand Purpose of Giving The Universe a Break.

And still, the Maintenance culture is not returning. It exists still – we still might marvel at the cars in Cuba, maintained with parts made in Cuba, as needed. Or in other parts of the world where simple things such as water still remain a commodity. We take care of things, as a society, until they are items that we cherish.

No one cherishes an old Chromebook. The Chromebook I’m tapping this out on was probably purchased in 2013, and is as unfashionable as last year’s iPhone. Yet it works, even with the recent misadventures of being dropped and stepped on by the author.

But how did this all come to be, anyway? How did we go from not buying new things when the old ones worked just fine, when we maintained things – how did we go from there to  throwing phones away every year?

Cheaper manufacturing is a key to this – we produce a lot more a lot faster, which means that we have more to sell – and marketers build on an odd human instinct to want to have some form of elevated status by having the newest things. Some might say that this is so that they can attract sexual partners, that it has an evolutionary benefit, but having seen some of the children growing up now I’m not certain there is an actual evolutionary benefit to attracting sexual partners so that a new generation of children like some I’ve seen becomes predominant. If you have well behaved children that value people more than things, I encourage you to continue having them if only to even the odds.

What I’m getting at is that a maintenance culture leads to a maintenance society. A disposable culture leads to a disposable society.

We’re definitely disposable these days, it seems.

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Traffic Sucks: litres per 100 km.

TrafficLately I’ve been driving between San Fernando and Port of Spain, a 52.3 km haul by Google Maps. Going North, I avoid the traffic, and going South, I typically do.

Yesterday, I didn’t.

We all know that traffic sucks. We all know we waste fuel in it. And sometimes there are legitimate reasons for it – but yesterday evening there was no reason. People were simply driving slow for no apparent reason.

I’d just fueled my new vehicle before I headed down South. It keeps an average of litres per 100 km, a somewhat wonky measurement, but it’s interesting to watch with my driving habits. Having now filled up 3 times, and having reset the trip meter a few times, I know that the vehicle starts off at an optimistic 15+ litres per 100 km. After the last 2 tanks, I know that with my driving habits, I typically see at the end of the tank about 10.4-11 litres per 100 km – not bad, really.

Yesterday evening, in traffic, I watched that gauge dive to 12.7 litres per 100 km.

People were driving slow in the overtaking lanes. The speed limit is 100 km/hr, they were doing as fast as 80 km/hr – for no apparent reason – and then the frequent stops.

Why?

Possibly a combination of aggressive and timid drivers:

“…The scientists, whose research appears in a special edition of the scientific journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, found that timid drivers had the biggest impact because they “shied away” when the car in front started slowing down, and deliberately started driving even more slowly to increase the gap between them.

This then led to cars further behind going more slowly.

Aggressive drivers also caused speed to drop because they braked hard at the last moment to avoid driving into the car in front. They then had to drive more slowly to open up a space again…”

So, all people have to do is keep moving at the same pace. All people have to do is get out of the overtaking lane when not overtaking, and if in that lane not drive 20 km/hr below the speed limit.

Higher fuel prices affect everyone. Traffic affects everyone. Until we all have electric cars, this all directly pollutes (yes, electric indirectly pollutes).

Traffic doesn’t have to form for no reason. And if you think you’re not part of the problem, that doesn’t mean you aren’t. Too much space of too little space between vehicles is exactly why these traffic jams start.

Retrofitting Cars: Electric.

83 RX7-GSL
One of my old RX7s – a 1983 Mazda RX7 GSL, which at the time was stock. (2012)

We all know that cars pollute, even if we don’t like to think about it when we hit that accelerator.

We also know that new cars generally pollute less – sometimes, even down to zero emissions.

What no one talks about is how many older cars are out there that will continue polluting, largely because of socio-economics. I’m pretty sure given the opportunity, everyone would buy a Tesla at this point, but could they afford it? In making the Tesla brand necessarily exclusive to gain traction, it also put it out of reach of the people who own possibly the worst polluting cars on the planet. They’re working on that, I’m sure.

As far back as I can remember, I have been passionate about cars. I never had a car profile picture, but there’s a part of me that loves staring under a hood at what makes it all work.

And I always have loved getting more and more out of any machine. Even when I worked at Honeywell, I’d play with the gum machine and get almost double out of it for my 25 cents. Why? Because it was a challenge, and because it was a machine.

And what I always wanted to do was improve on the RX7 by adding an electric motor to it – something that was already done with a newer model.

And then there’s the Teslonda – a 1981 Honda Accord retrofitted with a Tesla motor, with a Raspberry Pi in the mix whose acceleration gives supercars pause.

It’s clear we have the technology to deal with the socioeconomic gap.

My Old Plan

Anirudh 'Joseph' Rampersad
Joseph Rampersad, founder of Rampersad’s General Electrical

I had a plan at one point. The family business was rewinding electrical motors, established in 1936 by my paternal grandfather in Trinidad and Tobago. I’d even reached out to Tesla when they were first starting to see about becoming a distributor and/or repair center for the Caribbean and Latin America.  They weren’t interested in the market at the time, and I was considering a project to get something off the ground. After all, local taxi drivers might prefer charging their battery to go 300 miles on a small island to make their runs back and forth.

In Trinidad and Tobago, that’s roughly 18 runs back and forth between San Fernando and Port of Spain. On one charge.

Instead, they use diesel for a variety of reasons – and should you be behind one, you’ll see them coughing black, some more than others.

Sadly, because of what I could only classify as myopia of those who had control of the family business. They closed it down after a 73 year run, bankrupting it and selling off things.

There were other challenges, of course – such as how to license the vehicles, creating a standard charging interface, and getting a hold of good battery tech that is light and efficient but can generate sufficient power.

It just didn’t happen. I’m just not in a position to do it myself, anymore. Yet it’s not a bad idea at all for someone else to explore, a reason why I’m publishing this now.

We Have The Technology.

Around the world, we could implement this sort of thing instead of waiting for billionaires to do it for us. It’s not as hard as it used to be thanks to advances in technology, and there’s no shortage of cars to work on – the lighter, the better.

So, why isn’t it being done? I know I’m not the only one with such ideas – in fact, that’s how I know now that this crazy idea I had decades ago is a good idea now, because others have been doing it.

It’s time to start retrofitting some cars with electric motors – and then let everything else get sorted out.

It can be done.

People are already doing it.

And if you’re curious about resources, I can – with enough interest – follow up on this with more articles from my research over the years.