It’s All Gone Dark

Driving back South today we saw something quite cool; although I think the residents of Northamptonshire wouldn’t agree with me.

Creeping down the M1, the weather was foul: lashing rain and high winds. All of a sudden, there was a very bright flash over to my right and all the lights (including the motorway ones) for miles around went out. Obviously a power-line had been pulled down and taken out the power supply for the entire area. There were a couple of smaller flashes shortly after, presumably as the power lines were swept around in the wind.

What impressed me was the fact that within 5 minutes, the lights were back on. Obviously too soon for someone to have come out and fixed it, but somehow things had be re-routed and all was hunky-dory again.

Didn’t know the National Grid could be reconfigured just like that. Even when driving, I’m learning new stuff.

For God’s Sake Slow Down!

Related to yesterday’s driving-related post, here’s another. I’ve discovered the best way to get people to slow down on motorways and it involves the combination of two things I saw on the M1 the other day.

We were driving along and the overhead gantry signs started flashing “40”. Obviously everyone just ignored that and continued down the M1 at 70mph+. Business as usual then.

A few miles later though (once the signs had stopped flashing), I noticed an advertising hoarding in a farmer’s field advertising some church-related thing. Unfortunately I only managed to read the headline before attention was needed elsewhere.

It did give me an idea though: how about combining the bible message with the modern motorway technology? Imagine coming round a bend and being faced with a flashing sign which simply read:

Prepare to Meet Your God

I’m sure that would slow down a lot of people if they thought death was imminent.

Road Markings

If you do any distance driving up and down the country’s motorways, then you’ll know about the “keep apart two chevrons” markings that are being painted on the roads these days.

M1 Chevrons

(Picture taken from the City Transport web site)

When driving along, these look reasonably small and square, but it’s actually an optical illusion. We stopped alongside some of these markings on the A34 northbound last week. What you don’t appreciate at 70mph is the fact that they’re actually over 7ft long and very much longer than they are wide.

Have a look next time you’re driving over them – they certainly don’t look that big.

Stopping For a Cup of Tea

I’m constantly amazed by modern cars. Take for example, the brakes on my Honda Accord. It’s not a performance saloon, yet every time you bring it to rest the brakes have to work incredibly hard to stop it without catching fire. It’s amazing the brakes last so long.

Some numbers: when empty the car weighs about 1575kg. When we’re driving any distance, you can add to that the following:

  • a full tank of diesel (about 45kg in itself)
  • me
  • Katrina
  • Lucy and her car seat
  • luggage

In total, I think this will be around 1850kg. Now here comes the science bit: concentrate! 70mph is 31.3m/s, which means to stop the car requires the removal of around 882kJ of energy. Obviously some of that will disappear with drag and engine braking, but we’ll ignore that for now.

So in the case of an emergency where you can’t just let the engine do a lot of the braking for you, this means that in the time it takes to stop (just a handful of seconds), the brakes need to get rid of enough energy to boil 2.34 litres of water. Even taking a lot of air resistance into account, that’s enough water to make 5 or 6 cups of tea.

My Exploding Money

I’ve been driving around quite a bit more than normal in the past few months: mostly the usual commute to work as well as visiting family in the North East. We’re up in Sunderland just once more before Christmas, so I can look forward to spending a bit less on fuel. What I hadn’t appreciated was exactly how much diesel I have been using recently.

A quick pre-amble to the figures below: every time I buy fuel, I fill the tank. I need diesel and it’s painful buying the stuff so why make it any more frequent than need be? I also write down the odometer reading and the amount of fuel used: this lets me keep track of fuel economy, which is a handy way of keeping an eye on how the car is running as a whole. I use Microsoft Money to keep track of the finances, which means I can lookup any transaction I’ve ever made since starting to use the program. That all sounds quite anal, but it’s my little world and I’m not harming anyone, so there.

I filled up on 4th June with the odometer reading 48,121 miles. I filled up again on the 9th and 19th June, then on the 7th, 14th, 19th, and 29th July. Next fill-up was 4th August, then a huge break until another tank was needed on 24th, and again on the 30th. I filled up again yesterday, with the odometer reading 52,677.

A total of 4556 miles in just 99 days (that’s just over 14 weeks). If I kept on driving at that rate, that’s an annual average of 16,800 miles: perhaps not huge by a sales rep standards, but still pretty high for someone who works at home at least 2 days a week.

What is distressing is how much fuel those 4500 miles had required: a shade over 500 litres (110 gallons). Painfully putting all of that into money equates to £650, and that doesn’t include the £60-worth that I hosed in yesterday: the vast majority of which is still in the tank. Ouch.

On the plus side, I have a very nice 54-plate Honda Accord which makes the driving quite pleasurable, even for long journeys. And yet, for such a big, comfortable saloon I consistently get 41mpg which I certainly can’t complain about. I wouldn’t gain a great deal of economy if I bought a small eco-hatch and then we would struggle to get all the baby stuff in when it came to the long northerly trips.

Another bonus is the wonderful i-CDTi diesel engine manages to kick out just 140g/km of CO2, which means I still get into the (relatively) cheap road tax band C. That’s “just” £120 per year at the minute, with the cost actually falling to £110 per year in 2009. Result.

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