Thursday, June 23, 2011

Save Money by Driving Efficiently

How to save gas and improve mileage are questions that all of us are asking in these times of ever increasing price of petrol and petroleum fuels.  Taking it a step further would be to ask how we can actually benefit from the high price of fuel.  Here are some tips that I have learned from the best teacher in the world on how to maximize fuel efficiency - experience.  I owe a debt of gratitude too to my mentor in driving, Yellesh, who showed me how driving can be a life transforming exercise.

Drive Steady:  It is universally accepted that driving at a steady speed gives you the best mileage possible.  The logic is simple.  It takes more power to accelerate (hear the engine vroom?) than to maintain a steady speed.  Keep your pressure on the accelerator gentle and consistent.  Most car engines are designed to give optimum mileage at around 45-55 kmph.  This also helps me experience self discipline, self control and contentment.

Brake gently:  First, be present to the road.  If you see a junction with a light coming up, cut the engine off by moving to neutral, since the inertia of the car will keep it moving anyway.  If the light doesn’t turn red till you are really close, you can switch gears and add power to avoid getting too slow as you cross the signal.  A gentle brake in advance will allow you to cruise a distance at a slower speed, while a heavy brake at the last moment is an obvious waste of paid for momentum.  Second, be humble.  Most people need to use the brake frequently and heavily because they are trying to move fast.  Yellesh showed me repeatedly that the guy speeding past you doesn’t necessarily get there fast, especially in heavy city traffic.  The fuel he wastes is not worth the minutes he shaves off his drive.  Being humble means being okay with letting others get ahead of you and being patient enough to tolerate the few minutes delay.  Familiarize yourself with the speed limits and the traffic on your route as much as possible.  Don’t accelerate when you know you will have to slam the brake to slow down.

Plan ahead:  Consider the route you will be taking and the traffic on it at that time of the day.  Choose a fuel efficient route.  If there is a detour with less traffic and longer stretches without signals, you will not only save gas, but also time.  Driving in heavy traffic consumes significantly more fuel.  Stretches of straight, good roads with fewer speedbreakers and signals will allow you to stay at consistent RPMs for a longer time, saving fuel and enjoying your drive.  You will not have to deal with the stress and irritation of heavy traffic either, thereby leading to overall driver happiness.  Another aspect of planning ahead is the more immediate one that you can do while driving.  Stay slightly detached from traffic ahead of you.  Keeping a distance gives you room and time to drive strategically while freeing you from the need to be “with the herd’”  The principle of braking gently is easier to practice when you have enough room in front of you.

Switch off:  Learn to use inclines to your advantage.  I normally switch the engine off when downhill, but if you worry a lot, I would suggest shifting to neutral instead.  The same applies to traffic signals that are more than half a minute long.  Another tip is to turn off the air conditioning a good few minutes before you reach your destination.  The cooled interiors along with the blower will keep you cool for those few minutes and save you some fuel.

Window up:  Unless you are in very hot weather and not in a position to use air conditioning, drive with your windows up.  This gives better aerodynamics by reducing the drag caused by air turbulence from open windows.  It also cuts out noise and dust, and allows you to enjoy the meditative aspect of driving without those distractions.

Floss regularly:  Keep your tire pressure at the recommended level or just above it, and ensure that all your tires are at an uniform pressure.  Service your engine regularly, preferably every three to four months if you drive regularly, and certainly before every long road trip.  Unclutter your car of anything that you don’t need so that you are not burning up fuel ferrying unnecessary weight.

Fuel up smart:  First tip here, avoid premium petrol - premium fuels (branded “extra premium” petrol) cost more, and have not been proven to either increase mileage or engine life.  It does, however, do wonders for power and heart thumping acceleration, not to speak of the cost of overhauling exhausted engines.  None of these are good ideas in these times of rising prices.  The best time to fuel up is early morning (or the time when the ground is at its coolest) since fuel density is higher at colder temperatures, and our petrol pumps do not compensate for this.  For the same price, you get a lot less literage as the day heats up, and for hot climes that could mean all the way into the night.  A lot of people advise letting your tank come close to empty before refilling so that you are not carrying extra weight of the fuel around beyond necessary.  I have tried this, and disagree on a few counts.  Tending to drive close to empty can seriously let sludge into your engine.  Secondly, you risk running out on gas at critical times, especially dangerous on inclines, depending how your fuel tank outlet is positioned, since when you are rock bottoming and on an incline, the outlet might be above the fuel and get you into trouble.  After many debates and bad moments, I have come to conclude that in a hot climate like ours, the best idea is to refill when the tank is about half empty.  This balances the weight issue and compensates the vapor loss issue, which is based on the fact that the empty space in your tank is a trap for liquid petrol to vaporize.  Also, don’t fill up at a station when the pump’s storage tanks are being filled by oil tankers, as it will stir up the impurities in the tank and transfer them to yours.

Driving without driving:  Two brilliant moments from Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon sum up what this post is all about.  The first is, “Dont think, Feel.”  Get in touch with the process of driving, the act of being one of many cars out there on the road, each with its own purpose and urgency and discipline or lack of it, and the principles of nature that are there to assist you, such as inclines, pauses, foresight, etc., as you set forth on maximizing your benefit from, yes, rising gas prices.  Turn your drive into an exercise in self discovery and meditation.  The second is the concept of “fighting without fighting.”  The best way to benefit from rising gas prices is to not drive.  How does one get by without driving in today’s age?  That is for another post.  But on this one, consider driving less.  You can start by carpooling, not by looking for existing carpools but by announcing your own carpool.  As you begin giving to the world, the world will also give back to you.  Plan your trips ahead and let others know, even if it is a routine trip to the grocery store or taking the kids to the zoo.  You will be surprised at the response you get.  Another way of driving less is to combine trips.  We often end up making the same route two or three times when a little planning and foresight could have clubbed them all into one trip.

My top tip for maximizing fuel efficiency still remains not driving.  I promise to add the link here.  Do read it when I get down to posting it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Government pouts, Protestors die, as does Husain, and Teach Yourself Hip Hop

Baba Ramdev breaks fast (no pun intended) while Swami Nigamanand dies fasting, M.F. Husain dies in exile, and Debdoot Das releases his second Quick & Dirty Guide.

While the nation is held captive by name calling and pouting by senior statesmen clinging fast to their "elected representative" status, in the same hospital ICU where Baba Ramdev was, Swami Nigamanand, who had been fasting for 73 days (Ramdev broke his fast on the 9th day) over illegal mining and its effects on pollution in the river Ganges, passed away, with no difference made to the government, the media, or the illegal mining.  And here I am, thinking that the events of my personal life are ironic!  Click here to read an article by Surajit Dasgupta on the action against the movement.

Anna rocks on, in spite of being abused and vilified by people we have elected to power.  The civil society movement against corruption now has a hotline that will give you updates on the status of its struggle.  You can call 09212123212 for the latest.You can also visit the website of India Against Corruption to hook up with the movement in your city.  In the face of elected representatives dismissing the people's anger as a conspiracy by the Hindu right wing (which naturally makes the entire issue of corruption irrelevant) and a movement with the support of a few thousand, each one of us who throws our weight behind this team of "right"-thinking people will make a difference.  Click here to view contact persons in your city.

If you are interested in reading more about this issue, you may want to read my earlier post on this blog written after the police lathicharged and teargassed unarmed and sleeping protestors in the middle of the night.

M.F. Husain's life, almost out of a Thomas Mann novel, from his beginnings as a film billboard and sign painter to dictating his own million dollar price tags for his works, from his hand painted directions to the venue of his son's wedding to his serial muses in Madhuri Dixit, Tabu, Anoushka and Vidya Balan, from the endless fantastic tales of his bizarre habits and behavior to his love for fine food, is an artistic statement by itself.  Hounded by Hindu right wingers for violating their moral sensibilities, Husain spent the last years of his life as a citizen of Qatar.

The Irani tea shops of Mumbai, the Azad Hind dhabas of Kolkata, and conveyor belt eateries of London will continue to spin tales around his contributions to their establishments for years to come.  His death is a loss, not only for the world of art, but for the world of liberal thinking.  Read my humble tribute to this master who is now being grieved by his attackers as the Picasso of India, and whose last rites, according to them, should be performed in his motherland.

On to more uplifting developments.  Have you ever wondered what makes some men and women are more attractive than others?  Well, science has been trying to figure it out, and has spread its probing tentacles in every direction, statistical, symmetrical, body fat ratios, you name it, and they have sent their sniffer dogs that way way before you thought of it.  One of the confirmed findings is that certain dance moves do make a potential mate appear more attractive than others.  This explains the popularity of dance across cultures and time.

Salsa is one of the most popular contemporary dance forms the world over.  Debdoot Das, the brilliant young filmmaker from Kolkata, is also the maker of the world's hottest selling instructional DVDs on Salsa and, recently Hip Hop.  He is also one of my closest friends.  Read more about his Quick and Dirty Guides, as well as about our friendship.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Corruption - Where Might is Right

As I am writing this, Baba Ramdev has been evicted from Ramlila Maidan in Delhi where he was undertaking a fast in protest of government indifference to the issues of corruption that have been rocking the nation for the last few months.  While some compare the government action as reminiscent of the Emergency of 1975, others point to the fallacies and inconsistencies in the yoga guru's stance.  There are others who are busy digging up the dirt on either Baba and his camp or on the government and its motive behind this barbaric action. On a sadder note, politicians of every hue and allegiance are descending like birds of prey to capitalize on this development, many of whom have their peers in prison on charges ranging from murder to less heinous practices that sees tax payers' hard earned money being used to bail out an economy raped by greedy and self seeking power mongerers.

The principles of yoga demand right living.  A camp organized for yoga, according to the government of today, cannot be used for agitations or protests.  What our learned politicians fail to understand is that yoga itself is a statement against all that is out of balance in the system, both internally in our bodies and minds, and externally as a reflection of this internal reality.  What we see as society, social structure, going all the way up to governance and the principles of governance are but manifestations of innumerable intent nurtured in each individual.

Having been a long-time practitioner of hatha yoga as part of my study of the tantric sciences, there is little that Baba Ramdev says about yoga that I can disagree with.  However, I do find many of his views on other matters not only narrow minded, but even ridiculously immature.  When the Lokpal Bill movement of Anna Hazare caught the imagination of the nation, it was only to be expected that he would climb on to the bandwagon with his longstanding rant against the siphoning off of national wealth in the form of "black money."  In particular, I have strong reservations about his alleged links, if true, with the Hindu right wing.

None of this can detract from the fact that, in all his supposed naivete, what he is demanding of the government is something that every right thinking Indian is deeply desirous of.  I am not talking about trivialities like withdrawing high value currency notes or replacing English as a medium of education in institutions with the vernacular.  I am talking about the basic question of a nation's right to be governed by people who believe in right action, and who follow it up with right action.  If we cannot look up to the people who we are offered to choose from to elect to governance, if we cannot trust the members of police and law enforcement agencies to act upon principles instead of bribes and lust, if we cannot trust that the judiciary will be above temptation or personal motives, it is but natural that our mistrust will sooner or later express itself, and if not heeded, express itself in ways that will force it to be heeded.

It is the tragedy of our times that politicians choose to enter public life and governance not to help ameliorate the dismal conditions that the masses struggle to survive in, but in order to use their power and offices to feather their own nests, aware of the nature of their actions, and taking utmost care to ensure that any attempt to corner them is confounded by tortuous money trails and legal red tape.  It is equally tragic that the ones in charge of addressing these issues of corruption are repeatedly being revealed as its perpetrators rather than those we can trust to prevent it. The very concept of a dependable criminal justice system has been hijacked by corruption to a point where it is today a farce of a justice system that is controlled by criminals.

With the growing disenchantment with the system among the populace, it remains to be seen to what levels corruption and self seeking can go before it implodes upon itself.  As a believer in the infallibility of the law of simultaneity of cause and consequence, I am convinced that there is hope, in  spite of the uphill struggle that lies ahead.

If you liked this post, you may also want to read this original unabridged article by my father written for a leading Telugu daily.


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