Category Archives: Science

Coolest Thing I saw last week: Volkswagen Electronic Concept Car

This car was cruising through the UK on the M1 as I was being driven down to the airport, getting lots of looks from passers by. Me and my sister did a couple of what we thought might be crafty manouevres (I know I have spelt that wrong) in order to get a better a look at it but obviously the driver had seen all of that shit before.

The XL1, nor any of its predecessor designs, ever went into mass production – this was one of 250 which was first shipped to its owner in June 2014. It’s pretty nifty for an electric car, though it’s not strictly electric – it has a hybrid engine. More info can be found at your friendly local wikipedia article….

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The Ain’t Broke Test

The ‘Ain’t Broke’ Test

More and more news in tech seems to be lacking in innovation, or even reasoning. As more and more headlines fail the ‘ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ test, does this signal the end of our tech bubble?

Earlier this evening (afternoon in the U.S. I imagine), it was announced that Apple are releasing a new device, the iPad Mini, just in time for Christmas. This is a device which will rival the Nexus, from Google, and the Kindle Fire (I’m still unsure about that name) from Amazon. It enters into a semi crowded field, in that if you have an iPhone, iPad and main apple computing device of some sort (desktop or laptop), why on earth you are going to need or want one of these is beyond me. It seems to be an exercise in conspicuous superfluousness, which is an idea that is occurring to me more and more frequently reading tech news these days. The ultimate question is, with technology seemingly tilting towards proliferation and away from innovation, is the tech bubble about to burst?

Austin Carr at Fast Company wrote a great article about the floundering of Hipstamatic, an app that initially tapped in to the ‘photo-oldify-share’ spiel that has made Instagram such a success, but lost out to the aforementioned app because, well, they seemed to have gotten lost with where to take the app further to distinguish it from it’s competitors. Similarly, there was news this week that Color, an app that does the same thing with video (which hasn’t been released yet) has been snapped up by Apple for a ludicrous amount. It seems to be a cutthroat time to be an app developer now; if you’ve got a good idea, prepare for a hostile takeover. Rumour has it Color was bought not because of the potential of the app as a sharing tool, to be bolted on to the next iPhone to emulate the success of Instagram, but for some patents that Color possessed. It seems a bit much to me to buy a hair salon because you intensely covet the shampoo (forgive the metaphor) but there’s something about this rumour which is leading me down the path of thinking this end is nigh.

We’ve had Le Credit Crunch in the financial markets and it looks like we are now heading towards Le IP Crunch in technology.

Mark Piesing in the Guardian reports on some electronics metamaterial business coming out the Oxford University’s ISIS unit, which, if implemented successfully, could radically improve the recyclability of electronic components. If you didn’t know, much of the worst waste produced around the world comes from the production and crappy disposal of electronic devices, so as well as being made by children without pay (yeah we have ‘internships’ over here too, Foxconn!) or in sweatshop conditions, you’re scumming up the Earth too – I’ll let your conscience sit on that for a mo. So, why don’t we have this innovation already?

Mark Stevens, one of the senior scientists connected to the project, mentions two companies in the report – Microsoft and Samsung. The former were directly approached regarding this technology to put it in their new tablet and didn’t bite. Samsung are mentioned indirectly as a company with the power to push this science experiment through the barriers and into consumer electronics. Unless Samsung have called Dr Stevens since, they don’t seem to be biting either. Innovations that are worth developing are being left out to dry by companies who don’t want to take a chance on them, while incremental developments (or stuff that’s fine as it is, like Instagram) or items with their IP already sorted (like Color) are having money thrown at them. Thus we return to the mini iPad, a good example of duplication, not innovation, on the part of technology. In Le Financial Crunch, business who need the money aren’t receiving it (in the UK anyway) while the banks are sitting on generally safe bets (themselves) and not taking a chance lending.

Is this an unfounded comparison or do you think there’s something to it?

New Zealand II.I

Good day to you,

I regret not taking the time to update this more often with whats been going on because then, posts like these, seem like long tirades. The most important thing (and also a reason for not updating sooner) is that I am presently in New Zealand again!

Built perilously over a fault

I came to New Zealand last year for a long wander, my first trip on my own outside Europe – though I know a lot of people will say that i have a 24 hour plane ride just to go to Scotland. Well I can tell you New Zealanders are probably a lot friendlier than your average Scotsman. If you visit, that is what will hit you about this country. With the exception of the immigration service, New Zealanders are very very friendly, like England (or more specifically my village) was about 10 years ago. The whole country does feel like its in something of a backwards time warp at times however, and this strange sense of isolation  can be at once refreshing but also horrendously alienating when you get home.

Being away from the country for so long though gives you a great perspective on how the world, your home nation, and your visiting nation has changed.

This time last year the Deepwater Horizon Spill was haemorrhaging in to the Gulf of Mexico; right now, the Gulf is just about back to its pre-spill health As much as I resent the notion that what’s going on in the US counts as a momentous event for every one, right now that ludicrous talk of a U.S. default last year has suddenly become a far from unlikely possibility. Not to put too fine a point on this, but who gives a fuck about Greece, Portugal and Spain defaulting when there’s an increasing chance one of the biggest dynamos for the World Economy is going to sneeze. I don’t think the US government will default, but it is puzzling to watch them dance with the issue when all this showboating for an election in 18 months time is damaging the lives of the people whose votes they need.

In England, the perspective has changed in that the Fourth Estate has come under sustained attack since I have been away, and had to study it from so far away. The News of the World, goodbye but not necessarily good riddance. I’d be the first person to point out that most of the News of the World was a pile of crap – fake sheiks luring people into traps isn’t good journalism. But uncovering massive cricket corruption is. The rest of the newspapers in the UK, while far more vicious and virulent than anything in the rest of the world, are starting to get jittery from superinjunctions and other news outlets breaking those superinjunctions online in other jurisdictions. People don’t want to pay for what they can get for free online either, so the digging techniques have to become craftier. Wikileaks characterised 2010 and I personally don’t think that leaking those thousands of cables was that big a deal, since it only confirmed what the world had taken good guesses at already. But when you start hacking into the phones of families whose members have been killed in Afghanistan or in the July tube bombs, the line has been crossed.  I can only temper my absolute abhorrence for these methods being used in a profession I love by the fact that all this came out at a time when the British people are more than spoiling for a fight and are willing to be incensed and outraged enough so that not even these previously untouchable newspapers feel they are above the law.

Especially when a bunch of these newspapers who have committed these awful practices are operated by the same family, whose tentacles of influence in the Anglophone world really need to be cut off and destroyed.

Lastly, the most significant change has been here in New Zealand. New Zealand has had a difficult past year, from the Pike River Mining disaster which was the worst in its history, to an event which needs no introduction:

These are before and after images from the February Earthquake which damaged or destroyed most of Christchurch. Thousands of people have already left the city with all the belongings they could recover, while parts of the centre of Christchurch are still no go areas for the public. Stuff.co.nz, New Zealand’s best news site, revealed today that the city has been hit with 7000 aftershocks since the major event, including one in June which further destabilised the area. Not to say that last year New Zealand was complacent about living on a mesh of fault lines, but the sense that the next jolt could destroy your life has definitely become a palpable feeling. Last year, it was more how I imagine parts of the West Coast of the US to be – “yes, it could be awful, but we haven’t had one in a while so we aren’t going to worry about it.” In Wellington, where the main through routes out of the city literally run on top of the faults, the idea that in a strong earthquake or tsunami the citizens are at risk from multiple hazards has entered into the fore of the public’s conscious – The Civil Defence Agency carried out a drill a few months ago and all the pharmacies on Lambton Quay have disaster checklists prominently displayed – even the offices now have 3 day emergency survival kits prepared on every desk.

Last year both New Zealand and the UK were having bright moments in this season, anxious for the rugby or summer holidays, anticipating what was going on in the world. England has been superficially scarred by the severe unrest over the winter and the erosion of public trust in its institutions, uncovering more and more mistakes and complacency and eviscerating every culprit in full stare of the media. New Zealand however, is more anxious, having fully realised that the wonderful society they have built in this temperate paradise can be so easily destroyed, with no warning and nothing they can do about it apart from preparing to survive and rebuild, hoping that Nature does not unleash its wrath during the Rugby World Cup, an event they have been waiting for what seems like all time. The United Kingdom is seething and New Zealand is nervous – I, as a local to one and a visitor to the other, feel both.