RBW Electric Roadster: A Tidbit

A RBW Electric Roadster, based on a MGB body shell from the 1960s, but with a modern electric drivetrain, Photo: RBW Electric Classic Cars

When enthusiasts comment on sports cars they commonly show their prejudices in their first sentence. This enthusiast is no exception. I cannot hide my delight that the age of the ICE (internal combustion engine) sports car is ending. Long live the electric sports car!

What seems to be happening is that people are taking their favourite 1960s vehicle bodies and fitting them with an electric power-train. Sometimes these bodies are real, with steel parts that have had sixty years to rust. At other times these bodies are constructed in fibreglass, original if available or a replica if not. Presumably there are also carbon-fibre replicas. Many of the drivetrains come from Teslas, or other electric vehicles, that have been totally damaged in an incident.

RBW Electric Classic Cars takes a different approach. Recently, they have produced a prototype of a sports car based on a MGB.

The body shell is new, produced under licence to the original specifications, by British Motor Heritage, of Witney, in the Cotswold. It is powered with a patented drivetrain system, incorporating three years of development by RBW, Continental Engineering Services (CES), and Zytek Automotive, a 100% owned subsidiary of Continental Engineering Services. This drivetrain is derived from Formula E technology. All three companies are based in Lichfield. While the electric motor is placed at the rear of the car, a lithium-ion battery pack is located in the abandoned engine room, giving a balanced weight distribution.

The front and rear suspension consist of independent coilovers. The brakes, feature discs and callipers, but also integrate regenerative braking technology.

While the interior features a 7″ dashboard display with wi-fi-enabled navigation, the system seems underwhelming, at least to a computer scientist.

Top Speed80 mph = ca < 130 km/h
0-60 mph = ca 0-100 km/h9 s
Range160 miles = ca 260 km
BatteriesSix Hyperdrive Lithium-ion battery packs
Power Output70 kW
DC Charging3.0 kW
Recharge Hours8 hours
Electrical and related characteristics of the RBW Electric Roadster.

Thirty examples of the RBW Electric Roadster will be produced, starting in early 2021. Prices will start from £90 000, plus taxes, with an initial £5 000 deposit.

Laptop & Desktop Devices

The author’s laptop, an Asus VivoBook with a Ryzen 3 processor, and running Linux Mint 20. This weblog post is being edited in WordPress.

When one acquires a laptop or desktop device, the machine should be considered as part of a system, and not a independent machine. For example, if one is part of the Apple tribe with (or seriously contemplating) the acquisition of an iPhone, it may be appropriate to purchase other Apple products. There is considerably greater leeway with Android devices, so that people can purchase larger machines that have Microsoft Windows, Google Chrome operating system (OS) or a Linux OS. Yet, even here families might want to opt for one of these operating systems, including a specific distro = distribution = brand or variation of Linux (if that is chosen) so that competence is directed to that specific OS, rather than being dispersed over a multitude of types.

Because Apple is a “gated city”, its prices are higher than equivalent machines running Windows, Chrome OS or Linux. Windows machines require “more and larger” than machines running Linux. This means that people on low-income, using older and/ or less powerful machines, should probably use a Linux distro.

It is of the most importance that the chosen OS and device meet the real needs of the user. Three useful categories are: casual, administrative and power users. Casual users use machines mostly to access the internet, and to perform a minimum of other tasks. Administrative users need to input and access data. Power users are usually interacting with large quantities of graphics – games, videos or similar content. Of course, a user may have more than one machine, for different purposes.

The first decision for casual users involves determining if one wants a machine with, or without a keyboard. Tablets are devices without keyboards. These are more portable than a laptop, but less portable than a handheld device, aka [also known as] a cell phone. They use a touch screen for input. These screens vary in size from 7″ to 13″, and it is important to visualize their size, to determine their suitability. If one cannot physically try them out, a full scale two-dimensional template will offer at least some insight into the machine size. For many people, a tablet is an adequate solution. However, they are less suitable for people with issues with their hands and/ or wrists.

People wanting a keyboard can choose between three different device styles: a laptop with its clamshell design has a relatively small display, but usually larger than that found on a tablet, along with a keyboard. Screen size is a matter of taste. For laptops, some prefer 15.6″, others something in the range 13″ – 14″. Displays below this size, can be difficult to use. A desktop machine uses a separate keyboard and mouse for input, and has a large screen, typically 24 – 27″. In addition, there are all-in-one machines, which puts the computing components inside a relatively large screen. These are typically 24 – 32″.

Laptops have a keyboard fitted by the manufacturer. Quality varies but can be as good as average. Once again, this means that they can be unsuitable for people who have issues with their hands and/ or wrists. However, they may be a compromise solution for people who are mobile and need a computer in the many locations they visit, including different rooms in the same building where they live or work. Another reason for selecting a laptop is a lack of space for a desktop display and keyboard on a table or desk.

Most laptops let the user plug in an external display, a USB or Bluetooth keyboard, a mouse, headphones, Ethernet adapter and external drives for storage.

Desktops may be preferred, if one has the space and there is not the need for portability. They are generally faster than laptops because they: are more durable; use faster and hotter processors; do not limit display size or keyboard characteristics; are easier to expand, update and repair; allow more memory, larger drives and faster graphics cards; potentially more ergonomic, and thus healthier.

All-in-one computers are re-packaged laptops (in terms of technology), with a focus on ergonomics, with their bigger displays. They are also less cluttered than desktop PCs, especially with a wireless keyboard and mouse. Thus, they conserve space and are more portable. They are more difficult to repair and expand.

A very small computer is often referred to as a mini-PC. These can be placed directly on a desk or its equivalent or be attached to the back of a display using a VESA mount. These are typically low-power, fanless machines with low noise levels, and many of the same characteristics as a laptop.

Component characteristics:
a. Processors, both brand and type. AMD is often preferred over Intel for performance and security reasons. A Ryzen 3 machine can be good enough. To compare processors, look at each chip’s score on the PassMark benchmark. Chips with better scores generally run faster. A score of around 2 500 is the minimum, with anything over 5 000 more than acceptable. Processor power has been an issue since 2005, when Intel decided that its primary goal was to increase performance per watt, rather than maximizing raw performance.
b. Storage capacity varies considerably. Some machines only have 64 gigabytes = GB = 10⁹ or 1 billion bytes. This can be inadequate if one wants to store feature-film length videos, modern games or other graphic works. A size between 120 and 250 GB is sufficient, for many users. Yet, even 500 GB is affordable. At Cliff Cottage, Samsung EVO 860 units of 500 GB each, are preferred. If more space than that is needed, one should consider alternative arrangements using a NAS or other form of mass storage.
c. RAM: Many users find 4 GB of random access memory too little. 8 GB is usually sufficient, except for people involved in graphic intensive activities, such as gaming or video editing. They may want to increase this to 16 GB, or even more. Memory is relatively inexpensive. Previously, it was easy to upgrade memory to a larger size, by purchasing new memory modules, and installing them. This is becoming increasingly difficult, as many manufacturers solder memory modules in place, preventing their replacement.
d. Display: If possible it should be 16: 10 aspect ratio WUXGA = Widescreen Ultra Extended Graphics Array (1920 x 1200 pixels) for administrative tasks. This allows two pages to be displayed. The 16: 9 aspect ratio, is less versatile, but frequently used. FHD or HD 1080 refers to 1920 x 1080 pixels.

Fall Back Solution

A Mini-PC can work as a fall back solution in case of computer failure. If these are set up in advance, they can be operational in minutes, as long as the data needed is on external drives or online. An older laptop can also be used. If you have the economic means to do so, it is often less stressful to replace a laptop at regular intervals, for example – every three years, rather than waiting until a machine falls apart. The replaced machine is then kept in reserve, while the previous reserve machine can be given away to others who are less fortunate.



Handheld Devices

A Fairphone 3+ comes in a box with the phone, mini screwdriver, quick-start guide and two year warranty. If a USB-charger, USB-C cable or modular earphones are wanted, these can each be purchased separately.

Ubiquitous computing names the third wave in computing, just now beginning [when written in 1988]. First were mainframes, each shared by lots of people. Now we are in the personal computing era, person and machine staring uneasily at each other across the desktop. Next comes ubiquitous computing, or the age of calm technology, when technology recedes into the background of our lives. Mark Weiser

Mark Weiser (1952 – 1999) invented the term ubiquitous computing in 1988. Its principles are:

  • The purpose of a computer is to help you do something else.
  • The best computer is a quiet, invisible servant.
  • The more you can do by intuition the smarter you are; the computer should extend your unconscious.
  • Technology should create calm.

Conventionally, computing is always interested in maximizing throughput. Thus a 2020 AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X processor can perform 2 356 230 MIPS = millions of instructions per second, at 4.35 GHz. For Weiser this was an uninteresting value. He was more concerned about instructions per joule = watt-second, that emphasized low-power portable computing.

Not everything in Weiser’s life focused on calmness. He was also the drummer for Severe Tire Damage, with its motto “Don’t Back Up!”. It was the first band in the world to perform live on the Internet, 1993-06-24.

Many people attribute the iPhone, and smartphones more generally, to Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011), but like the Lisa and Macintosh computers and other personal computers before it, the iPhone and the smartphone had their origins at Xerox PARC = Palo Alto Research Center, where Weiser worked.

Sometimes, handheld devices are referred to as mobile devices. Yet, this alternative term perpetuates a misconception, for it is not the device that is mobile, but its user.

There are many contenders claiming to be the first handheld digital device. Some may want to include cameras, but most of these used film, excluding them from contention. The first commercial electronic single-lens reflex camera, the Nikon QV-1000C, released in 1988. Because of its quirks ( as seen from today’s perspective), others want to refer to the Fujifilm FUJIX DS-1P, as the first fully digital camera, because of its capability to save data to a semiconductor memory card. It also came out in 1988.

Another contender is the PDA = Personal Digital Assistant, where the first one, a Psion Organiser, was released in 1984, had limited features. Its successor, the Organiser II was launched in 1986, combined an electronic diary and searchable address database.

An earlier contender is the handheld game console, which Mattel started to make in 1976, when it sold Auto Race. Yet, before this was a pocket-sized electronic calculator. The first one was the Busicom LE-120A “HANDY”, from 1971. Personal note: Our family’s first hand-held device was a Casio FX-82 electronic calculator, bought in the early 1980s. We owned several versions of these over the years, but – like the slide rule they replaced – they are only kept out of historic interest. Currently, an FX82ES Plus is available in Norway for NOK 215.

Starting in 1950 New York City physicians could pay $12 per month to carry a 200-gram pager that would receive phone messages within 40 kilometres of a single transmitter tower. The system was manufactured by Reevesound but operated by Telanswerphone. This probably makes the pager the first hand-held (or belt attached) device.

Today, there is no need for anyone to own a separate game console, calculator or camera, while both pagers and PDAs are obsolete. A smartphone is capable of doing almost everything any dedicated handheld device can do.

Apps

The apps people choose to have on their devices will vary considerably. My most extensive use of a hand-held device is learning French and Swedish with Duolingo on a daily basis. This can take from 10 minutes to half an hour a day, or 2.5 hours a week. Photographs are taken on a daily basis. The amount of time spent on cell-based telephone conversations will also vary. Mine take up only a couple of hours a week, using mobile networks. However, in addition there are app based calls (most often outside Norway) that use a Wi-Fi connection. Reading (newspapers, weblogs, etc.) can occupy a much larger portion of my time, but divided between a hand-held device and a laptop. Then there is a need to listen to podcasts or watch videos.

A personal note

Since January 2019, we at Cliff Cottage have used a Xiaomi Pocophone F1, as our primary handheld devices. It is probably unnecessary to mention specifications, but it uses a Snapdragon 845 (10 nm) processor with an Adreno 630 to handle graphics. It has 6 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of memory. It features a 6.18″ IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen with 1080 x 2246 pixels. There are dual 12 MP rear cameras, and a single 5 MP front camera. It has a 4 000 mAh battery, that is adequate for our needs. In terms of software it runs MIUI 11 based on Android 10. In contrast to most users, who replace their phones after two years, we hope to keep these phones for at least four years (until the end of 2022).

The Confessional

In a perfect world, I would contentedly use a Fairphone. The Fairphone would also work, it would feature state of the art components and not need to have its parts replaced. Bas van Abel, Tessa Wernink and Miquel Ballester started Fairphone as a social enterprise company in Amsterdam in 2013. In 2017, van Abel admitted that it was impossible to produce a 100% fair phone, but said the phones were fairer. The Fairphone 3 has been on the market since September 2019. It was updated to a 3+ in September 2020, where a major change was in the cameras. This is because improving the camera, is one of the most important reasons people change their handheld devices. The 3+ is made with 40% post-consumer recycled plastics, while the 3 managed 9%. It has a modular, repairable design, is constructed out of responsibly-sourced, conflict-free, and recycled materials (where possible). It is essentially a budget phone, sold for a €/ $/ £ 200 premium.

The Fairphone 3+ has the following specifications: a Snapdragon 632 (14 nm) processor with an Adreno 506 to handle graphics. It has 4 GB of RAM, and 64 GB of memory. It features a 5.65″ IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen with 1080 x 1920 pixels. There is a 48 MP rear camera, and a 16 MP front camera. It has a 3 000 mAh battery. In terms of software can run on an /e/ Foundation open-source version of Android 10.

Repairability is the essence of a Fairphone. Unfortunately, some users have expressed the opinion that it needs this ability more than most other phones. It is constructed out of seven modules. The rear of the phone can be removed without tools. This done, the battery can be lifted out and replaced. A Phillips #00 screwdriver can be used to remove the display. Other modules are held in place using only press fit sockets. The motherboard, containing the system on a chip, RAM and storage, can also be easily removed (though the motherboard’s individual components would not be easily replaced).

At this time in the history of the world, we are trying to promote more local products, if they are suitable. This means hand-held devices should be made in Europe as a first priority. In terms of Asian countries, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are my priority countries. This means that our next such device may not be a Xiaomi or other Chinese model. It is probably the camera technology that will determine the model purchased, and will determine if it is a Fairphone, or something else. There can be many changes before then.

Hipster

Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen in Portlandia. To really understand the hipster mentality, people owe it to themselves to binge-watch the first season (six episodes) of Portlandia. Stop there, there is no need to watch all 77 episodes. There is also no reason to dress in dullist clothing. Long live colour. Photo: https://nylon.com/articles/portlandia-season-4

My fascination with hip, beat and hipster culture begins with a warning in the early 1960s, not to have anything to do with the social misfits living in a large, black house at the north-east corner of Ash Street and Fourth Avenue in New Westminster, about 160 meters from the house where I grew up. On the odd occasion I did meet with these residents they were friendly and kind, even if they were dressed mainly in black, the men wore beards and the women had long straight hair. I am less certain about the other components that comprised the beat uniform: turtle neck sweaters, berets and dark glasses.

This was followed by reading a book borrowed from New Westminster Public Library, about beatniks and especially the tribe living in San Francisco. In particular it mentioned two beat landmarks, the City Lights Bookstore and its neighbour across Jack Kerouac Alley, the Vesuvio Cafe. These places were visited earlier today, although we stopped to eat ice cream at the nearby Baked Bear.

In the early 2010s, I found myself enjoying the first season of Portlandia. At the same time I was accused by inmate pupils, in particular, of being a hipster or metrosexual. Personally, I thought I was at least forty years too old for these labels. Yet, I can understand what they were getting at. I dress outside of the mainstream, wearing non-standard coloured chinos and brightly coloured shirts, often pink. Knitting at the prison probably didn’t help. This identity was not universal. New inmates/ staff at the prison also mistook me for an inmate or the prison chaplain, rather than a teacher.

Wikipedia lists some hipster accoutrements, provided here along with some personal comments: a beard (yes, I have worn one for most of the past fifty years), veganism (yes, most days now and during periods in the past before children), certain aspects of post-Christian New Age philosophy (not quite certain what this refers to, but I have read and discussed books written by Alan Watts), urban beekeeping (yes, if this includes showing films and discussing high-tech beehives, and at one point when we first moved to Norway we owned two (2) beehives, but no bees!), specialty coffee (yes, that is why we have a fredag fikka or Friday coffee), taxidermy (not in the usual sense of the word, but our house houses many stuffed animals from armadillos to raccoons), fedoras (yes, if Stetson is an acceptable substitute), and printing and bookbinding (yes, we even had our own family publishing house, Fjellheim Institutt). As for the ubiquitous single-speed bicycle, walking or a Mazda 5 will have to substitute, even as I dream of replacing the latter with an appropriate electric vehicle, possibly a Stavanger, Norway built podbike.

MoveHub and www.iheartradio.ca locate many of the most hipster-centric cities in the Pacific Northwest. In USA these include (with their rank): Vancouver, Washington (1); Boise, Idaho (4); Tacoma, Washington (6); Spokane, Washington (7); Portland, Oregon (12); and, Seattle, Washington (20). In British Columbia, Canada the top ranked hipster cities are: Victoria (1); Kelowna (2); and, Vancouver (4). The closest place to Norway in the Top 20 world rankings is Helsinki, Finland (9).

The reason for this post is to encourage everyone who has the opportunity to attend the year’s first Fredag Fikka, 2020-10-30 from 10:00 to 14:00 at Cliff Cottage, Ginnunga Gap. This marks the end of the construction season. The theme is living hip, and people are encouraged to present arts, crafts and other creative works. Coffee and cinnamon buns will be served.

Note: This post was written on 2020-02-27 and 28 in San Francisco, California.

Izera

Izera Z100 Crossover SUV prototype. Photo: ElectroMobility Poland.

Izera is an electric vehicle brand, named after the Izera Mountains in south-western Poland. It is owned by ElectroMobility Poland, a state-controlled joint venture established in October 2016 by four Polish power companies: PGE Polska Grupa Energetyczna SA, Energa SA, Enea SA and Tauron Polska Energia SA. Each has a 25% share. It even has a marketing slogan “A million reasons to keep on driving.” As if this isn’t enough, the company has been able to design and make two prototypes, with the intention of launching an electric vehicle production facility: a hatchback (T100) and crossover/ SUV (Z100), both suitable for families.

Poland is the largest European state that has no vehicle brand, despite the automotive industry being the second largest in the country, at 7% of GDP, over 200 000 jobs in production and 270 000 other jobs.

The Izera EVs were designed based on a detailed analysis of Polish consumer expectations and car clinic studies. Production models are not meant to be luxury products but affordable vehicles for Poles. ElectroMobility Poland wants to introduce an installment payments system so that the total cost of ownership of the car is less than comparable internal cumbustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

Much of the prototype design originates with Torino Design. ElectroMobility Poland intends to start production around 2023, which means that there is ample time to refine the prototypes into production vehicles. ElectroMobility Poland’s CEO Piotr Zaremba says the production models “will retain the characters of the presented vehicles”.

Production vehicle characteristics announced: 0 to 100 km/h in under 8 seconds; range about 400 km; two battery pack sizes that are suitable for home chargers as well as fast-charging stations; a dedicated smartphone app; all-LED lighting; high-resolution LCD touchscreens; Electronic Stability Control; Forward Collision Warning; Blind Spot Detection; Traffic Sign Recognition; and probably much more. Dimensions of the prototypes and the proposed production vehicles were not revealed.

ElectroMobility Poland says it is negotiating the purchase of a vehicle production platform from Germany’s EDAG Engineering GmbH, based in Wiesbaden. It is also active in the fields of product development, production plant development, plant engineering, limited series manufacturing, modules and optimization. After a production platform is in place, the prototypes can be industrialized, and a suitable production facility constructed.

A short YouTube video shows the current state of the design prototypes, released to the public.

Wuling Hongguang Mini EV

The Wuling Hongguang Mini EV (Photo: Wuling)

The Wuling Hongguang Mini EV is being made by the SAIC-GM-Wuling joint-venture, with each company having 50.1, 44 and 5.9% of the shares, respectively. The company is located in Liuzhou prefecture, in south-eastern China. It is known for its microvans (bread box cars), especially the ICE-powered (internal combustion engine) Wuling Sunshine. As China has become richer, microvans have become less popular, encouraging Wuling to focus on other segments.

After first being announced in 2020-03, recent attention has focused on deliveries for the Mini EV. It was launched 2020-07-24, with 15 000 vehicles were sold in the first 20 days. Now, there are more than 50 000 orders. According to Wuling partner, General Motors, the vehicle is inspired by the Japanese Kei car, their smallest highway-legal passenger car segment.

In the future, about 100 Experience stores will be opened, throughout China, to market the car, particularly in urban centres. According to Gasgoo, this is being done to attract fashion conscious younger owners.

The Mini EV dimensions are: length 2917 mm on a 1 940 mm wheelbase, width 1 493 mm and height 1 621 mm. It can provide seating for four adults.

The range is 120 km with a 9.2 kWh battery or 170 km with a 13.8 kWh battery. Charging is via a 240 V outlet. The motor has 13 kW of power, and 85 Nm of torque. This provides a top speed of 100 km/h. It comes equipped with an intelligent battery management system (BMS), as well as low-temperature pre-heating technology and battery insulation. It has an IP68 waterproof and dustproof rating and, according to Wuling, been put through 16 rigorous safety tests. The battery’s functions can be remotely monitored via a smartphone app.

The price of the vehicle in China ranges from 28 800 yuan (ca. €3 550) to 38 800 yuan (ca. €4 750).

More than half (57%) of the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV’s body consists of high-strength steel. It also comes with the anti-lock braking system (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) and reversing radar. The back seats are equipped with two ISOFIX child safety seat restraint interfaces. When the rear seats are not in use, there is 741 litres of storage space. In addition, there are 12 storage compartments in the cabin, including a smartphone tray.

While the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV is currently only available in China, some characteristics hint that it could be built to satisfy European microcar (L7e), or city car (A-segment) specifications. The 13 kW engine power hits at it being a microcar, can only have a maximum of 15 kW. However, the contra-indication to this is the seating for four adults. This would mean that the payload would exceed the maximum 200 kg allowed. If the rear seats were removed, this would put the maximum payload below 200 kg. As a city car, the vehicle would have to be equipped with airbags, and other safety equipment, raising the price.

Wuling Hongguang Mini EV interior, with the rear seats folded (cutaway). Photo: Wuling.

Given a choice between a Zetta CM1 and a Wuling Hongguang Mini EV, there is no doubt (at least in my mind) that the Zetta is a superior vehicle, and probably gives better value.

Zetta CM1: A tidbit

The Zetta City Module 1 (CM1) is the first Russian built EV to enter production, according to Automotive Logistics. Unfortunately, detailed information is difficult to access. Even the English version of the Zetta company site fails to mention the CM1, devoting its content to technological issues of its drive train, especially the in-wheel = in-hub induction motors. However, some information is available from Russian Auto News.

The modular approach used by Zetta means that different modules can be built for different purposes, goods as well as person transport. Some of these will be mass produced focussing on common needs. This is the case of the CM1. Others may have more limited appeal, such as outfitting a vehicle to accommodate a person with disabilities, who has very specific and individual needs. Yet flexibility is not the only attribute. The Zetta is also technologically efficient, economic and – to repeat that so-often misused term – ecological.

The in-hub drive train is exceedingly important for Zetta. Zetta CEO Denis Schurovsky says “Summer and winter validation has shown us that induction motors can endure road dynamic stresses. They are resistant to chemicals, dust, water, etc. All wheels are connected to a single management system that simulates electric ABS and ESP with high recuperation capability.” Each in-hub motor is rated at 20 kW, for a total of 80 kW, a respectable power for such a small vehicle.

The CM1 has a length of 3 030 mm on a 2 000 mm wheelbase, and with a width of 1 270 mm and height of 1 600 mm. It is configured as a four-seater. Inside EVs makes a point that the car is just 340 mm longer than a Smart Fortwo, and that the seating must only be for children in the back. This misses the point entirely that an EV with in-hub electric motors will use space much more efficiently than an ICE (internal combustion engine) designed vehicle. Top speed is 120km/h and battery capacity ranges between 10kWh and 32kWh, for a range of between 200 and 560 km. Depending on the battery pack selected, the weight of the vehicle should be between 500 and 700 kg.

About 90% of the vehicle content is Russian. Much of the remainder is in the batteries, imported from China. The vehicle has been in development since 2017.

At a price of €5 300, Zetta CM1 claims to be the cheapest EV in the world. The vehicle has been developed by Russian Engineering and Manufacturing Company (REMC) in Toliatti/ Togliatti, the Russian city named after Italian Communist Party Leader Palmiro Togliatti (1893 – 1964). Estimated production is 15 000 vehicles a year.

And so to the question many readers will be asking, would I buy one? I would like to answer yes, especially after a theoretical regret at prioritizing a Japanese Subaru Justy four wheel drive in 1986, instead of the cheaper Russian Lada station wagon (VAZ-2104) or its similarly priced, but considerably larger and more powerful 4×4 off-roader, the Lada Niva (VAZ-2121). Andy Thompson in Cars of the Soviet Union (2008), states that Lada “gained a reputation as a maker of solid, unpretentious and reliable cars for motorists who wanted to drive on a budget.” It is my hope that the Zetta will offer purchasers a similar, positive experience. Unfortunately, the answer will probably be no, and I will be unable to engage in the one-upmanship that comes from owning a €5 300 EV, capable of doing the same basic driving tasks as a €53 000 (or more) Rivian R1S or Tesla Model Y.

Ruralization

Inderøy, in Trøndelag County, Norway, is my Amenia, in New York, USA, my Bournville, in Worcestershire, England, or my Powell River, in British Columbia, Canada. These are, in their various ways, manifestations of the Garden City movement. These places are mentioned, because much of this weblog post involves the name dropping of people who have contributed to my understanding of the importance of the rural environment, along with some of the books they have written, and the concepts they have developed.

I will begin with a distant memory of a monologue by landscape architect, Clive Justice (1926 – ). During dinner he berated the people present, for regarding agriculture as a benign intrusion on nature. Creating farm fields while destroying the natural environment was not something that should be done unless it was absolutely necessary. That dinner was probably held over fifty years ago, and other people who were present may have had completely different memories from the event.

The firm of Justice & Webb, landscape architects, worked on many divergent planning projects, including the village of Gold River. The site of Gold River is in the traditional territory of the Mowachaht and Muchalaht peoples on the west coast of Vancouver Island. In the 1860s Chinese gold miners were attracted to the area, and started panning for gold. The name Gold River first appeared on maps in 1871. In the early 1960s the Tahsis company logged at the mouth of the Gold River, before building a pulp mill there. The site was chosen because of the flat delta land, deep-sea access for freighters, and an adequate supply of fresh water needed to make pulp. With a population of about 1 500, it is too small to be considered a Garden City. Yet, some might regard it as an almost ideal retirement location – apart from the rain!

The nominal starting point for the Garden City movement begins with the publication of Edward Bellamy’s (1850 -1898) novel, Looking Backward: 2000 – 1887 (1888). It tells the story of Julian West, who sleeps for 113 years, waking in 2000, to find a transformed America, that has become a socialist utopia. Guided by Doctor Leete who explains life in this new age, including reduced working hours, low retirement age, an almost instantaneous delivery of goods and free public kitchens. The book discusses problems with capitalism, the nationalization of industry, the use of an industrial army for production and distribution and the free delivery of cultural products and experiences.

A more practical start for the Garden City movement begins with Ebenezer Howard (1850 – 1928), an English urban planner, with the construction of Letchworth Garden City in 1903. Before this, Howard had written To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898), which described a utopian city in which people live harmoniously together. Howard was inspired by Belamy’s book to include the benefits of both the natural, rural and urban environments while avoiding their disadvantages.

Howard was also an advocate of Georgism, also called Geoism, proposed by the American Henry George (1839 – 1897), and described in Progress and Poverty (1879), a book that investigates the paradox of increasing inequality and poverty amid economic and technological progress, the cyclic nature of industrialized economies, and the use of land value tax (rent capture) and other anti-monopoly reforms to resolve social problems. After deciding against gold mining in British Columbia, George worked as a printer and sometime journalist for the San Francisco Times. Georgism was only one of a number of alternative economic systems proposed over the years. Two others that have been influential were the Social Credit movement, and Technocracy.

Yet, Howard was not alone in his aspirations. Patrick Geddes (1854 – 1932) was a pioneering town planner, a Francophile with roots in Scotland. His contributions include the introduced the concept of region, and invented the term conurbation. Later, he explained how neotechnics could remake a world freed from over-commercialization. He was influenced by Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), explaining the evolution of society using Spencer evolutionary biology’s metaphors, and Frederic Le Play (1806–1882), using Le Play’s analysis of the key units of society as constituting Lieu, Travail, Famille (Place, Work, Family), but changing Family to Folk. Both Geddes and Le Play regarded the family as the central biological unit of human society.

The English planned city that I am most attracted to is Bournville, near Birmingham. In the early twenty teens, I had even arranged for twenty pupils and myself to visit it, a nearby Cadbury factory, and several other facilities including the Lode Lane Jaguar/ Land Rover plant in Solihull. However, these plans were scuttled when the pupils decided they would prefer to visit southern Spain. Since the school could easily see that there was no real educational purpose to this proposal, they didn’t get any school trip in the end.

Bournville village started in 1893, with George Cadbury’s purchase of 0.5 km² of land close to the Cadbury works, with the view of creating a village that would ‘alleviate the evils of modern, more cramped living conditions’. By 1900, the village consisted of 313 Arts and Crafts residences on 1.3 km2 of land. These houses featured traditional exteriors, modern interiors and large gardens. They were designed by William Alexander Harvey. These designs became a blueprint for many other model villages. Currently, there are 7 800 houses on 4 km² of land with 0.4 km² of parks and open spaces.

Lewis (1895 – 1990) and Sophia (1900 – 1997) Mumford bought 5.5 Ha of property in Amenia, along with a house and a remise/ carriage house/ cart shed (later modified into a garage) in the late 1920s, originally as a summer residence. By the mid-1930s, and for the rest of their lives, they lived there permanently, apart from sojourns for teaching purposes. This experience of living in a rural area influenced Mumford’s thinking about cities.

Among Mumford’s circle of friends was Frederic Osborn (1885–1978), who was influential in the British garden city movement, especially his direct involvement with Welwyn Garden City.

Another friend was Clarence Stein (1882 – 1975), who was intimately connected with the North American garden city movement. This found expression in the British Columbia city of Kitimat, a town that came into existence in 1951 after the British Columbia government invited Alcan to develop an aluminum smelter, including a dam, a 16 km connecting tunnel, a powerhouse, 82 km transmission line, a deep-sea terminal in addition to the smelter. Stein was engaged by Alcan to design/ plan Kitimat so that it would attract and retain workers. Stein’s design separated industry from the residential community, with large areas for expansion. The design featured looped streets surrounding a mall linked with 45 km of connecting walkways. With a population of about 8 000, an area of about 242 km2, it is located on the coast in a wide, flat valley. At 54 N 128 W, it represents an almost ideal retirement location – apart from the snow!

The third and (in my opinion) best retirement location to be mentioned here is Powell River. With a population of about 13 000 people in its 29 km2 city, and 17 000 in total throughout the area (occupying about 800 km2) it is a comfortably sized small town. It provides a Mediterranean climate of the warm-summer type (Köppen: Csb), not normally found so far north. Its historic townsite was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1995, “recognizing the exceptionally well preserved early 20th Century planned community, rooted firmly in the Garden City Design Movement and the Arts and Crafts philosophy.” It is home to the Patricia Theatre, Canada’s oldest continuously operating theatre, built in 1913 and rebuilt in 1928 a Spanish renaissance-style which gave it good acoustics. It also hosts the first credit union in British Columbia (dating from 1939).

Trish and I visited Inderøy in 1979, at the age of 29 and 30, respectively. We moved there permanently ten years later, at the age of 38 and 39. The question many ask, most notably myself on numerous occasions, is why? Once again, it is a location that provides the benefits of both the natural, rural and urban environments while avoiding their disadvantages.

This reasoning comes into conflict with the two most important answers to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. The answer may be 42 (at least according to Douglas Adams, 1952 – 2001) but according to Geoffrey West (1940 – ), author of Scale: the universal laws of growth, innovation, sustainability, and the pace of life in organisms, cities, economies, and companies, the most important urban number is 115%. To understand it better, some people may prefer the TED talk explanation.

This answer uses an exponential function where x is raised to the power of y, often written x^y, but better understood using pizzas. Say that a city of 10 000 people has one pizzeria. In a culturally similar city of 20 000 people (a doubling), there should not be two pizzerias, but 2.2191, if fractional pizzerias were allowed. At a population of 40 000 this becomes five (4.9245) pizzerias. At 100 000 it is up to 14 (.1254), This magical number comes from: finding the increased population ratio: 200 000 / 100 000 = 2. Then using this population ratio, the current number of pizzerias, and the magic number: x^y is x to the power of y = 1.15.

This series of numbers continues, so that a city with 400 000 people has not 40 or 46 pizzerias, but 53. Yes, this involved a rounding to the closest whole number from the calculated result of 52.9, as does the calculation for a city of 800 000 people, which ends up with 122 pizzerias, when the calculation yields 121.67.

These extra pizzerias are regarded as an advantage because they increase choice. Then, along comes COVID-19, and these same cities face the negative consequences of this number game. Following the logic of the first example (but without any science), if a city of 200 000 experiences 23 deaths, then a city of 100 000 (half the size) will experience 10 deaths. In this case it is more advantageous to live in a smaller city. Some people might be astute enough to understand that it might be better not to live in a city at all.

My response to Geoffrey West is that people do not need more choice, but less. Tranquillity and simplicity are two of the most important virtues to be valued, if only because it gives people more time to indulge their interests, including the enjoyment of the natural environment, and craftspersonship.

Some of the most important books of the twenty-tens are about economics and society. These include: Rutger Bregman’s (1988 – ) Utopia for Realists: The Case for a Universal Basic Income, Open Borders, and a 15-hour Workweek (2016), Thomas Piketty’s (1971 – ) Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013) and Capital and Ideology (2019), as well as Kate Raworth’s (1970 – ) Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist (2017). Bregman’s and Raworth’s ideas were discussed in a Keywords weblog post.

Full disclosure: I have not actually read any of Thomas Piketty’s major works. However, my dear wife Patricia has read the entirety of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and I have received the benefit of breakfast summaries of its content.

I have read Raworth, and she writes: “Humanity’s 21st century challenge is to meet the needs of all within the means of the planet. In other words, to ensure that no one falls short on life’s essentials (from food and housing to healthcare and political voice), while ensuring that collectively we do not overshoot our pressure on Earth’s life-supporting systems, on which we fundamentally depend – such as a stable climate, fertile soils, and a protective ozone layer. The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries is a playfully serious approach to framing that challenge, and it acts as a compass for human progress this century.” (p.

So much for the necessary theory. The next step is to operationalize it. On 2020-04-08, The Amsterdam City Doughnut was launched by Raworth and others, including Janine Benyus (1958 – ). This turns the Doughnut into a tool for transforming Amsterdam, downscaling the Doughnut to a manageable level.

Even the metropolis of Paris is undergoing a form of ruralization. Anne Hidalgo (1959 – ), re-elected as mayor on 2020-06-28, made the creation of the “ville du quart d’heure” – the quarter-hour/ 15-minute city – a pillar of her campaign. This concept was developed by Carlos Moreno (1959 – ), who believes the core of human activity in cities must move away from oil-era priorities of roads and car ownership. To do this “We need to reinvent the idea of urban proximity. We know it is better for people to work near to where they live, and if they can go shopping nearby and have the leisure and services they need around them too, it allows them to have a more tranquil existence.” Moreno’s chrono-urbanism involves or having leisure, work, and shopping close to home, especially “changing our relationship with time, essentially time relating to mobility.”

Paris, as the quarter-hour city’

This plan has been criticized for its urban planning policy that favors cycle paths at the expense of cars, and its proposal to make Paris a “100% bicycle” city, with new bicycle paths created by transforming parking spaces. It also wants to create new links between the Paris itself, and other cities in Greater Paris. Under active consideration is the creation of urban forests, on the forecourt of the town hall, the Gare de Lyon as well as behind the Opéra Garnier. In addition there is a proposal to create two large parks, one in the Bercy-Charenton district and another in the 15th arrondissement. To pedestrianize the centre of Paris, traffic in the first four arrondissements will be strictkly limited. It also promises to make the canteens 100% organic and to develop two large vegetable gardens in the woods of Vincennes and Boulogne. Hidalgo wants to transform the gates of Paris into squares, starting with the Porte de la Chapelle. The share of social and intermediate housing is to increase to 25% compared to 22.6% in 2020. Hidalgo is very critical of Airbnb, which she accuses of depriving Parisians of housing. To ensures that the city is clean, its budget will be increased from 500 million to one billion euros per year.

The weblog post will end with a quotation from Lewis Mumford that inspires reflection: “In the name of economy a thousand wasteful devices would be invented; and in the name of efficiency new forms of mechanical time-wasting would be devised: both processes gained speed through the nineteenth century and have come close to the limit of extravagant futility in our own time. But labor-saving devices could only achieve their end-that of freeing mankind for higher functions-if the standard of living remained stable. The dogma of increasing wants nullified every real economy and set the community in a collective squirrel-cage.”

Blocklisting: A tidbit

Black Lives Matter. Let us make sure our vocabulary reflects dignity. (Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona)

Black Lives Matter, and it is increasingly important for everyone to understand that eliminating racism in all of its manifestations is a goal that has to be started immediately. This includes eliminating offensive terms from technical vocabulary.

There is no need to add colour to a term describing a series of names or other items to be excluded (blocklist) or included (allowlist). This applies to processes as well (block or allow).

Many technological companies are doing something about it. This includes changing the commonly used master/ slave duality with main/ default/ primary/ root for the former and secondary/ auxilliary/ derived/ dependent for the latter.

While the focus in this weblog post is on racism, it does not mean that sexism and other abominations can be forgotten. These too should be included in a general clean-up of technical vocabulary.

Two of the terms I have difficulty with regarding components are male/ female. I have never understood why they are used, when a more neutral input/ output expression is available.

It would be appreciated if readers could add comments to this blog to indicate additional terms that should be changed (with or without suggested substitutes). These could be technical or more general terms.

eCaravan: a tidbit

eCaravan, an electrified Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, awaiting its first test flight (Photo: MagniX)

On 2020-05-28 aviation history was made, with the first 30 m test flight of an eCaravan, an electrified Cessna 208B Grand Caravan at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Washington. The eCaravan was modified in Goldcoast, Queensland, Australia by Magnix, so that it is powered by a 560 kW magni500 all-electric propulsion system with a 1 tonne, 750V lithium-ion battery. The flight consumed $6 worth of electricity, needing 30-40 min of charging.

The electric aircraft propulsion company MagniX worked with engineering and flight test specialist AeroTEC on this project. In its current state, the Magni500-powered plane can fly 160 km with 4 or 5 passengers while keeping reserve power. The companies are aiming for a certification by the end of 2021.

In a slightly more distant future, the companies hope to offer machines capable of operating 160 km flights with reserve capacity, and a full load of nine passengers. The longer term goal is to enable 800 km flights, which account for about 45% of all flights flown in the world. Some decades ago, smaller commuter airlines operated such routes. The general aircraft operating these routes disappeared because they were economically unviable. They were replaced by larger, more complex regional jets. Electric aircraft could provide the economic characteristics that make such routes feasible again. However, it is the relatively low energy density of batteries that has constrained the range and payload of electric aircraft. Magnix is studying other technologies, including lithium-sulfur batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.

The advantage of electric propulsion systems is their environmentally friendly operation, fewer moving parts and simplicity, compared to ICE engined aircraft. Some estimate that electric propulsion will reduce operating costs by up to 80%.

In a previous weblog post, Alice, an all-electric, nine-passenger aircraft being developed by Eviation Aircraft, was discussed. That project was disrupted in 2020-01 when an electric system fire damaged an Alice prototype in Arizona. Magnix had also been named one of two companies to supply propulsion systems for it.

The eCaravan in flight at Moses Lake, Washington, USA, 2020-05-28. Photo: Magnix

This weblog post was updated 2020-06-05.