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.

World Goth Day: A tidbit

Ophilia (1851) by John Everett Millais (1829 – 1896).

Today (2020-05-22) is Goth Day #12. World Goth Day originated in at BBC in 2009, when Radio 6 was looking at a number of music subcultures including Goth music. Goth DJs Cruel Britannia and Martin Oldgoth decided that May 22 would be the day each year to celebrate it.

Unfortunately, being an active Goth has a number of negative consequences. Researchers Robert Young, Helen Sweeting and Patrick West write: “identification as belonging to the Goth subculture [at some point in their lives] was the best predictor of self harm and attempted suicide [among young teens]”, and that it was most possibly due to a selection mechanism (persons that wanted to harm themselves later identified as goths, thus raising the percentage of those persons who identify as goths).”

Thus, the decision to publish this weblog post has less to do with the celebration of World Goth Day in 2020, and more to do with helping susceptible people cope with life in this challenging period of time when we all face the COVID-19 pandemic. Let us reach out with friendship and inclusion (virtually or in real-life) to those who no longer feel part of society, including those who self-identify as Goths.

In order to talk with a Goth, it might be useful to know something about Gothism!

Of course there is an official World Goth Day website complete with a list of world events. I appreciate that one of the three goths decorating this page is following COVID-19 procedures, and is equipped with a face mask.

Many attribute the start of Gothism to English author Horace Walpole (1717 – 1797) who started it off by writing The Castle of Otranto (1764). Other readers may prefer to read Ann Radcliffe’s (1764 – 1823), The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794). Washington Irving (1783 – 1859) also contributed to the genre with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820), also available in its Disney animated adaption, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949). Then again there are classics such as Bram Stoker’s (1847 -1912) Dracula (1897), and Anne Rice’s (1941 – ) The Vampire Chronicles (1976).

The first mention of Gothic Rock is by music critic John Stickney to describe a meeting in a wine-cellar with Jim Morrison, described as “the perfect room to honor the Gothic rock of the Doors“. While some musicians may favour The Velvet Underground as the ultimate Gothic rock group, my own preference is for Siouxsie [Sioux aka Susan Janet Ballion (1957 – )] and the Banshees, and their track Spellbound (1981). In Norway, the Stavanger band, Theatre of Tragedy, contributed to the Gothic metal genre with its beauty and the beast aesthetic that combined harsh male with clean female vocals. Other Goth oriented bands include: Bauhaus, The Chameleons, The Cure and Sisters of Mercy.

In terms of film, the 2019 South Korean black comedy thriller, Parasite, is outstanding, and should appeal to many Goths. Another film with Gothic elements is The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). Because of its black humour and general lack of seriousness, it may offer a suitable dose of escapism to help people struggling to cope with a pandemic. Other relevant films in chronological order include: The Hunger (1983), Beetlejuice (1988), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), The Crow (1994) and The Craft (1996).

There are also computer/ console based Goth games. The Gothic role-playing game series was developed by Piranha Bytes GmbH, in Essen, Germany. It consists of three versions Gothic (2001), Gothic II (2002) and Gothic 3 (2006). There is also a fourth version, Arcania: Gothic 4 (2007), developed by Spellbound Entertainment AG, from Offenburg, Germany. This company has reorganized as Black Forest Games GmbH.

Fashionistas are undoubtedly irritated about the late reference to clothing in this weblog post. Cintra Wilson (1967 – ), writing You Just Can’t Kill It, in the New York Times 2008-09-17, notes: “The goth subculture, however, for those who live it, is more than the sum of its chicken bones, vampire clichés and existential pants. It remains a visual shortcut through which young persons of a certain damp emotional climate can broadcast to the other members of their tribe who they are. Goth is a look that simultaneously expresses and cures its own sense of alienation.”

My own approach to the Gothic was not through literature, music, film, games or fashion, but art, especially that found in the works of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Ophelia (1851) by John Everett Millais (1829 – 1896) is one such inspiring work. In addition, John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) was particularly attracted to the Gothic in architecture, which he commented at length upon in, The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849).

Oatly & Einride: A tidbit

Oatly has devised a process to provide a vegan alternative to milk. Now it is concentrating on making that process more sustainable, but reducing CO2 emissions. Artwork: Oatly.

My personal transition from omnivore to vegan/ vegetarian is proceeding almost as slowly as my transition away from driving a diesel to an electric vehicle. One positive change, is that we purchase our eggs and milk (and some honey as well as produce) from neighbouring farms, rather than grocery stores.

I asked my personal shopper to add some Oatly products onto her shopping list. Instead, she invited me to help her shop at the local Co-operative in Straumen. Thus, I was able to purchase one litre (about a quart) of havredrikk kalsium (oatmilk calcium). Unfortunately, I was unable to find the other products I wanted to try: havregurt vanilje (oatgurt vanilla); havregurt turkisk (oatgurt Turkish) and iMat fraiche (Oat creme fraiche).

Oatly is a Swedish vegan food brand, producing dairy alternatives from oats. Based on research at Lund University. The company’s enzyme technology turns oats into a nutritional liquid food suitable for the human digestive system. The company operates in southern Sweden with its headquarters in Malmö, with a production & development centre in Landskrona. The brand is available in more than 20 Asian and European countries, Australia, Canada and USA.

Oatly claims to be a sustainable food manufacturer. Artwork: Oatly

Oatly also tries to be sustainable, by reducing its contributions to global warming. They also produce a sustainability report. It shows that almost half of Oatly’s contribution to greenhouse gasses comes from the cultivation of ingredients, a quarter from transport, 15% from packaging and 6% from production (p. 26).

Oatly is not perfect. For example, there has been some controversy about it selling oat residue to a pig farm. On the other hand, it has benefited from two publicity attacks. First, Arla, the Swedish dairy company, attempted to discourage people from buying vegan alternatives to cow’s milk (mjölk in Swedish) using a fake brand Pjölk. Oatly responded by trademarking several fictitious brands Pjölk, Brölk, Sölk and Trölk and began using them on their packaging. Second, the Swedish dairy lobby LRF Mjölk, won a lawsuit against Oatly for using the phrase “Milk, but made for humans” for £ (sic) 100 000. When Oatly published the lawsuit text, it lead to a 45% increase in Oatly’s Swedish sales. Once again, this seems to suggest that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

On 2020-05-14, Oatly and Einride announced that Oatly will use four 42-tonne vehicles starting 2020-10 to transport goods from production sites in southern Sweden, using Einride’s Freight Mobility Platform. This is estimated to lower its climate footprint (on the affected routes) by 87% compared to diesel trucks: 107.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year per truck, about 430 tonnes per year in total, or 2 100 tonnes throughout the five year duration of the contract.

Part of the solution involves optimizing electric trucks operations using computer-controlled logistics with Einride’s Freight Mobility Platform software. Accurate transport planning allows 24 tonnes of goods to be transported an average of 120 kilometers without charging. It involves optimizing and coordinating drivers, vehicles, routes as well as charging. On a typical shift, three drivers will drive four different trucks. This means that one truck is always charging, which places less strain on batteries, and making the operation more durable and economical.

Oakly’s 42-tonne Einride trucks will feature a DAF glider, with Emoss drivetrain and Einride software. Photo: Einride

This initial iteration involves a DAF glider (a vehicle without a drivetrain/ prime mover/ power source, fitted with a Emoss motor. Future iterations may involve a Einride Pod, previously referred to as a T-pod.


The literal meaning of Shanzhai is mountain stronghold, referring to the bastion of a regional warlord/ bandit. Its remoteness protects it from centralized, official control. However, shanzhai also refers to an attitude, documented by Byung-Chul Han (1957 – ), a South Korean-born Swiss/ German metalurgist/ philosopher/ cultural theorist. He wrote Shanzhai: Dekonstruktion auf Chinesisch in German, published by Merve, Berlin in 2011. An English translation, Shanzhai: Deconstruction in Chinese appeared in 2017, published by MIT.

The chapters in the book refer to Chinese terms and their definitions. They are Quan: Law, Zhen ji: Original, Xian zhan: Seals of Leisure, Fuzhi: Copy, and Shanzhai: Fake.

As indicated by the name of the last chapter, shanzhai typically refers to something that is copycat/ fake. Another English word associated with it is tinkering. Before: A shanzhai factory has traditionally referred to a poorly equipped, low-quality, family-based production facility making inferior products. Now: Fewer of the facilities and products are of poor quality, despite no or fake brand labels.

Han realizes that it can be difficult for people of European ancestry to set themselves into a Taoistic mindset. “… transformation takes place not as a series of events or eruptions, but discreetly, imperceptibly, and continually. Any kind of creation that occurred at one absolute unique point would be inconceivable. Discontinuity is a characteristic of time based on events. (p. 8)

Han quotes Zhu Xi (1130 – 1200), who offers insight into shanzhai, and incidentally some pertinent advice for these COVID-19 times, “Under normal conditions we adhere to the rules of convention, but in times of change we use quan.” (p. 10) A quan is a movable weight on a balance scale. The implication is that there can be no absolute values, only relative values that have to be moved to find the point of balance.

There are some who equate Shanzhai with piracy, inside as well as outside China. At about the same time Byung-Chul Han was writing his book, Ni Ping (1959 – ), a Chinese actress and television hostess, proposed the elimination of shanzhai works, arguing that their copycat nature stifled genuine creativity and blurred property rights. During the ensuing debate, it was pointed out that shanzhai products are not pirated products. Genuine creativity is not so much originality, as it is government sanctioned creativity, which may be considerably less original than manifestations described as copycat. At one level, shanzhai is rebellion/ resistance to the mainstream.

Discussing Zhen ji, Han writes, “The Chinese idea of the original is determined not by a unique act of creation, but by unending process, not by definitive identity but by constant change.” (p. 13) This contrasts with Plato’s concepts of the beautiful or good, which are immutable. Being is replaced with a multiform, multilayered process. Masterpieces will be deconstructed/ viewed differently in different ages. He notes, “Copying is the same as praising.” (p. 16)

Han then examines Orson Welles’ (1915 – 1985) docudrama, F is for Fake (1973). “Elmyr [de Hory (1906 – 1976)] is deliberately painting badly so that his forgery looks more like an original. In this way he turns the conventional relationship between master and forger on its head: the forger paints better than the master.” (p. 17) Han then goes on to remind readers that Michelangelo was a forger of genius, substituting perfect copies for borrowed originals. (p. 19)

Han regards seal stamps (xian zhan) as part of a picture’s composition. Indeed, space is left on paintings for later inscriptions. These seals vary in size from 4mm to 200 mm in diameter, and may include poetic or moral content. They open up a communicative space, vastly different from the signature affixed European artworks. (p. 21 – 22)

In the chapter Fuzhi: Copy, Han reflects on terra-cotta warrior copies. While the Hamburg Museum für Völkerkunde regarded them as forgeries in 2007, the Chinese replica workshop regarded its efforts as an attempt to restart production. (p. 31) Han further notes that the Japanese Ise Shinto shrine temple complex is completely rebuilt from scratch every twenty years, despite being 1 300 years old.

Modular production from stock components is regarded as appropriate behaviour, for in Chinese society originality/ uniqueness is not as valued as reproducibility, allowing variations and modulations. (p. 35) Han then refers people to one of the most famous Chinese treatises on painting the Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden (1679).

In the last chapter, Shanzhai: Fake, Han writes, “There are now also expressions such as shanzhaism, shanzhai culture, and shanzhai spirit. Today shanzhai encompasses all areas of life in China. There are shanzhai books, a shanzhai Nobel Prize, shanzhai movies, shanzhai politicians, and shanzhai stars.” (p. 37)

He then goes on to discuss where the term was first applied, cell phones. “In terms of design and function they are hardly inferior to the original. Technological or aesthetic modifications give them their own identity. They are multifunctional and stylish. Shanzhai products are characterized in particular by a high degree of flexibility. For example, they can adapt very quickly to particular needs and situations, which is not possible for products made by large companies because of their long production cycles.” (p. 37)

Shanzhai by example

Billi Sodd 2015 Anstendighet/ Modesty 1910

Billi Sodd is a persona representing an older prisoner with issues, yet in the process of developing himself to become a(n artistic) painter. Since he is learning, he refers to himself as an apprentice, rather than a journeyman or a master. Like everyone, he was imprisoned by his past, until he decided to break free of it. Yet freedom is a relative term. At the most fundamental level, no living human is free to stop breathing. Every person is a slave to biological imperatives.

Billi’s most significant work so far, Anstendighet/ Modesty, consisted of 8 paintings. These paintings are based on a single template, a stencil. They deliberately imitate cartoons with large patches of solid colour, and an absence of shadows. Anstendighet/ Modesty was made in 2015, and shows how the western concept of modesty has transformed itself during during a period of 100 years. It consists of six paintings showing a young (ca. 20 years old) adult women at twenty-year, generational intervals from 1910 to 2010, each dressed in bathing costumes of the time. In addition, there are two additional paintings, variations on this theme, showing potentially more extreme changes for 2030, labelled 2030 Mini and 2030 Maxi.

The so-called originals were given to Verdal prison. However, a reworking of the subject is planned, with the goal of releasing high-definition images, so that anyone could make their own giclée prints using ink-jet printers. As long as the printing instructions are followed, these prints would be regarded as equals to the original paintings. If the instructions aren’t followed, something even better than the original may result.

In many ways Billi is an antithesis to protesters in these COVID-19 times, who want to open society faster, pressing R0 (in this case the viral net reproduction rate) values to greater heights. It is disheartening to see people like Elon Musk complaining about the shutdown of Tesla’s Fremont factory. He seems to have forgotten the lesson learned from a childhood reading of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, reported by Neil Strauss, “you should try to take the set of actions that are likely to prolong civilization, minimize the probability of a dark age and reduce the length of a dark age if there is one”.

An invitation to the original showing of Billi Sodd’s work Anstendighet/ Modesty (in Norwegian and English) in 2015 can be downloaded using the download button below. VF refers to Verdal fengsel = Verdal prison.

In 2020, Billi is considering a new series, PPE, based on current experiences of COVID-19. No decision has been made regarding the number of paintings. It could be as few as two. One showing protective measures taken during the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, as well as the current one. A third, simply showing a child hiding under a school desk, and titled nuclear attack, could refer to events in the early 1960s.

After this re-emergence, Billi Sodd next appearance is expected to be a celebration of Billi’s permanent release from Verdal prison at a Halloween party to be given on Tuesday, 2028-10-31. The theme of this party will be shanzhai. Mark that date on your calendar now!

Here are three additional relevant quotations from Han’s book.

“In the Buddhist notion of the endless cycle of life, instead of creation there is decreation. Not creation but iteration, not revolution but recurrence, not archetypes but modules determine the Chinese technology of production…. Foremost in modular production is not the idea of originality or uniqueness, but reproducibility. Its aim is not the manufacture of a unique, original object but mass production that nevertheless allows variations and modulations.” (p. 35)

Shanzhai products often have their own charm. Their creativity, which cannot be denied, is determined not by the discontinuity and suddenness of a new creation that completely breaks with the old, but by the playful enjoyment in modifying, varying, combining and transforming the old.” (p. 40)

“The creativity inherent in shanzhai will elude the West if the West sees it only as deception, plagiarism and the infringement of intellectual property.” (p. 41)

Closing thoughts: People’s transformational abilities, that is, a competence to alter/ convert/ reconstitute raw components into something useful, are to be applauded. Take the steam engineer, who is able to extract latent energy found in assorted solids, liquids and gasses and mould it, so that it works for the benefit of humankind: moving train cars, drying lumber, generating electricity. Take the weaver, who is able to take flax (from Linum usitatissimum) or fleece (from Ovis aries) and transform it into cloth. Take the programmer who, using a simple vocabulary, instructs a computer to manipulate data to provide and display meaningful information.

For further information about early Chinese printing and related activities, see: The History and Cultural Heritage of Chinese Calligraphy, Printing and Library Work (2010, ISBN: 9783598220463), a publication of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, edited by Susan M. Allen, Lin Zuzao, Cheng Xiaolan and Jan Bos.

Yang Jianxin writes that “According to the historical records, wood blocks for printing started in the Tang Dynasty (618–907 A.D.). During that time in the center of Zhejaing Province, a book store sold the collected poems of Bai Juyi and Yuan Zhen in an edition printed by wood blocks.” (Allen et al, p. 26)