Sunday, September 7, 2008

So good it Hertz

You know, on some things, America gets it right. Like driving, for instance. A solid majority of countries drive on the right side of the road, and so do we. The UK screwed it up for the rest of the world, though... nearly every country where they had any influence -- and that's a lot of places -- tends to drive on the left.

But on many, many things, like electricity, technology, conservation, and a couple of recent presidential elections, we just get it wrong, wrong, wrong.

The vast majority of countries use 220v electricity, but for whatever reason, we don't (except for things like stoves and dryers and such). We use 110v, and not only that, the cycles per second (Hertz) varies, too. We're at 60Hz, and most countries using 220v are at 50Hz, so for some things, simply regulating the voltage won't do. I'm no electrician, so most of this stuff sails over my head, but the end result is that just because you have a voltage converter to change the 220v to 110v, the frequency difference can still render some devices inoperable. Most of the things I brought over to Malaysia with me (which drives on the left and uses 220v/50Hz) are dual-voltage and modulate both the voltage and frequency automatically. Laptop computer power supply, iPod wall charger, shaver, etc. -- all dual-voltage. However, my little bookshelf stereo that I brought is 120v only, so I use the voltage converter with it, so I was happy that it worked properly despite the difference in cycles. I guess you can't call it a "stereo" though, since one of the speakers was in the doomed suitcase and summarily reduced to rubble in the Southwest baggage fiasco. So buying a new pair of speakers here is on my list of things to do.

Bored yet? All this talk of voltage and Hertz is pretty dry stuff.

What else do they get right here that we don't? Look at this:

Their money not only has a different color for each denomination, it's sized according to value as well. Same with their coins (5, 10, 20, and 50) -- the larger the coin, the higher the value.

Some things here I've found baffling. In a grocery store, for instance, you take all your produce to a checker in the produce department who weighs it and puts a UPC sticker on it. This is different, but probably wise, as it speeds up the checkout process when you leave the store. They do the same at the seafood and meat counters, too.

Probably my favorite thing in Asia is the mini-split air-conditioning systems. Why these are not mass-produced in America is beyond me. They're much more efficient and quiet than window A/C units, and less wasteful than central A/C. The concept is basically a smaller scale version of central A/C. The slim, remote-controlled air handling unit is mounted inside, typically over a window or door. A small (2-3") hole is bored through the wall for the ducting hose, and the small suitcase-sized compressor unit is mounted outside. It's brilliant. They're also quite inexpensive here -- a typical unit capable of cooling a medium-sized room, runs well under $200. Fancier units with more cooling capacity are between $300-400.

Finally, the toilets here have two buttons on the top of the tank for flushing. One for solid waste, one for liquid. Now, this just makes a lot of sense... and it begs the question, why don't we have these in the US? Again, they're available there, but have never been mass-produced so they're very expensive, of course. For years, all we churned out were toilets that used about six gallons of water per flush. Why? I can only surmise we take some sort of decadent, misguided pride in our ability to waste resources or something. Cars here have small fuel-efficient engines... sure, they can only go about 110 mph for their top speed, and they're not going to win any acceleration drag races, but the average commuter doesn't really need a 300 Hp three-liter V6 with a 170-mph top speed. I've been driven around here in perfectly fine cars that are nicely appointed, have airbags, etc., and tiny little gerbil-powered engines, and they get 40-50 mpg. We drive inefficient cars, flush inefficient toilets (or at least we did until the new crop of water-saving toilets hit the market), and use wildly inefficient air conditioners.

Not sure if there's a point to all this rambling... just observing some differences and wondering why America doesn't try to be less wasteful.

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