November 2009

The following email came from Tom in January 2015, who is also a fan of driving responsibly.... please spread the word to your teenage drivers! 

I'm working on a community project to help spread awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. I was checking out your page here... are you open to suggestions for new or additional resources to add to this page?

This resource educates the public and supports legislation and new technological solutions for driving responsibly. A great explanation of the program can be found here:

I think it would be really helpful to spread the word about this and other programs to build safer communities. I really appreciate you taking the time to create and maintain your wonderful site. Keep up the great work!

A while back Nancy Friedrich (Editor of Microwaves and RF Magazine) suggested I write something about what the microwave industry could do better. So what do we do that causes the most grief to mankind?

Certainly, RF emissions by cell phones are the cause of quite a lot of misconceptions about whether cell phones cause cancer. Any time an "RF guy" takes a stand on this and says it's all baloney, he risks coming off like an Exxon executive telling you carbon isn't causing global warming. But there's plenty of biological data that support the conclusion that we are blameless, at least in this case.

There are plenty of other causes for concern, like all of the precious, poisonous and heavy metals and rare earth elements that go into wireless gadgets that end up in the dump. In time this will get better, as lead is no longer used in solder except by Uncle Sam, and silicon is replacing gallium arsenide for many commercial RFICs, and we will just plain run out of a lot of the rarest materials. Lithium doesn't exactly grow on trees. But the precious metal content in personal electronics pales in comparison to what is contained in a hybrid vehicle. A Prius contains 25 lbs. of rare earth elements, which may soon start a new trade war, because, like oil, rare earth elements are not distributed "equitably" among the world's nations. Most people can't find lanthanum or neodymium on a periodic chart, but Prius owners own 33 and 2.2 lbs. each, and almost all of it came from China. Northwest Territories is about to see some pristine wilderness ripped apart to keep the electronics industry going.

Thor Lake Avalon Mine

Toyota has a "roadmap" for ramping up imports of hybrid vehicles to the US from 100,000 per year now, to 1,000,000. Here's a prediction: they won't get there (or even close), there just isn't enough of the required materials at their disposal. Don't get me wrong, the Prius is a masterpiece of engineering, which no doubt frightened many engineers in Detroit. But someone has to point out when the Emperor is buck naked, and the vision that we will all drive electric cars in the future to save the environment is flawed. There is no answer to compact energy storage yet identified that makes sense. The answers to how to burn less gas are simple: use public transportation more and drive less, and drive smaller, slower cars. Stop taking your kids to monster truck shows, so their tiny brains won't be imprinted the wrong way, like yours might already be.

Certainly, the US electronics industry could make a better effort capturing our waste stream and recycling materials that will soon permanently be in short supply.

Speaking of sending stuff to the dump, there's a considerable waste stream generated at most conferences by suppliers handing out free gifts. The microwave industry is no exception, and there's several suppliers that are notorious for handing out stuff with blinking LEDs, powered by disposable batteries, which contain mercury. Whenever I am offered something like this I ask if the supplier is willing to eat the mercury in the batteries so that they won't end up in a fish I plan to eat. They look at me like I'm crazy. The idea that my preference for selecting a microwave part could be swayed by a shiny, blinking toy is ridiculous, but more disturbing is the notion that it must be working on some people or this practice would stop. So how about when you go to a conference, don't collect all of this crap, just ignore it. Trust me, your kids don't want any of it, so don't use this as an excuse to indulge yourself in the twisted fantasy that you are so special you deserve many cheap and stupid gifts whenever you go to a conference.

Something else we could do better: reduce the number of cell phone tower worker's accidental deaths to zero. In April 2008, six workers fell to their deaths in five weeks. Sure, we need to get that 3G networks launched so that everyone can enjoy miniature porn on their cell phones, but maybe we could slow down a bit and do some real training. A local tower worker died at the age of 22 last year and with no insurance payout from his employer, a Craigslist ad for a church garage sale benefiting the family was how I came to learn about this accident. Maybe the industry could be a little more generous when they accidentally kill an employee.

Deaths due to cell phone usage in cars increases every year, it was 5800 in 2008, up from 2600 in 2004, and a disparate number of the victims are in their 20s.

There's more things the industry could do better, I'll save the rest for another day, except for the one topic that is the title of this page...

We could do a much better job warning people not to use cell phones (or other wireless stuff) while they drive. If the tobacco industry can put the Surgeon General's warning on all of their products, we can do the same. And we can start here on this page, with a couple of examples to illustrate what can happen if you lose control of your car because you need to "stay connected".

Tucson driving incident

I have had some personal experience with an collision due to using a cell phone by a close relative whom I shall refer to as "Pumkin". Notice I didn't say "accident", that is a feel-good word used by insurance companies so that you don't think they are blaming you when they jack your rates for a poor driving record, a gross misuse of the American language. Pumkin was driving while chatting on the cell phone and cruised through a red light. Her car (which is owned by me) was T-boned. Fortunately, by a coin toss, the SUV that had right-of-way hit the passenger side, not the driver side. If it came from the other direction this episode could have a much worse ending.

Don't be stupid

A nine year old car with this type of damage is "totaled" according to any insurance company. This is for two reasons, new parts are not available, and the cost of repair using an approved shop would exceed the car's value. But is the car really that damaged? The engine and drivetrain were not touched, and nether air bag was deployed. The Prizm is of historical significance as it was once a joint venture between General Motors and Toyota, assembled at the NUMMI plant in California (now closed), before GM went ape$%^& for SUVs and then went bankrupt as a result. That drivetrain that was untouched in the accident came from a crate from Japan originally, so there's still plenty of life left at 140,000 miles. And then again, here's a chance to prevent 2,400 lbs. of metal from entering the waste stream, getting crushed and sent to Korea to become flat screen televisions. Hrrrmmm.

Here's the bruise you receive when you run a red light and get T-boned by an SUV. At least this is proof that Pumkin was wearing her seat belt!

You can tell she eats a lot of burritos...

It only took a search of three or four junk yards to locate a donor car. Here's the B-post clipped off, with the doors removed.

Here's the rear door, the front door is around here someplace... all this "new" metal can be had for about $500. Quite probably the donor car was soon headed for the crusher, good salvage yards always need room for younger wrecks, of which there is never a shortage.

So, who's gonna do the repair? Enter Luis. Luis is a great guy, but there we do have a language barrier. We agree to a price by writing figures on the dust of the windshield. He will do the job for three $250 payments.

Another cold winter day in the desert

Here's the car as the bent metal is being removed. Be careful not to damage the interior, like Pepsi did!

To make a two-week-long story short, here it is, all painted. Luis is a true artist, if I had more time on my hands I would bring him many more cars to put back together. My new Corolla can be seen in the background, the ultimate cheapskate car of the decade, as the Prizm was in its day.

If you look close, the paint doesn't quite match. This was intentional, to remind the foolish cell phone user of the consequences of her actions.

Back to Luis... each time I paid the $250 increment, he kept trying to tell me "check no good!" I kept saying, sure , my check's good, no worries! On the third payment I figured out why he trying to tell me. He was using a check cashing service, which charged something like $50 to cash each check, so he wanted cash, check no good! I increased his final payment by $100 and felt like a jerk. Maybe someday we won't have parasites ripping hard working people off for cashing checks, but I won't hold my breath.

Luis' work did not include fixing any wiring. He cut a good many wires in installing the door frame, so the air bag light was when I picked up the car. After fixing the wires (ducking down in case I fired off one of the bags), I found out that the seat belt retractor (hidden in the bottom of the B-pillar) is a single use unit which must be replaced. It fires a charge to freeze the gears during a side hit (see the yellow cartridge below). If you were wearing this belt in a collision, you might have to cut it to exit the vehicle... good luck if your car is on fire and your arm is broken! No big deal, another trip to Luis' shop to find the donor car's retractor and everything is just fine.

One last lesson here. Who do you think is driving this car with its two-tone paint, me or Pumkin? Well, Pumkin wouldn't be caught dead in such a wreck, and I don't really care what I drive so long as the A/C and radio both work (XM radio in this case!), so we worked out a deal and she now has my new car. If you have a daughter, you will understand this lesson. The "totaled" car now has 165,000 miles and it is working just fine. I had to drop some more dough on an A/C compressor last summer, but I probably won't trade this vehicle until it turns 200,000 miles sometime in 2011. (Update!  I did sell this car in 2014.  It had over 199,000 miles on it, excellent A/C and a new clutch.  The buyer drove it away, and as far as I know, might still be driving it today - UE). Let me know if you're interested in a well maintained used car at that time. The car is "car-fax-clean", as the insurance company never saw the "before pictures." And I know where you can get it painted any color you want, cheaply, but cash only. I might throw in a free wheel alignment, if I get around to it one of these days.

Disque Tebe driving incident

Now we shall shift to another collision with a much worse ending. These images have made the rounds in an email that warn not to use a cell phone while driving. The implication is that the victim was texting a friend and hit a semi, head-on. The text on the tow truck indicates that the wreck happened in Brazil. Perhaps some of our South American friends can fill us in on the back story. Click the images to zoom in.


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