Sunday, 26 February 2012

Electric cars are the future

Electric cars are the future, there's no doubt in my mind this is the case, but one thing is for sure, at the moment, and that is the fact that we're by far going up the wrong road in the promotion and implementation of making electric cars have widespread appeal. The green side of the argument is obvious, they are clean, pollution free, quiet, have no carbon emissions, although of course, much of the carbon footprint of an electric car is probably also down to how the actual powering electricity was generated, for example, coal-fired power station, or from wind or solar power. I would say though, that compared to a normal petrol or diesel car, an electric car was miles ahead in the environmentally friendly path.

The cost of owning an electric car is substantially more than a petrol or diesel equivalent, even though the running costs are less. There are grants and schemes available to make the purchase, or lease, slightly less costly, but the main trouble with electric cars is not only the cost, but the fact that mostly they are made as an equivalent, or purported to be so, to existing mass produced models by the mainstream car manufacturers. This in effect means that an electric car in the UK has to go through the strict safety rules and regulations applicable to a standard car, and of course, this is expensive for manufacturers.

Now I am not advocating for a minute that electric cars should be made without safety in mind, but, for example, in the US at the moment, many States promote Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEV), which because of their speed restrictions, are limited to certain roads - they are usually built to have a top speed of 30 miles per hour, and are under a certain weight. As the usual maximum speed limit in a UK city or town is 30mph, and electric cars are in their element in an urban environment, then these types of Neighborhood Electric Vehicles would be ideal, I would think, in the UK. Without having to adhere to the normal and stringent safety rules and regulations as a standard car, I'm sure this type of electric car would be a far more economical proposition to both makers and buyers.

The G-Wiz by GoinGreen is currently the most popular and best selling electric car in the UK, but even the G-Wiz, basically a covered golf buggy, has a price tag of from £10,950 inc vat. The flip side compensations though of cheap running costs, free road tax and low insurance premiums (and free of congestion charge in London), may help to ease the purchase strain but even then, at that purchase price, are they not taking the green driver for a ride? In the USA, the most popular electric car is the GEM, from Global Electric Motorcars. Prices for a Gem e2 start from $7,629 (£4,805 at today's exchange rate). If an equivalent to the Gem was built in the UK, the retail price, it seems to me, would be far lower than the present cost of a G-Wiz. A price war from competing electric car manufacturers may not be a bad thing.

What the electric car needs is a champion, someone akin to a Branson, though with an interest in building and promoting and overseeing the widespread take up of the electric car, especially in the UK. Technology is one thing, and will always improve as time marches on, batteries will get better, last longer, charge quicker, but waiting for improvements to technology is not an option that should be taken. I'm pretty sure a respectable entrepreneur, with some financial backing, could have a halfway decent and sensibly priced electric car, for widespread sale in the UK marketplace, ready in a matter of months rather than years, and I would think this could be done and be profitably sold for around half the price of an existing model, though probably only if some of the more stringent rules and regulations regarding the manufacture and production were relaxed for lower speed vehicles. What of the existing car manufacturers and their plight if electric cars are taken up en masse? Well, that is up to them to adapt to the market, most already have equivalent electric cars for sale, they should not find it so hard to adjust to a march of new green consumers in the car market looking for cheap and easy transport options. If they take the Luddite approach they will fade and die, they have to embrace new technology and new consumers just as every other responsible business should.

I hope to see that interested entrepreneur start production soon. Electric cars are not complicated at basics, four wheels on a platform with some seats, a battery pack, and a motor. In the present day climate of change, the sooner we start to embrace the electric car the better, but not many will have the money or the will to pay the price of driving a green car at the moment. This will change, it would be good to see the change happen before it is forced on us.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Rabid Mad-Dogs Attack Alex Salmond & Scottish Independence Drive

The joint mad-dog attack with negativity everything about independence by the Tory-Lib-Lab pact is proving as effective a campaign as a turkey vote for Christmas. Despite what Westminster United tries to portray, the Scottish people are intelligent sensible-thinking people, once they see the true figures, see the real choice before them, and gauge what future is best for their families and the country they live and work in, a yes vote is a certainty, in my mind. I'm sure over the months ahead, as more and more positive information regarding independence comes to light, and more anti-myths are dispelled, the people of Scotland will vote with their hearts, vote with their brains, and just as importantly, vote for their country.

As an example of the mad-dog attack, The democratically elected First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, has been compared to, Slobodan Milosevic, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mugabe, Kim Jong Il, Caligula, Ceausescu, Genghis Khan, and Nero, to mention a few. It would be laughable if it wasn't so sad, and in case you find this situation as ridiculous as I do, click here, for more details. I suppose, if nothing else, Alex Salmond must have a good sense of humour, and in reality, he may not be Saint Alex, but his party, the SNP, with him at the top have done some pretty remarkable stuff since the advent of devolution. I was asked by a good friend the other day, "What have the SNP done for us?" Once I put the 'Life of Brian' line of "What have the Romans ever done for us?" out of my mind, I rhymed off a few lines. Then I thought of a few more, then I began to think, I should make a list there are so many things the SNP has done for us.

I'm not going to make a numbered list, the point of this rambling of mine is not to promote the SNP (blatantly, at least), you're as capable as me as doing a quick internet search, or just click some of the links below to discover some details. The main point of this rant, if you like, is the viciousness and negativity in which the unionist parties at Westminster have gotten together, held hands, and despite their own, so called, political differences, rounded on the First Minister of Scotland like a pack of blood thirsty hounds ripping a small furry creature to bits. First, I wonder at the vitriol of it, then I wonder at the reason for it, and then I begin to understand it. They are running scared, and backed into a corner, they have decided to join forces and attack, for they see attack, not sensible debate, as the best form of defence.

Apart from verbal assaults on the First Minister of Scotland, we hear nonsense about post-independence border controls and patrols, passports required to move from Scotland to England and back. We hear how Scotland will never survive on it's own, we'll be a poverty ridden third world country harking back to the good old days of the UK, and that is probably after the raft of military invasions we have to endure - from whom, I haven't a clue, because we will be no longer be armed to the teeth with fast jets, trident nukes, and warehouses full of cruise missiles. Then there's the economic propaganda, few reserves of oil left, we'll scare away foreign investment, get kicked out the EU, be refused to use the Sterling currency, I could go on and on, but already I feel ridiculous even bringing some of this stuff up, never mind the fact that it is so called intelligent people and politicians that are spouting this fear-mongering vomit in the first place.
"Ever since the independence referendum was announced, Scotland has witnessed an outpouring of bile, negativity, scare mongering and bitterness from the anti-independence parties." Paul T Kavanagh has written an excellent and far more in-depth and detailed list of scare stories, myths and misinformation here, a must read for every sensible Scot, and anyone with an interest in Scotland.

So, why are they doing it? Why libel, slander, and malign a democratically elected First Minister, and why debase the Scottish independence referendum debate with such tales of woe and fear and uncertainty? Why try to infer the fact that the people of Scotland are incapable of running and organising their own affairs in a sensible and intelligent way? Well, Meja couldn't state it more clearly than me when she sings, "It's All About the Money". I'm in ignorance as to why the Swedish songstress wrote this song, but the lyrics are, to me, quite apt, in regards to the attacks emanating from Westminster. In the halls of the UK seat of Government, they forget all about austerity, that word only applies to the plebs outside London. Where the money is, they have dictionaries that don't include words like, austerity, equality, fairness, democracy. Someone though, in that Empire class, has borrowed a book that has those words, and passed it around, and the panic is setting in, for a long established way of life may be coming to an end rather more sharply, and shortly, than they may have imagined, if they did ever contemplate it ending at all. Once Scotland goes, the English shires will want some of this new democracy for themselves, and that will mean London having to cut up the pie a little more, and offer to the north and west and the south-west of England more than the few crumbs from the table they are only ever given. Without Scotland to blame as the subsidy-junkies over the border bleeding them all dry, the English outside of London will see where the wealth of England is really going, to the elite, to the greedy, to the corrupt. Meanwhile, back up in Scotland, in a few years time, we'll hopefully be happy celebrating Independence Day, perhaps in a brief moment, wondering how the equality debate is progressing down south.

I could post pages of links, but stopped after the few below, they should be enough for anyone seeking a little more information about Scotland and some of the issues regarding the independence debate. If you just want to hear something nice for a change, go straight to the Meja link (I have no idea whatsoever if Meja has an opinion of Scottish independence, or this article, I just like the song, and the lyrics!).

Meja - All about the money (lyrics)

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Why Scotland? Panda's Explain.

        "Tian Tian wanted somewhere nice to bring up the cubs," said Yang Guang, grabbing another shoot of bamboo and having a quick nibble.
        "It's true,' said Tian Tian, 'we looked at a few places throughout the world, we didn't want the usual candidates like California, too warm, didn't want an island like the Seychelles or somewhere in the Caribbean, we had an idea of the kind of place we preferred, made a list, and narrowed it down till Scotland became the number one choice. In reality the only choice, the people are so warm and friendly, we knew we would be assured a great welcome, plus there is so much happening in Scotland right now, not just socially, but politically, and geographically. Scotland is heading for a bright new future. What better place to bring up a family?'
       Yang Guang crossed his legs and winked cheekily. 'Y'know, during the Edinburgh festival we can get out and about without the paparazzi clicking cameras around us constantly. There are so many people in costume, that we can walk along and no one bats an eye. The general public, and everyone else for that matter, think we're just here for the events, that perhaps we are part of a show, so it gives us a chance to get around and get to know the people a bit, and it's a joy to be able to have a few drinks in a bar without being harassed. No one even suspected that we had secretly been here on vacation at the Festival last August. If Rosie and Douglas, from Largs, are reading this, ta for the drinks, and keeping the secret.'
        'Of course the spotlight is on us now,' Tian Tian nodded. 'We know everyone likes to see a young couple in love settle down and begin a family, but it is hard to get a bit of privacy sometimes. I'm a bit shy, and Yang Guang, although he likes to show me a great deal of affection, isn't an exhibitionist, so we do like to cuddle up together, but not necessarily in front of the world's media.'
        'I like tartan, and pipe bands,' said Yang Guang. 'But Scotland has so much more than that.'
        'It's the scenery I love,' said Tian Tian, 'when the hills are misted over not long after dawn, it can remind me of the mountains back home.'
        'The football's great, so exciting, though I won't give away what team I follow,' smiled Yang Guang enigmatically, 'though I will say it is not St Mirren, despite our colours. And though not a great fan, I was also a bit disappointed about the rugby score last week.'
        'I do love the enclosure we've got here. I must say, and very green too. Yang Guang and I admire the way that Scotland is leading the world in the promotion and implementation of renewable technology...'
        'Yeah,' interrupted Yang Guang, 'green is the way to go, and the people of Scotland are such creators and innovators.'
        'Scotland has such a lot to offer,' enthused Tian Tian. 'No one cares about the success of Scotland more than the people of Scotland, and everyone that lives here.'
        'We're so glad to have come here, and live here, and independence is the best choice for our future.'
        'Yeah, we're voting yes,' stated Tian Tian, and took the paw of Yang Guang. 'We want our kids to have a bright future.'

        Edinburgh Zoo:    Visit the Pandas
        View the Pandas: PandaCam

Friday, 3 February 2012

2.5 million times One Laptop Per Child (the OLPC Project)

"What children lack is not capability, it is opportunity and resources... Put this ultra-low-cost, powerful, rugged, low-power, ecological laptop in their hands and contribute to making a better world." (source)

I first became aware of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project a year or two after news of its inception back in 2005. Take a rich and persuasive philanthropist, Nicholas Negroponte, a great idea, the shrinking cost of technology, and a novel concept, then get a raft of top technology companies interested in assisting, and that is the OLPC Project. Companies such as, AMD, eBay, Google, Red Hat, Quanta Computers, and others, originally helped fund the venture. The main thrust of the project was to create a $100 laptop which could be given to kids, especially of poorer countries, and countries lacking a modern communications infrastructure, in order for them to have before them, access to the internet, and all the tools of learning and knowledge that entails. No doubt about it, a noble cause.

The idea is that governments buy up the laptops for their schools, and with substantial orders, the cost is kept low. The laptops are given to school kids, one laptop per child, and the child has this for the length of their education. The laptops have wireless broadband and can work as an ad-hoc network, one machine can talk to another, so even without full internet access, each computer is still part of a local network.

The technology behind each machine is thoroughly modern and innovative, especially in regard to screen design and power and charging systems. Although to someone in the rich west, used to the latest hi-tech mind-blowingly fast computer processors and memory, the OLPC machine may seem a bit behind, even obsolete and retro, in fact, it is the cutting edge of technology. It is designed to be used in extreme heat, or cold, resistant to weather of all sorts, drop proof, sunlight readable, and folds flat, screen up, for eBook mode. It also has a built-in video camera, no cooling fan, and no mechanical hard drive, rather it uses solid state flash memory. The full specs can be found here.

"With access to this type of tool, children are engaged in their own education, and learn, share, and create together. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future." (source)

Although, to date, they have never got the actual cost of the $100 dollar laptop down to that price, over the years, since the first production models were made, they have now shipped in excess of 2.5 million of the devices, to a host of different countries of the world. That is one hell of an achievement. That is two and a half million kids with the knowledge of the world at their fingertips. These children now have the potential to become some of the highly educated scientists and engineers the world will need in times to come. Who knows, the next Einstein could be typing away at their OLPC machine as you read this.

Of course, technology never stands still, and during the course of the development of the OLPC, improvements have been made along the way. From the original XO-1 series, came the XO-1.5, the XO-1.75, and now the tablet version, the XO-3 is on the way. As good ideas go, the OLPC project is among the finest, and as the project expands and develops and more and more children have access to the world of knowledge via this machine, the future of the world can only look a little bit brighter to even the most pessimistic among us.

"No one can predict the world our children will inherit. The best preparation for children is to develop the passion for learning and the ability to learn how to learn." (source)

It is too easy to be depressed about the doom and gloom happenings we hear everyday in the news about what is going on all over the world. There are bright moments though, gleaming sparks of hope that the future may be a little better than we dare to believe it can be. Education of the next generation has got to be the best way forward if we want to believe we can create a world where bright young people, with new thinking and ideas, can shape the future, and make it better and fairer for all. I have followed the OLPC project for a while, and it is good to note it seems to be going from strength to strength. Long may it continue.

Have a look at my article on eBook readers for schools