Saturday, April 18, 2009

Life's Little Irritants: Food Labeling

I've been trying to count calories and cholesterol lately, and at times it get's really frustrating. It has to do with trying to look good without necessarily being so. Take an example on a can of Pam Organic Canola Oil Spray.

The label says 0g Fat, 0g Trans Fat, 0mg Cholesterol. Also 0 calories, and 0 calories from fat. Sounds good, right? Well then, look at the serving size: 1/5 second (spray time). Servings per container: 419. WHAT? Did anyone ever try to cook with 1/5 second of cooking spray? It looks like if you can list 0 for a value if the true value is less than 0.50 of a gram, and perhaps less than 0.5% of daily value. At the serving size specified, all the values are zero. The label certainly doesn't tell you anything. It is totally useless. From reading a label on a bottle of Canola Oil, Canola Oil contains about 14g of fat per tbsp., which is also 14g of product.

Doing a little math, it takes spraying about 10 seconds to get 1 tbsp of product by the spray. I probably don't spray 10 secs, but I do probably spray 2 secs. That would make a reasonable serving 2.8 g of fat.

Now why can't they just say that on the label?

Another example is content by deduction. An example, Total fat: 6g. Saturated fat: 2g. Of the 4 grams not specified, any idea how much is polyunsaturated fat and how much is monounsaturated fat? I haven't a clue!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Life's Little Irritants: Left Turn on Green Arrow Only

I am going to begin my "Life's Little Irritants" series with one of my least favorite signs, "Left Turn on Green Arrow Only". This is such a time waster. The government feels a need to protect us from ourselves. No one is allowed to think and make a decision on when it is safe to make a left turn.

I agree that there is value to protected left turn arrows. Some times the traffic is so heavy that without a left arrow, it would be a long wait for a break in traffic, and then only one or two cars could make the turn.

However, the 'Left Turn on Green Arrow Only' is carring the protection too far. For most times during the day, cars just sit, waiting for the green arrow for minutes at a time with no cars in sight in any direction. Such a waste of time.

I am tempted to make the turn anyway, ignoring the little sign, but I try to be a law abiding citizen. So I wait, and I get irritated, and I still wait.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Frustrations of Interstate Driving

I just returned from a lengthy, but brief, road trip. My wife and I drove 1700 miles spread out over only 3 days. 850 Dallas to Knoxville on Friday, and 850 Knoxville to Dallas on Sunday. On a good day with sunshine and light traffic, 850 miles is about my driving limit. On a bad day, with heavy traffic and heavy rain, it's just too far.

The Sunday trip was a fiasco of bad alternatives. About 6 hours of the 14 hour trip were in heavy rain. Visibility was down to about 200 yards, and the road between Memphis and Texarkana was loaded with traffic. Interstate 40 between Memphis and Little Rock is always heavy 18 wheeler traffic, and dealing with it in the rain is espescially stressful.

The alternatives are drive the speed limit and go with the flow, even in poor visibility; slow down and risk being run over or contributing to a traffic problem; or just get off the road or find another route. I chose go with the flow, even though the visibility was extremely poor, probably bad judgement and high risk. This brings me to the point of this post: Driving our interstate highways can be a high risk activity!

Here are some of the frustrations:

Speed Limits and Speed enforcement vary from state to state.

Different speed limits in different states are certainly understandable. Miles of open road I-90 in Montana or I-80 in Wyoming certainly justify higher speeds than I-95 in New England. What's more difficult to understand is the wide variations in enforcement. Why isn't a speed limit a speed limit? It's a guessing game to figure out what the magic number is. As a law abiding citizen, I drive at the speed limit on the open road. In some cases, this is more hazardous than going with the flow.

On the otherhand, I passed no less than 10 radar checks in Tennessee enroute between Knoxville and Memphis. The speed limit was generally 70, and much of the traffic was flowing at about 75. What speed was too much? Who knows?

There is way to much speed variations among vehicles on the road

No matter how fast you drive, someone will go faster. No matter how slow you go, someone will go slower. Extremes in either direction created hazardous and frustrating situations.

The dangers of average speed

In hilly or mountainous country, trucks especially seem to practice the concept of average speed. What this means is in a stretch of road with a speed limit of 65, you may find trucks slowing to 45 going uphill and accelerating to 85 going downhill. It is so frustrating to get behind trucks going uphill, trying to pass each other, with one going 45 mph and the other going 46. If you are able to get by this problem, you are promptly blown away by both of them going downhill at 80 a few minutes later.

The lower the speed limit, the greater the violations

As I said before, I usually drive the speed limit. Last summer, driving through West Texas where the speed limit was 75, I drove 75. Almost no one passed me, and I passed very few myself. It seems most people just don't want to go faster than about 75.

Friday, as I approached Knoxville, in East Tennessee, the speed limit steadily is reduced from 70, to 65, and then to 55 as you near the city. At 70, the ration of cars passing me to cars I was passing was about 50/50. At 65, it was probably about 60/40, and at 55, it was about 90/10. This is frustration at it's extreme. Why adopt a speed limit you have no intent to enforce?

Size Matters

Trucks are way bigger than cars, all cars. All cars lose when they hit trucks. But! as we trend toward smaller cars, the matter gets worse. My wife and I used to own a Mercedes SLK. This is a really small car. On several occasions we were nearly pushed off the road by an 18 Wheeler whose driver simply didn't see us.

Self imposed solutions

I can't fix this problem. Maybe, over time, our efforts to reduce our oil dependence and switch to alternative fuels will also bring changes to our transportation infrastructure which may address some of these problems. Meanwhile, I'm going to impose some changes on myself to try and lower both stress and risk when I travel.

As a retired citizen, time is not as important as it used to be. So, for starters, I am going to try and avoid the very busiest of the Interstate Highways, and enjoy more of the countryside. I get way better gas milage in my SUV at 60 than I do at 70 anyway, so slowing down and taking the less traveled byways may be both more scenic and less stressful.