Michael Mechanic

Michael Mechanic

Senior Editor

Michael landed at MoJo after six years as an award-winning features editor at the alt-weekly East Bay Express. He's written for numerous publications, including The Industry Standard, the Los Angeles Times, and Wired. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife, two kids, four chickens, striped cat, and way too many musical instruments to master.

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Michael landed at MoJo after six years as an award-winning feature editor at the alt-weekly East Bay Express. He's written for numerous publications, including The Industry Standard, the Los Angeles Times, and Wired. He set out to be a scientist, and as an undergrad spent a year in an organic chemistry lab at UC-Berkeley, where he was a biochemistry major, trying to synthesize natural poisons found in the skin of certain tropical frogs. He later earned a masters degree in cellular and developmental biology from Harvard University and a second masters in journalism from UC-Berkeley. In 2009, he was a finalist for a National Magazine Award for public service, as one of five writers in MoJo's "Torture Hits Home" package. The father of two mostly charming kids and an only occasionally charming striped cat named Phelps, Michael lives in Oakland, California, where, after years of classical piano and raucous punk-rock drumming (and putting out more than a dozen CDs on his former DIY label, Bad Monkey Records), he has retired to old-time and traditional music, guitar finger-picking, and more recently fiddle and mandolin. He has four chickens—Lucia, Podge, Cat, and Weed Whacker—but what he really covets is a hedgehog.

Happy 2008! Your Prius' Fuel Efficiency Just Dropped 16%

| Thu Jan. 24, 2008 12:00 PM PST

2007prius.jpeg

Old-school Detroit must be smiling just a bit right now. After decades of providing unrealistic fuel-efficiency estimates—those big numbers touted in magazine ads and printed in large fonts on the vehicle-details stickers in new car lots—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has finally modified its method for calculating average miles per gallon, and the most fuel-efficient cars on the road have taken the biggest hit. Then again, they have a lot farther to fall.

The new method, which applies to all 2008 models and beyond, still doesn't quite reflect actual driving conditions, but unlike the old numbers, which basically reflected your mileage in heaven (or, if you prefer, in an idealized lab setting), the new ones take into account things like acceleration, winter driving, air conditioner use, and realistic speeds (ever tried doing 55 in a 55 zone on a moderate-traffic day? It's a recipe for abuse). Alas, the new formula appears to favor the gas guzzlers. Combined mileage for a 2007 Toyota Prius (automatic, 4 cylinder, 1.5 L engine) is down 16 percent under the new formula, to 46 mpg. The '07 Honda Civic Hybrid is also down 16 percent, to 42 mpg.

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Artist Drives Mass Consumption Home

| Tue Jan. 8, 2008 4:31 PM PST

handguns.jpg

A picture is worth 1,000 words. Chris Jordan's photo illustrations are worth 200,000 cigarette packs, 170,000 disposable batteries, eight million toothpicks, two million plastic beverage bottles, and 426,000 discarded cell phones. (Not that you can tell from the tiny reproduction, but the image accompanying this item contains 29,569 handguns.) In his humbling exhibit titled "Running the Numbers, An American Self-Portrait" the accomplished Seattle-based artist uses these subjects and others to depict our consumer culture's troubling stats. The smoke-packs illustrate the number of Americans that die every six months from smoking-related illnesses; the batteries represent fifteen minutes worth of Energizer's product output; the toothpicks show the number of trees harvested annually to create mail-order catalogs. You get the picture. So rather than blather on for another thousand words about these fascinating images, perhaps I'd better just send you to look at them.

Clean Up the Coal Plants, Then Clean Out the Fridge

| Wed Nov. 28, 2007 5:38 PM PST

pacoalpowerplant.jpg

While the filthy coal industry touts its far-off "clean coal" technology to help keep federal subsidies flowing, perhaps there's a simpler solution to the emissions and toxins these plants belch. A Texas company called Skyonic has developed a process it claims can reduce smokestack carbon by up to 90 percent by transforming the C02 into solid NaHCO3, better known by the brand name Arm & Hammer. Hey, baking soda from coal waste! Great idea, especially if—as the company claims—the stuff comes out food-grade clean. (Even so, I think I'll just use mine to eliminate fridge odors.)

The process, which is now being tested on a pilot scale in Texas, is driven by heat from the waste gases. It involves an input of sodium hydroxide (lye), which is produced on-site, and produces as byproducts hydrogen and chlorine gases, which could be sold at a profit along with the baking soda, the company says.

Skyonic CEO Joe David Jones told ZDNET, where you can read more on this, that his company's "SkyMine" technology also eliminates 97 percent of the heavy metals and most of the acids and nitrogen compounds, which would eliminate the need for pricey smokestack scrubbers. The company is working on a full-scale system it hopes to install in 2009 that would, it says, absorb the waste output of a large (500MW) plant—which includes about 338,000 tons of carbon annually.

Sounds almost too good to be true; pie-in-the-SkyMine, you might say. Still, if it pans out, there'll be plenty of baking soda for that pie, and one less reason to hate the coal industry. 'Course, there is a little matter of blowing the tops off mountains. ...

Clean Up the Coal Plants, Then Clean Out the Fridge

| Wed Nov. 28, 2007 4:46 PM PST

pacoalpowerplant.jpg

While the filthy coal industry touts its far-off "clean coal" technology to help keep federal subsidies flowing, perhaps there's a simpler solution to the emissions and toxins these plants belch. A Texas company called Skyonic has developed a process it claims can reduce smokestack carbon by up to 90 percent by transforming the C02 into solid NaHCO3, better known by the brand name Arm & Hammer. Hey, baking soda from coal waste! Great idea, especially if—as the company claims—the stuff comes out food-grade clean. (Even so, I think I'll just use mine to eliminate fridge odors.)

The process, which is now being tested on a pilot scale in Texas, is driven by heat from the waste gases. It involves an input of sodium hydroxide (lye), which is produced on-site, and produces as byproducts hydrogen and chlorine gases, which could be sold at a profit along with the baking soda, the company says.

Skyonic CEO Joe David Jones told ZDNET, where you can read more on this, that his company's "SkyMine" technology also eliminates 97 percent of the heavy metals and most of the acids and nitrogen compounds, which would eliminate the need for pricey smokestack scrubbers. The company is working on a full-scale system it hopes to install in 2009 that would, it says, absorb the waste output of a large (500MW) plant—which includes about 338,000 tons of carbon annually.

Sounds almost too good to be true; pie-in-the-SkyMine, you might say. Still, if it pans out, there'll be plenty of baking soda for that pie, and one less reason to hate the coal industry. 'Course, there is a little matter of blowing the tops off mountains. ...

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