Clarice Falcão: A tidbit

Clarice Falcão (1989 – )

One Comment: Clarice Falcão (1989-10-23 – ) is a Brazilian singer-songwriter, and actress from Recife.

One Film: In 2007, Clarice won a contest with this short called Laços (Ties), directed by Célio Porto, the boy in the film, and Adriana Falcão (1960 – ), her mother, and presented at the Sundance Film Festival. Her song, Australia, is an integral part of the story.

One Quotation, from Australia:

I’m stuck here in the darkness
Blinded by all the light
Standing outside my body with my body still in sight

One Explanation for this entry: Wikipedia explains that Recife has a dark history, as the first slave port in the Americas. It was founded in 1537, during the early Portuguese colonization of Brazil. Located at the confluence of the Beberibe and Capibaribe rivers before they flow into the South Atlantic Ocean, the city is a major port on the Atlantic. Its name is an allusion to the stone reefs that are present by the city’s shores. The many rivers, small islands and over 50 bridges found in Recife city centre characterise its geography and led to the city being called the Brazilian Venice. It has a relatively high ranking in terms of Brazilian human development index (HDI), ranking highest in Northeast Brazil.

However, Racife also contained the former capital, Mauritsstad, of the 17th century colony of New Holland established by the Dutch West India Company. That fact makes it interesting for me, as the city is part of my biological heritage, and the birthplace of Maria Post in 1649, one of my ancestors. Her parents were from Haarlem, in the Netherlands. After Recife, the family moved to New Amsterdam, residing on Staten Island and then Bergen, New Jersey. Maria herself moved to Schenectady, in upstate New York, where my Norwegian ancestors (the Bratts) had moved, after emigrating from Fredrikstad to Amsterdam and onwards to New Amsterdam.

Trees

2021-10-16 at 10:00 a sycamore maple, Acer pseudoplatanus, at Cliff Cottage, is shedding its leaves in preparation for winter. Photo: Brock

Trees have a positive impact on mental health. People exposed to trees have been shown to experience a third less psychological stress in contrast to those without such access. Open grassy areas do not have such an effect, although they also have their value. Even looking at leafless deciduous trees during winter months is positive. Trees and shrubs has been found to increase test scores and graduation rates of students, while decreasing criminal behaviour. In workplaces, increased access to nature (not just trees) has been found to improve employee morale, to increase efficiency, decrease stress, and increase job satisfaction.

My own psychological response to looking at trees is that I begin to think of family and friends, alive and departed, especially those living in Essex county, Ontario – or with origins there, including those living across the American border in Michigan, in British Columbia as well as Norway. At times I considered naming particular trees after specific people, but have resisted this so far. However, looking at trees provides me with a form of comfort.

This week I have been reading David B. Williams, Homewaters: A Human and Natural History of Puget Sound (2021). Apart from the depth of human habitation, with some evidence pointing to 13 960 years, the other intriguing aspect of the environment where I grew up, is its transformation about seven thousand years ago, from a hotter and dryer savannah-like environment with oaks as the major tree, to a cooler and moister environment, “with conifers towering over a nearly impenetrable understory.” (p. 29)

Not all of the trees are conifers. One of my favourite trees is Arbutus menziesii. In Canada, it is referred to as an Arbutus. In Washington state and Oregon, it is called a Madrona. According to Sunset Western Garden Book, Madrone is more common south of the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon/ northern California while Madrona is more common north of this divide. Much of its attraction is related to its distinctiveness. It has the leaves of a deciduous plant, yet is evergreen. Its reddish orange bark peels away in thin sheets, leaving a smooth green trunk. It is common along the protected eastern coast of Vancouver Island, and the Gulf (Canadian)/ San Juan (American) Islands that lie between it and the mainland, and more generally throughout the Salish Sea.

I grew up in New Westminster, British Columbia, not far from Puget Sound. Ash Street is one of few streets named after trees/ plants in the city. The others are Arbutus, Cedar, Cherry, Chestnut, Oak, Pine and Spruce Streets, and Blackberry Drive. Wood Street and, potentially, Holly Avenue are possibly/ probably named after people.

Ash trees are in the Fraxinus genus, and the olive (Oleaceae) family. They are often used as street trees to provide shade. Various sources state that they were once the most-planted urban tree in the United States. Ashes are dioecious, meaning that individual trees are either male or female, but not both. Of the thirteen species of Ash in the world, nine are found in North America: Black Ash (Fraxinus nigra) is native to eastern Canada and the north-eastern United States; Green Ash (F. pennsylvanica) – eastern and northern North America; White Ash (F. americana) – eastern North America; Pumpkin Ash (F. profunda) – eastern North America; Blue Ash (F. quadrangulata) – midwestern United States; California Ash (F. dipetala) – California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Baja California; Carolina Ash (F. caroliana) – Cuba, subtropical southern United States; Gregg’s Ash (F. greggii) – Arizona, New Mexico and Texas; and, Velvet Ash (F. velutina) – southwestern North America.

None of the species on the list inhabit the area around the Salish Sea/ Cascadia/ Pacific Northwest. Thus, on 2021-06-30 I wrote to New Westminster’s mayor, Jonathan X. Coté, expressing my concern about naming practices in New Westminster, especially that from the names used, one would think the city was located in England. Noting that there are no members of the Fraxinus genus native to the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, I hoped that “tree” streets would be renamed for native/ endemic species. I received no reply.

At Cliff Cottage, we have one European Ash tree, Fraxinus excelsior. This started life as a seedling in the garden of a colleague in Leksvik. It failed to grow vigorously in its original location, and has been moved twenty meters to a more suitable location. Throughout eastern and northern Europe, the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, has been causing Ash dieback since the mid-1990s. Some believe the European Ash is in danger of extinction.

I have long-term relationships with several different trees. Perhaps the longest is with one particular European Beech (Fagus sylvatica) tree in New Westminster, that I have admired (coveted?) for over 60 years. I have often wondered about its origins. Once again, the species is not native to British Columbia, so at some point it has been planted. When, by whom and why have frequently occupied my mind.

A European Beach (Fagus sylvatica) growing at Cliff Cottage. The photo was taken 2020-10-31. Photo: Trish.

Walks in beech forests in Denmark, and other parts of Europe, has resulted in the belated planting of one at Cliff Cottage. Hopefully, I will live long enough to protect it, so that future owners of this property will continue to let it survive/ thrive for its natural lifetime, 200 – 300 years, when an average beech tree should have reached 25 – 40 meters in height, with a trunk diameter of up to 1.5 meters. In Trøndelag, it is an introduced but naturalized species, at its most northerly limit.

Northwest of my childhood home, but still on Ash Street, there was a Araucaria araucana, a Monkey (Puzzle/ Tail) tree of Chilean origins. It too provoked my curiosity, and I have often considered planting one at Cliff Cottage. They exist in Norway, but the most northerly one is on the island of Smøla, near Molde.

Perhaps the most successful planted tree on our property is a sycamore maple, Acer pseudoplatanus. This is a daughter plant to one found at Utøy elementary school, that our children attended. Naturvernforbundet, the environmental organization usually translated as Friends of the Earth, in English, complains loudly about this species. Yet, it is Inderøy municipality – owner of Utøy school – that has allowed this species to thrive on the school grounds. The school has also distributed seeds to pupils. While the Norway maple, Acer platanoides, is endemic to southern Scandinavia, it is equally foreign as the sycamore in Trøndelag, where both species have been introduced and naturalized. Neither are endemic. I find it hypocritical of biologists to condemn the one species without condemning the other.

Other trees growing at Cliff Cottage are: Norway spruce (Picea abies), Scots/ Scotch/ Baltic pine (Pinus sylvestris), Common juniper (Juniperus communis), eastern/ northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis), silver birch (Betula pendula), European rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), white poplar (Populus alba), bird cherry, (Prunus padus), Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) – red leaved cultivar, goat willow (Salix caprea), small leaved lime/ linden (Tilia cordata) and red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa). We also have rhododendrons but are uncertain as to the species. At one time we also had two coffee trees (Coffea arabica) growing indoors, but they grew too large and were given away.

The main purpose of this weblog post is to encourage people to enjoy the trees they have access to.

Note: Most of this post was written 2020-08-12, but updated 2021-10-15 and 16.

Ada Lovelace Day

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/95/Ada_Lovelace_color.svg/653px-Ada_Lovelace_color.svg.png
A portrait of Ada Lovelace, based on an original watercolour portrait by Alfred Edward Chalon (1780 – 1860), that has been modified into a woodcut-style graphic by Colin Adams, for the Ada Initiative. It has been converted into SVG format by Fred the Oyster then colourized by Kaldari. The original artwork is in the public domain, and this final Creative Commons derivative has been available in this form since 2011-10-15.

Today is Tuesday, 2021-10-12. Because it is the second Tuesday in October, it is Ada Lovelace Day.

The micro-story behind this posting is that Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852) collaborated with Charles Babbage (1791 – 1871) on his Analytical Engine. In 1843, she was the first person to publish a computer program. It generated Bernoulli numbers. Lovelace is also considered the first person to foresee the creative potential of the Analytical Engine, especially its ability to create music and art. The date selected for Ada Lovelace day is arbitrary. This day is one that could be one used by people with programming skills to serve humankind in various ways. In many places, it is also a school day, although not this year, and many other years where I live, as a week long autumn school break is being held.

For those wanting more information about Ada Lovelace, one place to begin is her Wikipedia article. In additional to a biography, it also provides other sources of information about her, including books, plays and videos.

At one level this day attempts to raise the profile of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Some want to use STEAM, by adding Art. In my time as a teacher of technology, Ada Lovelace day was an opportunity to encourage female students to investigate STEAM, where they might be able to bypass some of those headstrong members of another, weaker gender. This day does not supersede or in any way compete with the International Women’s Day on 03-08,

In terms of the more technical aspects of computing there are many other days that can be celebrated, World computer day is 02-15. It was first celebrated in 2021, with a focus on 75 year old Eniac, described by some as the first programmable, electronic, general-purpose digital computer. At a more practical level, the second Monday in February, is designated the (American) National Clean Out Your Computer Day. Many people have issues regarding the storage of data on their computers, including the taking of regular backups. However, there is also a World Backup Day on 03-31, which could be a better day to focus on such issues.

For those who need more computing days: (Apple) Macintosh Computer Day = 01-24; World Password Day = 05-05; System Administrator Appreciation Day = 07-30; Computer Security Day = 11-30; Computer Literacy Day = 12-02, and National Download Day = 12-28.

Dates in the weblog follow International Standard ISO 8601 formats. Generally, of the form YYYY-MM-DD, however in this specific post there are many in the MM-DD format. ISO 8601 is the only format that the Government of Canada and Standards Council of Canada officially recommend for all-numeric dates. It is my experience that about half the Canadian population uses the American MM-DD-YYYY format, while the other half uses DD-MM-YYYY, necessitating the need for ISO 8601. However, usage differs with context. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Date_format_by_country

Tech Ed

A Raspberry Pi 3 and filter boad (shield) from TAPR. From an article by Scotty Cowling WA2DFI in the January 2017 issue of QRP Quarterly.

Technological Education: Before & Beyond Code Club. A second weblog post with a focus on amateur radio.

We live in a world of celebrities, where people with influence attempt to promote activities they know little about. My favourite celebrity, for illustrative purposes, is Paris Hilton (1981 – ), who is world famous, for being famous. Much further down the list is Clare Sutcliffe who, with Linda Sandvik, developed Code Club in 2012. They, and Code Club, are world famous for trying to teach children, aged 9 to 13, to programme or, at least, write code. They know a little about children, and a little about programming. I am not certain how much they know about teaching children.

As noted before in previous weblog posts, in Scandinavian teacher education, Lev Vygotsky (1896 – 1934) is probably the most important theorist. His Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), is the range of tasks that a child is in the process of learning. While some level of proficiency (the ZPD lower limit) is possible with the child working independently, higher skill levels can be reached with teacher assistance. The teacher’s role is to construct a learning scaffold, a support that allows the child to develop confidence and capability. Over time, the scaffolding is gradually removed, until – once again – the child works independently.

In North America, a related concept is that of a teachable moment, that was popularized by Robert Havighurst (1900 – 1991) in Human Development and Education (1952). “A developmental task is a task which is learned at a specific point and which makes achievement of succeeding tasks possible. When the timing is right, the ability to learn a particular task will be possible. This is referred to as a ‘teachable moment.’ It is important to keep in mind that unless the time is right, learning will not occur. Hence, it is important to repeat important points whenever possible so that when a student’s teachable moment occurs, s/he can benefit from the knowledge.”

Swiss developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980) argued that children develop abstract reasoning skills in their last developmental stage, the formal operational stage. He suggested this occurs between the ages of 11 and 16. Many educators make an arbitrary choice, which is the beginning of junior secondary school. Before this age there should be a focus on the concrete, and the physical.

The key to teaching technology is to find a suitable start point for abstract thinking. Programming, like many related tasks, requires abstract thinking. Many in that 9 to 13 age group are just not mature enough, and will find the tasks impossible, potentially putting them off programming forever.

With Code Club there is no focus on either scaffolding or teachable moments or an ability to think abstractly. It appears to be unsystematic in its approach using Scratch, HTML & CSS, Python and a variety of other coding languages. In certain jurisdictions, the initiative also provide free BBC Micro:bits to children above the age of 9, this provides a potentially disingenuous economic incentive.

Code Club states that its purpose is on children having fun, while coding games. My experience is that children are less motivated by fun, than by an opportunity to be of service, and to be respected for their mature behaviour.

Games have other negative aspects. There is a potential for lifelong gaming addictions. On 2021-08-30, China introduced new restrictions to limit the time under-18s can spend online gaming. They may only play on public holidays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 20:00 to 21:00. All online games have to link with a state anti-addiction system. In the west there seem to be no limitations imposed despite the fact that many students are unable to remain awake in their classrooms, because they have spent their entire nights gaming. Games are addictive. Code Club originally wanted to limit its activities to one hour a week. However, not all children (or their parents) are in agreement with this.

Relying on games is also problematic, because they are divorced from reality. They can blur moral boundaries, allowing players to choose between being good or evil or somewhere inbetween. I am in agreement with Chinese authorities that games should not give players this moral choice.

Another challenge relates to the evaluation of game quality. Any discussion can be treated as a subjective opinion. There is seldom any tests of correctness that can be applied. This contrasts with physical computing where the programming is incorporated inside an electromechanical device that has to serve a purpose, and there are metrics that can be used to determine if the goals incorporated into the device have been achieved.

On a more positive note, game-related tools, such as simulations, can be useful in teaching subjects as diverse as social economics, and ecology.

In terms of preparation for learning, there are three key things parents can do. They can ensure that children eat healthily, sleep sufficiently and are physically fit. In elementary school (typically grades 1 to 7) one approach is to focus on outdoor activities that encourage endurance (stamina), strength, mental well being, an understanding of the natural world, and an appreciation of other human beings.

As an example, these concepts will be applied to amateur radio.

Teaching typically relies on a curriculum that shows how various activities mesh together in a comprehensive whole, to provide insights and knowledge to students. This allows any teacher to know the specific educational goals to which s/he is working, so that s/he can choose the most appropriate pathway. In terms of amateur radio, this means knowing which components, ICs, MPUs and programming languages are going to be used, and why.

In amateur radio, the most popular FM communication frequencies are restricted to line of sight. This means that local groups often build repeater stations on high elevation points at remote locations that can facilitate communication over longer distances. These repeater stations are typically not on the grid. They need power from some local source, a battery rechanged with a generator powered by an engine using tanks of propane gas, a miniature windmill or a solar panel. Regardless, these will need to be inspected and serviced at regular (typically annual, intervals). Thus, one activity is to encourage younger children to accompany adults, walking the trails that lead to the repeater stations to check them out, and service them if required. At the same time they might learn something about FM communication, batteries and other equipment through osmosis. Older children might even be able to carry some of the equipment needed, and thus feel even more useful. At some point the child will be in a position to actually undertake the complete servicing.

The fabrication of antennas is another area where children might be able to participate. Under adult supervision, they can be given a diagram of the antenna to be built, with instructions detailing the lengths of wire to be used, and how they are to be attached to black boxes, more generally called baluns and traps in radio circles, which are needed to make antennas function optimally. Here the skills needed will be physical, an ability to measure, mark, cut, fasten and assemble. All of these activities require the use of simple, non-electric hand tools. Fabrication provides an opportunity for children to learn work safely, to be orderly, systematic and accurate, and to have respect for other people and tools. It can also teach the value of cleanliness, in that workshops have to be cleaned regularly.

This list is far from complete, and I would ask that radio amateurs and others who have ideas for activities suitable for children to contact me with their suggestions.

In terms of more abstract activities, I would certainly not begin with programming, but with electronics. Electronics has become a simpler subject since the introduction and wide scale adoption of transistors, integrated circuits (ICs) and microprocessor units (MPUs). That said, it is often easier to program a solution, rather than to develop a circuit. However, one must understand the advantages and limitations of both, starting with electronics.

One understandable electronics textbook is Electronics: A Self-Teaching Guide (1979) by Harry Kybett. This was followed up with a second edition in 1986. The third edition appeared in 2008, that had its title changed to All New Electronics Self-Teaching Guide. It also added Earl Boysen as co-author. The latest edition is Complete Electronics: Self-Teaching Guide with Projects (2012). Here, the order of the authors is reversed, Earl Boysen and Harry Kybett. I used the third edition as my main source of electronic information, for the last years of my teaching. However, when in doubt I do check information with more recent, typically online, sources.

Another book that attempts to impart basic electronic insights is Make: Electronics (2009) by Charles Platt (1945 – ). It is the hands-on experimentation that makes this book valuable. This was followed up with Make: More Electronics: 36 Illustrated Experiments That Explain Logic Chips, Amplifiers, Sensors, and More (2013).

Microprocessors have existed since the Intel 4004 was released in 1971. There have been any number of microprocessors used to teach aspects of computing. There are many other families of microcontrollers that may be used to solve real-world challenges, including the construction of radio circuits. These include BeagleBone, ESP, and Teensy. However, since 2005, three families of microprocessors have attracted attention for educational purposes. These are: Arduino, Raspberry Pi and Micro::bit, in release date order.

Of these, Arduino is the oldest of these, and shows its age and limitations, although it does have some excellent attributes. Despite its limitations, the Arduino can be an appropriate place to start learning, especially if one has an Arduino based starter kit of electronic components. In 2011, Jeremy Blum made a number of video tutorials, introducing people to Arduino. I used these extensively in my teaching. He developed projects where components are fitted onto a breadboard, and then joined to ports on the Arduino including ground (negative) and 5 V power (positive). The Arduino is connected to a power supply connected to household current.

Blum wrote a book Exploring Arduino (2013), second edition (2019). Radio amateurs should note that chapter 15 in the second edition discusses wireless radio frequency (RF) communication, providing a useful introduction to the electromagnetic spectrum, and the use of RF to control assorted devices, such as doorbells, lamps, and relays. The next two chapters discuss Bluetooth communication and WiFi communication, respectively.

One important family of Arduino devices are shields. These are printed circuit boards with various components already installed on them, capable of performing a specific function. They fit onto an Arduino board without any wiring or soldering.

Micro::bit is a political project, organized by the British Broadcasting Corporation. Because they wanted to ingratiate themselves with a large number of corporate sponsors, there is abundant choice. The Norwegian Department of Education has decided to deploy Micro::bit in Norwegian classrooms, not because of its educational merits, but because a Norwegian company had its parts incorporated into it. I am avoiding it because of some major pedagogical weaknesses.

This leaves the Raspberry Pi (RPi) as the most suitable technology for teaching about microprocessors. One of the reasons it has been adopted by teachers and hobbyists, is its General Purpose Input Output Pins (GPIO). These 26-40 pins provide a physical interface between the RPi MCU and the world, because it allows for the connection of a range of sensors/ activators/ other components typically placed on breadboards. When developed into a circuit, the components can interact with software installed on the Pi. These include a number of amateur radio applications.

RPi HATs (Hardware Attached on Top) are specially designed boards that perform specific tasks, that plug directly onto the GPIO pins. These provide the same type of function as the shields do on Arduinos. James Stevens in his MoJCQ’s Hamblog provides ten amateur radio uses involving RPis. More recently, Kedric Hart has written Coolest Raspberry Pi Amateur Radio Projects in 2021. Both of these articles have one weakness. They are reporting on projects developed by other people. Some of the projects are good, others are less good, but left unimproved. Thus, none of the projects can be incorporated into a teaching project without being reworked.

Books related to Raspberry Pis and amateur radio include: Dwight Stanfield’s Hamshack Raspberry Pi for Amateur Radio Activities (2018) and Jeremy Stephens, Hamshack Raspberry Pi: A Beginner’s Guide to The Raspberry Pi for Amateur Radio Activities (2017).

Much of the learning necessary for amateur radio activities happens when the student works on experiments. An experiment should be an investigation that allows for an exploration of a topic in some detail. Microprocessors bring a new dimension to the construction of an electronic devices. They will be made out of electronic components, but also contain code run inside the microprocessor.

Code here should be regarded as a software component. It is inserted and run, producing results that can be documented. Code can also be modified, in much the same way that a component of a different value can be substituted for another, resulting in operational changes that can be measured.

After a student has become proficient in building and modifying devices, including the software, that s/he should be encouraged to programme. There are any number of languages that can be chosen, but often these are related to the microprocessors being used. For example, Arduinos use a variety of Wiring that looks almost like C. Raspberry Pis are often programmed in Python.

Rob Thubron, in an Techspot article dated 2021-09-27, titled Some students don’t understand the concept of computer files and folders, that begins, “To readers of this site, the idea that some students on courses ranging from engineering to physics don’t know what files and folders are might seem strange, but it’s true. According to a new report, the fault lies with popular modern operating systems and devices that include all-encompassing search functions or hide file structures from plain view.”

He ends, quoting physicist/ astronomer/ associate professor Peter Plavchan, addressing fellow educators who look on aghast at students unable to comprehend filing systems, “This is not gonna go away. You’re not gonna go back to the way things were. You have to accept it. The sooner that you accept that things change, the better.”

If terms of radio technology there are going to be generational divides. Boomers (while they still exist) and GenXers will educate Millennials and GenZs in accord with their understanding of the world. Hopefully, the teachers will take to heart the advice of Lev Vygotski, and concentrate on building the scaffolding so helpful for pupils to learn. How the Millennials and GenZs respond is up to them!

Note 1: Code Club was merged into the Raspberry Pi Foundation on 2015-11-03, as a wholly owned subsidiary. On 2018-03-16, Clare Sutcliffe, then executive director at Raspberry Pi, announced she was leaving both Code Club and Raspberry Pi.

Amateur Radio

This scene from Nancy Drew, Detective (1938) depicts Nancy Drew, played by Bonita Granville (1923 – 1988), charming boyfriend Ted Nickerson, played by Frankie Thomas (1921 – 2006), into helping her. Amateur radio equipment of the time is prominently displayed. The 8 in the call sign W8YZR indicates that the fictional location, River Heights, must be located in Michigan, Ohio or West Virginia. There appears to be a National NC-101X receiver, a variable frequency oscillator with a large National velvet vernier dial, and a large open rack mount transmitter. The most curious aspect of the photograph is the pigeon sitting on the open window, and one wonders if this too represents another communications vector of the time period.

This post is being published because I have passed my amateur radio licence exam, and been issued the Norwegian call sign: LB2XJ. I am not the first person in my immediate family to have such a licence. My son, Alasdair, aka LB6HI, earned his in 2019. Both of us also have previously taken VHF = very high frequency, maritime radio certificates (now called SRC = short range certificate). The primary reason for taking this earlier certificate was to be able to seek help in emergency situations while boating, although it allows other forms of communication between boat operators. The reasons for taking this amateur radio licence are more complex, and the subject of this weblog post.

I would like to thank four people for their assistance in gaining this certificate. These are Per-Dagfinn Green (LA1TNA), Peter Ebsworth (LA7ZMA/ LB0K), Jan Stewart Rambech (LA7VV) and Robert Eliassen (LA6GHA). The first two were instructors for the online Amateur Radio course given by the Bergen Group of the Norwegian Radio Relay League, which is the national organization for amateur radio enthusiasts in Norway. The course consisted of 17 course evenings from 2021-02-03 to 2021-05-11 with 22 participants completing the course, of which 19 have so far passed their exam. Jan organized an exam for me in Trondheim on 2021-06-19, which I managed to fail. Robert organized a second exam, held at Cliff Cottage, on 2021-09-25, which I managed to pass. I would also like to thank Lars Gjøsund (LA9EMA) for his encouragement to get my ticket, as North Americans would say.

My first encounter with amateur radio was through the wolf cubs/ boy scouts at Sixth Avenue United Church, New Westminster, where one of the leaders who lived nearby on McMartin Street, had radio equipment that we were invited to see (and hear) in use. If anyone knows the name of this person or other early New Westminster radio amateurs, I would appreciate the information. Yes, I have attempted to contact the New Westminster Amateur Radio Club (NWARC) to find out if they know, as well as to find out who else I know there. However, they don’t seem to accept unsolicited emails. How they will be able to function with this approach in any sort of emergency is beyond my comprehension. Ed Frazer of the British Columbia Amateur Radio Coordination Council was able to help me, and sent my email onwards. Thank you, Ed. My experience is that some amateur radio local groups are surprisingly bad at communicating, especially when it comes to the internet. Some don’t even provide an email contact address on their website. NWARC was formed in 1996 as a non-profit society to deliver emergency communication services. The club is part of BCWARN, a provincial network of emergency operations centers (EOCs) and radio clubs, which support emergency communications.

In the 1990s, I constructed a software Morse code trainer in Pascal that ran on a PC. It would read a written document stored on a file, then produce an audio version through a speaker at a speed determined by the user. In 2002, in Molde, I undertook amateur radio studies, but quickly realized that I would not succeed, and did not even attempt to take the exam. This was because, at that time, the certificate included a requirement to communicate in CW = continuous wave = Morse code, outside of radio circles. This requirement ended in 2003. Yes, I should have used the Morse code trainer more!

In the early years of the new millennium, I was in contact with another radio amateur with my very name, Brock A. McLellan (KC8KOD), with A in his case standing for Adam. However, this communication was about our common ancestry, not radio. Information obtained more recently from my sister-in-law, Aileen Adams, leads me to believe that he and I are more closely related than I was aware of at the time. He currently lives in Bad Axe, Michigan.

If one listens to amateur radio operators, there are any number of good reasons to become licensed, including the opportunity to connect with people around the world, and to participate in any number and type of competitions. There are many different radio bands (including 160, 80, 40, 20, 6, 4, 2 meter, and 70 cm nominal wave lengths) that use different types of equipment, especially antennas, and different modulation techniques (such as SSB = single side band, a form of AM = amplitude modulation; and, FM = frequency modulation) that are used for different purposes. These opportunities were not what has attracted me. If I want to talk to someone on the far side of the world, my preferred method is to use Signal software, with a headset attached to a laptop. In addition, I have a hand-held device aka cell/ mobile phone.

Yet, there is a use for real world radio transmissions by amateurs, it involves providing emergency communication in situations where broadband internet and cell phones no longer function satisfactorily. One scenario could be a power outage leaving a community without the ability to communicate with their outside world. Personal prejudice require me to state that voice radio wastes resources in such a situation, as data-communication is much more effective. Others could argue that CW is even more effective. Regardless, in such situations electrical power becomes a critical resource, typically requiring batteries and mechanisms to charge those batteries. While solar energy is often preferred, this is not particularly useful in the winter, above 60° latitude.

Many members of local search and rescue organizations express an interest in amateur radio, until it comes time to actually learn something about it. In part, this is because they generally prioritize hands-on activities in the outdoors, rather than spending time indoors learning tedious details about electronics and radio-frequency communication. However, both types of people may be needed in an emergency situation.

For example: On 2020-12-30, a quick clay landslide occurred in the early morning hours at Ask village, the administrative centre of Gjerdrum municipality, Norway. The flow off area spanned 300 by 700 metres, but the landslide caused an additional 9 hectares of debris flow. Several buildings were destroyed, most of them houses and apartment buildings. Initially, it was thought that 30 people were missing. In the end, thirteen people were rescued, while ten lives were lost. At first, one could only look for survivors from a helicopter due to safety concerns. Then it was decided to send search crews, including dogs, into the landslide area. Each searcher was equipped with a tracker, which is useful, because then the precise location of each is known at all times. Monitoring of the searchers was performed by radio amateurs.

I don’t ever expect my radio equipment inventory to include a conventional amateur radio transceiver = sender and receiver. In part this relates to my interest in computers and software, and my obsession with miniaturization, and power minimization. In amateur radio circles this codes as QRP operation. If 1 000 W of transmission power is allowed in Canada and Norway (1 500 W in USA), then 100 W is good, but 5 W is better, and is often regarded as the defined limit for QRP, although some might allow 10 W. Extreme minimalists, willing to restrict their power to 1 W or less, code as QRPP. I am not quite at that point. Note 1: There are power limits specified by the band, type of broadcast, certificate status, and country. Regardless, one may only use the amount of power needed to communicate, which could be considerably under these limits. Note 2: One of the earliest proponents of QRP was Karl E. Hassel (W9PXW, ex-8AKG and sometime user of 9ZN, 1896 – 1975), a co-founder of Zenith Electronics, the American radio/ television manufacturer, the company that invented the remote control!

My primary interest in radio relates to education as a mechanism to make a more equitable world. At one time, our family’s major charity was an educational program for girls in countries that restricted their opportunities, such as Haiti. Then, the charity itself made it technically too difficult to route funds from Norway to them. Despite this, supporting education is a primary interest. Thus, when I think of radio it is in a context of technology that can provide educational opportunities to everyone, but especially to those who have been denied it from before. Thus, my interest is broader than amateur radio, yet more selective. It should be further noted that my interest is related to technological solutions, rather than educational content or its dispersion in the real world.

In order to make the world a fairer place for everyone, I am an advocate of open-source hardware and software. However, I am also aware that much of this software on offer is second-class. Transforming this into world-class software is challenging. I am currently developing online lectures in Norwegian on topics related to open-source hardware and software along with other computer related topics, and their intersection with amateur radio. These will be presented as part of the Bergen Group’s lecture series, held every other Monday at 20:00 CET/CEST.

Not all radio activity requires a licence. Citizen’s band (CB), known as Private Radio in Norway and much of Europe, and renamed Citizen’s radio in USA, does not have this restriction. It is a land mobile radio system allowing short-distance person-to-person bidirectional voice communication using two way radios operating on 40 channels near 27 MHz (11 meter). Some countries require users to register and to use an assigned call sign. Since 2021-09, USA’s FCC approved the use of narrowband FM modulation for the CB Radio Service, analogous to the European CEPT standard. Readers who are uncertain as to whether they want to become involved in amateur radio, may find that they want to start with CB, which could give them a taste of opportunities, despite its many shortcomings. My CB handle is Marmot.

I would also like to thank my son, Alasdair, for providing me with my first transceiver, a TYT TH-UV88 hand-held analog two-way radio operating on VHF and UHF FM amateur bands. He has a matching unit. While some people advertise these units for US$ 40, that is without anything, including postage and taxes. Thus, one should expect to pay about US$ 100 for a radio equipped for operation in the field.

This radio will soon be supplemented with a Red Pitaya STEMlab 125-14 unit for SDR = software defined radio. Alasdair has one of these. As usual, I find it convenient to buy identical equipment to people I know, so that I can take advantage of their experience and insights. SDR is often used in mobile communication. Remote software updates are used to improve hardware, update standards and implement new protocols.

Antennas and radio masts are problematic, especially for MF = medium frequency, and HF = high frequency communication. This summer, our old flag pole was removed, and a new one has been purchased and installed at a different location on our property at Cliff Cottage that should allow it to function as a radio mast. The next step is to provide a suitable coax cable connection from my desk to the base of the flagpole.

Another of my interests in radio relates to audio circuitry. Admittedly, my main audio interest relates to synthesizers, but also music more generally, including audio production (with and without video). This interest stretches back in time. In my youth I soldered together a Heathkit receiver, that eventually worked. Later, I made active speakers equipped with their own power amplifiers. My interest in synthesizers also emerged at this period, but they were far too expensive to consider making at the time. New Westminster public library was my primary source of information. In addition to many other unrelated topics, I regular read their books and magazines about electronics. My favourite magazine was Elector, which came out in an English edition, starting in 1975. After discussing it for many years, I now have a green (digital version only) subscription to it, that includes access to all back issues. I find it equally fascinating to read both new and ancient articles about the same topics, while admitting that progress in electronics is almost overwhelming.

Much of my teaching after 2008 involved the use of Arduino Uno microprocessors. The Arduino project was started at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea (IDII) in Ivrea, Italy. These used Atmel ATmega8 microcontrollers. The AVR architecture was developed by two students at the Norwegian Institute of Technology (NTH) in Trondheim, Alf-Egil Bogen (1967 – ) and Vegard Wollan (1967 – ). For students allergic to computer hardware, I have often developed projects using Processing, a graphical library and integrated development environment (IDE) built for teaching non-programmers the fundamentals of computer programming in a visual context. Processing was developed by Chris Rea (1972 – ) and Ben Fry (1975 – ).

Because of various issues of deception related to Arduino, I have abandoned it for Raspberry Pi boards, based on Broadcom processors. The Raspberry Pi project originally promoted the teaching of basic computer science in schools, especially in developing countries. The boards are inexpensive, modular, and have an open design. They are extensively used by radio, computer and other electronics hobbyists.

People simply wanting to be entertained with amateur radio may want to see one or more of the many movies about this topic. Personally, I am currently watching films (or at least scenes) about amateurs using radios, including: Nancy Drew, Detective (1938); Handle with Care (1977), originally released as Citizens Band; and, El Radioaficionado = The Radio Amateur (2021).

For those wondering, let me state explicitly that I have no intention of raising homing pigeons. Those with an interest in these birds are encouraged to read Arthur Ransome’s (1884 – 1967) Pigeon Post (1936), the only book in the Swallows and Amazons series that does not involve some form of sailing.

I would especially like to know if any readers of this weblog are themselves radio amateurs, or are engaged in radio transmission in other ways. Readers of this post wishing to discuss amateur radio, superficially or in depth, are asked to contact me privately.

This post was originally written on 2021-05-14 starting at 22:00. It was updated immediately prior to publication.

PAYGo & PULSE


In 2010 the number of people living without electricity was estimated to be about 1.2 billion. By 2019, this had been reduced to about 760 million. The most significant contribution to this reduction, was the installation of small solar systems, powering at village or household scale. According to the World Bank, about 420 million people currently get their electricity from off-grid solar systems. They estimate that by 2030, that number could increase to 800 million.

Unfortunately, such a metric hides more than it reveals. Having an electrical connection or even a solar panel does not necessarily imply access to electricity. On average, the sun is only available as an energy source about 12 hours a day. Energy access must also take into account reliability and affordability, and is most appropriately measured on a tiered spectrum, from Tier 0 (no access) to Tier 5 (the highest level of access).

Many people in emerging markets (and elsewhere) do not have enough money to pay for products in advance. Pay As You Go (PAYGo) models allow these users to pay for their products over time using technology enabled, embedded consumer financing. A PAYGo company typically offers a solar product, such as a solar home systems and multi-light pico devices. The customer makes a down payment, followed by regular payments for a term ranging from six months to eight years. Payments are usually made via mobile money, though alternative methods are sometimes available.

Productive use leveraging solar energy (PULSE) is defined as any agricultural/ commercial/ industrial activity that uses solar energy as a direct input to the production of goods/ services. PULSE enables/ enhances income generation by households/ farms/ microenterprises, often by mechanizing activities that would otherwise be performed manually or by providing additional hours of lighting in which to work. These activities and lighting might also replace non-renewable sources of energy, such as diesel generators or kerosene.

An especially important area for PULSE is for cold storage, refrigeration, and agricultural processing. This means there is a need for a large number of off-grid refrigerators, as well as products for solar milling. The World Bank, in its report, notes the need for specialized products for use in specific value chains such as poultry, dairy, and coffee. The PULSE segment is in its infancy, but has a potential for rapid expansion.

Key trends in emerging markets from 2020 onwards include: 1) Hardware manufacturing and design. Manufacturers are improving product quality, and developing brands for emerging markets; they are providing lower-cost products at consistently higher quality levels. 2) Software development. Software offers customizable and open architectures, that encourages PAYGo models and platforms. 3) Marketing and distribution. While large international companies are leveraging data to optimize sales and distribution, hardware companies are partnering with local distributors to reach previously underserved markets. 4) Consumer financing. PAYGo is encouraging innovation for payment systems. Companies are partnering directly with financial institutions to decouple consumer finance from their business models. 5) After-sales support. Remote monitoring is enabling companies to improve customer service and asset management. They are incorporating e-waste disposal considerations into business models.

The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative is a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in nearly 70 countries and international organizations. Participants involve about 65% of the world’s population. Many of the countries participating are in emerging markets. Here, and elsewhere, Chinese manufacturers will sell higher-quality, self-branded products through local distribution partners and increasingly through their own distribution networks, including on PAYGo. This will increase the amount of high-quality, but lower-cost, products reaching these markets.

What should families in the developing world/ emerging markets do to obtain reliable supply of electrical energy? In many places, utilities (public and/ or private) are unreliable, while new solar panels are too expensive. From about 2010 to 2020, the obvious solution was to buy used solar panels. These panels become available because, in the more developed world, there is economic pressure to make optimal use of roofs and other surfaces, to produce as much power per surface area. This meant the regular replacement and subsequent sale of sub-optimal solar panels. Energy Bin has about 5 million pieces of photovoltaic equipment available on their site, and there are estimates that about 10 million used solar panels are available at any given time, on the global market.

The main source of information about this topic is: Off Grid Solar: Market Trends Report 2020.

Cover

Cover is a word play, referring to a non-original musical performance/ recording. However, in this case it also refers to a book’s skin, cardboard holding the contents inside, as it were. The content of this book of English Folk Songs, refers to 151 songs with tune and text, that “are learnt and performed by non-professionals in informal, non-commercial settings.”

In a musical context, a cover is a version of a song that is a remake, a new performance/ recording by someone other than the original composer/ performer. This is a concept that has only existed since the mid-20th century. Before that, musical entertainment was a live event, at home, or some public venue. It is often noted that sheet music was originally published to increase the popularity of music.

The American Copyright Act of 1909, and its subsequent revisions, gave United States musicians the right to record a version of someone else’s previously recorded and released music, whether it is music alone or music with lyrics. While a license can be negotiated between representatives of the interpreting musician and the copyright holder, any cover version can use a mechanical license where the recording musician pays a standard royalty to the original author/copyright holder through a designated copyright organization. This is permissible under copyright law even without permission from the original author. This provision was introduced to prevent the Aeolian Company from monopolizing the piano roll market. Many other jurisdictions offer similar provisions.

That said, there are many different reasons why people in the twenty-first century make covers. These reasons are the topic of this weblog post.

One important reason is for a musician to demonstrate technical competence. The cover version in some way attempts to exhibit a technical competence on par with the original. This does not mean that the cover musician is equal to the original musician, especially if the originator composed the music, and/ or wrote the lyrics. There are many different tribute musicians who specialize in making cover versions of prominent bands.

Yet, sometimes the musical expression can compensate. All Along the Watchtower (1967) was originally written and recorded by Bob Dylan (1941 – ). Yet the original version (1967) proved less popular than the Jimi Hendrix (1942 – 1970) Experience cover version (1968). Part of the reason is simply that Hendrix is a better musician than Dylan, although Dylan is a master at using the English language.

Sometimes, there will be less emphasis on imitation, and more on originality by changing the instrumentation, arrangement or vocal range. Pentatonix began with Kirstie Maldonado (1992 – ), Mitch Grassi (1992 – ) and Scott Hoying (1991 – ) from Arlington, Texas, entering a local competition with an a cappella 2010 cover version of Lady Gaga’s (1986 – ) provocative, original Telephone (audio 2009/ video 2010) with Beyoncé (1981 – ). The cover is not very professionally made, but still demonstrates their talent.

Some cover versions are uniquely different. Many people are aware of Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991), performed by Nirvana, with lyrics and music by Kurt Cobain (1967 – 1994). Its music video was, at a time when people watched something called television, the most played on MTV Europe. For those unfamiliar with the nuances of the original, Wikipedia has an article about it. A cover version by Tori Amos (1963 – ) is recorded at a live performance at Montreux in 1992. It is a totally different experience. There is no attempt to imitate. It provides totally different emotional content. For some, the Tori Amos version is exceptional, and far better than the original.

Fear of the Dark (2019), by the Melodicka Bros, is vastly different, more melodic cover that exceeds the quality of the original, by Iron Maiden (1992), in my opinion. On YouTube, there are over 200 cover versions of this one song available.

Pauli Poisuo on 2020-05-27 documented another cover that is emotionally distinct from the original: Johnny Cash’s (1932 – 2003) cover version of Hurt (2002), was made when Cash knew that he was dying. The take is very different from the original version by Nine Inch Nails = Trent Reznor (1965 – ) who wrote it from the perspective of a young drug addict in a Downward Spiral (the name of the album in which it appeared, released in 1994). The reason for Cash recording Hurt, is probably due to the encouragement of record producer Rick Ruben (1963 – ), who in 1993 convinced Cash to change record labels. He allegedly succeeded by saying, “Well, I don’t know that we will sell records. I would like you to sit in my living room with a guitar and two microphones and just sing to your heart’s content, everything you ever wanted to record.” This artistic freedom offered was extremely important for Cash.

Another reason for making a cover is parody. Sometimes people believe a band/ musician is too pretentious about their works, with the result that they attempt to parody them back to reality. Kraftwerk is a synthesizer-based electronic music band from Düsseldorf, Germany, started in 1970 by Ralf Hütter (1946 – ) and Florian Schneider-Eselben (1947 – 2020). The Official Kraftwerk YouTube Channel has about 61 400 subscribers, they only offer three videos, including Die Roboter/ The Robots, released in 1978.

Enter American pianist, synthesist, electronic musician, producer, father Andrew and his son Hudson. Last name, Piano (on YouTube) but Voltage (and currently missing from Instagram). Their YouTube site boasts 440 subscribers, and 5 videos. As of 2021-09-16, 178 678 people had watched their cover of The Robots, uploaded in 2016. Andrew writes: “For this project, my intent was to spend some creative fun time with my 6 year old son, teaching him about music production and synthesizers. I also wanted to introduce him to Kraftwerk—heroes of mine since childhood. We had a lot of fun making this and hope you enjoy…The Robots!”

An aside: Wolfgang Flür (1947 – ) was a percussionist with Kraftwork from 1973 to 1987. He wrote a critical book about the band, I was a Robot (2003) in which he claims that he invented the electric drums used by the band throughout the 1970s. However, patent records dispute this.

There have been several popular versions of The House of the Rising Sun published. In Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, and other English speaking countries, the Newcastle, England group, The Animals version from 1964 is most popular. In other countries, including Norway, the Detroit, Michigan band Frijid Pink‘s version, released in 1969, is more popular. While these arrangements are copyrightable, the original music/ lyrics are not, since the original songwriter is unknown. The oldest published version of the lyrics was printed by Robert Winslow Gordon in 1925, in a column “Old Songs That Men Have Sung” in Adventure magazine. The oldest known recording of the song dates from 1933 by Clarence “Tom” Ashley, who claimed he learned it from his grandfather. Dave Marsh in, The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, (1989), described the song (in entry #91), as the first folk rock hit.

The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs provides the tune and text of 151 songs, that “are learnt and performed by non-professionals in informal, non-commercial settings.” (xii) This, and other collections of folk songs, can provide a basis for music and lyric adaptations. What one person finds of interest will not necessarily appeal to others. There is a lot of room for personal taste. This writer is reading the book at the rate of one song per day. This means not just reading the lyrics, but also the accompanying notes. It also means listening to song versions that are available.

This weblog post will end will the presentation of a group that will remain anonymous, for what is called the worst ever cover, a version of The Final Countdown, originally recorded by the Swedish rock band Europe, in 1986.

Toyota

I have tried to approach Toyota neutrally, as a vehicle brand, over the past fifty years, but it has gradually sunk in my esteem. Today, it is probably the vehicle brand that I regard most negatively. Toyota’s major concern is that a rapid shift from ICE vehicles to EVs could erode its market share and reduce or eliminate profits.

Earlier, in our car purchasing careers, Patricia and I would attempt to evaluate Toyotas. However, they were not designed for our collective anatomies. If Patricia felt comfortable driving a model, it was uncomfortable for me, and vice versa.

Indeed, with the latest incident with their e-Palette pod at the Paralympics in Tokyo, Toyota is now permanently removed from my list of vehicle brands to consider purchasing.

The Last Straw

Toyota suspended use of the e-Palette transportation pods at the Tokyo Paralympic Games village, a day after one of the vehicles collided with and injured a pedestrian on 2021-08-26. After a couple of days the vehicles were taken into use again. The incident happened when a pod, was manually controlled by one of its two on-board operators using the vehicle’s joystick. It pulled away from a T-junction and drove through a pedestrian crossing while Aramitsu Kitazono (1991 – ), a visually impaired athlete, was walking across. The vehicle operators were aware that a person was there but thought the person would realize that a bus was coming and stop crossing the street.

This situation involves a vehicle capable of autonomous operation, but being operated in manual mode. Thus, the statement made by Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda (1956 – ) is disingenuous, when he states that the crash shows autonomous vehicles are not yet realistic for normal roads. Indeed, all it shows is that human vehicle operation still results in accidents. Admittedly, there is a need to scrutinize the various levels of autonomous driving systems, including their safety and real-world capabilities. Such an incident is inconsistent with what is expected from a self-driving vehicle. A car cannot expect anything from a human being. It is the vehicle that must exercise caution.

This statement by Toyoda is the proverbial last straw. Toyota has opposed a fast transition to electric vehicles (EVs), something that appears critical to mitigate climate change. In 2021-06, several media sources reported that Chris Reynolds (1963 – ), an American Toyota executive with responsibility for government relations, travelled to Washington DC for closed-door meetings with congressional staff members. Here, he allegedly stated Toyota’s opposition to an aggressive transition to all-electric cars, arguing that internal combustion engine (ICE) – electric hybrids and hydrogen-powered vehicles should be accorded a bigger role.

Toyota has opposed stricter vehicle emission standards and electric vehicle mandates in North America, the European Union and elsewhere, including India, where Toyota’s Indian subsidiary publicly criticised India’s 100% electric vehicle sale target by 2030.

Toyota, and other legacy auto-makers, agreed with the Trump administration in a confrontation with California over the Clean Air Act. Toyota also sued Mexico over fuel-efficiency rules. In Japan, it argued against carbon taxes. Toyota concentrated on the wrong technology. Hydrogen fuel cells offer a costlier and, increasingly, a less developed technology in relation to battery EVs.

The Colours of Hydrogen

Hydrogen may be a colourless gas, but it is available in a variety of colours, based on how it is manufactured. Some methods are environmentally suitable, many are not, and there is no easy way to distinguish what is in any particular vehicle’s tank. This is a major problem for Toyota, when they attempt to promote hydrogen as an environmentally friendly product.

Black or brown hydrogen, uses black (bituminous) or brown (lignite) coal in the hydrogen-making process. Grey hydrogen is the most common form and is generated from natural gas/ methane, through steam reforming. With blue hydrogen, the carbon generated from steam reforming is captured and stored underground through industrial carbon capture and storage (CCS). It is, therefore, sometimes referred to as carbon neutral as the emissions are not dispersed in the atmosphere. However, it is probably more correct to regard it as low carbon because 10-20% of the generated carbon cannot be captured. In addition, storing the

Green hydrogen is produced using clean energy from surplus renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, through electrolysis. Yellow hydrogen has two divergent meanings. It can refer to hydrogen electrolysis using solar power, or it can refer to electrolysis using mixed sources, including non-renewables, depending on what is available. Personally, I am attempting to refer to the latter as orange (up to 50% non-renewables) and red, when the non-renewables exceed this value. Pink hydrogen uses electrolysis powered by nuclear energy. Turquoise hydrogen may be more climate friendly than blue hydrogen, but it still relies on a fossil fuel, methane. It is currently an experimental process that uses methane pyrolysis to generates solid carbon. There is no need for CCS, and the carbon can be used in other processes, including tire manufacturing. I dislike the term turquoise being used in this way, because it greenwashes methane. Personally, I would like to refer to this as purple hydrogen.

Hybrids

Ferdinand Porsche (1875 – 1951) developed the Lohner-Porsche hybrid vehicle in 1901. It was the first hybrid. Yet, it is Toyota that is known for its hybrids. Hybrid electric vehicles become widely available with the release of the Toyota Prius in 1997. Since then, Toyota has stagnated. Despite the first plug-in hybrid car being built by Andrew Alfonso Frank (ca. 1934 – ), and his students, in 1971, the first mass produced plug-in hybrid passenger car was the Chinese BYD F3DM, launched in 2008. Before this, there were some experimental vehicles, including some Prius models, that were after-market plug-in hybrid conversions, but this was more despite Toyota, than because of Toyota. These added plug-in charging and additional lead-acid batteries, to extend range. It is not Toyota, but Mitsubishi, with its Outlander PHEV that is the world’s all-time best-selling plug-in hybrid. Hybrid vehicles require a duplication of technology, and do not offer any guaranteed reduction in fossil fuel consumption.

Politics

On 2020-12-07, Toyota announced plans to bring two EVs and a hybrid to the European market. On 2021-02-10, they repeated this for the US market. One of the EVs is the bZ4X SUV (and its badge engineered Subaru Solterra AWD). The others are more difficult to guess, but some sources think the plug-in could be a Toyota RAV4/ Subaru Forester. These EVs will not be built by Toyota, but by BYD, the Chinese EV manufacturer. Admittedly, plug-in hybrids can be efficient in some use cases, but it is an exaggeration, if not an outright untruth, to state, as Toyota did, that: “GHG [greenhouse gas contribution] of a currently available BEV model and PHEV model are roughly the same in on-road performance when factoring in pollutants created by electricity production for the average U.S. energy grid used to charge batteries.”

Toyota announced on 2021-09-08, that it is investing ¥ 1.5 trillion = ca. US$ 13.6 billion = ca. € 11.5 billion, in EV batteries as it is trying to catch up after falling behind in electrification. Masahiko Maeda (1969 – ), Toyota’s chief technology office, said that Toyota wants to secure 200 GWh of batteries by 2030. With an average battery pack of 60 kWh, this would be enough to produce more than 3 million EVs per year.

Toyota seems to be trying to game climate change, rather than taking it seriously. They are playing both sides: offering climate scepticism to climate sceptics and climate concern to environmentalists, when it suits them. My personal conclusion is that this approach makes Toyota one of the least ethical auto-makers in the world. It is attempting to undermine agreed upon climate goals, which may in themselves be too little, too late. Consumers with the possibility, should only be considering EVs for their next vehicle purchase. One approach is to retain a current ICE vehicle, until EV prices decline sufficiently to allow a purchase. Regardless, consumers should avoid buying Toyotas, until the company starts talking realistically about environmental concerns including human induced climate change, and shows real environmental progress by eliminating ICE (including hybrid) vehicles from their model program.

If not a Toyota, what?

In the coming months and years, a number of new, lower cost mass market EVs will be emerging, that are more reliable, economical and environmentally friendly than current vehicles. These will not be technological experiments on wheels, but functional mass-market products. The handling of fires in Chevrolet Bolts and Hyundai Konas, shows that manufacturing and selling EVs is not a game, but an endeavour with potentially serious and expensive consequences. While General Motors used delay tactics and let consumers deal with emerging safety issues, Hyundai replaced defective batteries almost immediately, despite the enormous cost. Now, General motors is also having to replace batteries at the same enormous cost, but has lost the respect and confidence of consumers. My expectation is that few consumers will want to prioritize buying a Bolt (or any other Chevrolet EV) in the future.

While there are several theories about innovation, one of the first and most influential was Everett Rogers’ (1931 – 2004) famous Diffusion of Innovations (1961) book, containing a model and curve (see below). Geoffry Moore (1946 – ) in Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers (1991) regarded the step from early adapters to early majority as a chasm. Crossing it is difficult, yet critical for success. To understand why I am pessimistic about the fate of legacy auto-makers, one has only to read Clayton Christensen (1952 – 2020), The Innovator’s Dilemma (1997). He is not optimistic about the chances of any legacy manufacturer of anything surviving, in a disrupted market.

The Diffusion of Innovation Curve (Rogers, 1962 ...

For the past ten years, EV models have been released that have suited initiators, innovators and early adopters, with an emphasis on sportiness and luxury. These values are wasted on the majority, who want pragmatic solutions to their transportation needs. In Norway, the early majority are already in the marketplace. By 2025, the late majority will have started buying EVs. Laggards will be making EV purchases by 2030, if not 2027.

Today, I read in passing that there are 138 EV models available. I don’t know how accurate this is, but it seems a reasonable approximation. I will make no attempt to influence or micromanage any reader, or to suggest any of these models for anyone. Instead, I will allow readers to see some of my considerations, when I evaluate EVs, and why I need help to make sensible choices. At the most basic level, safety (including positive crash test results) must be in place, and the technology (battery, motor, charging) must be sound.

I am not known for my wise automotive purchases. In part, this is because practicality has to combine with my personal sense of style (some would say, frivolity) to create an attractive vehicle. My first car was a 1962 Hillman Minx convertible, purchased in 1966. It was fun, but unreliable. It lasted six months. Together with Patricia, over our lifetimes, we have owned 2 English, 2 French, 2 German, 2 Japanese and 1 Korean vehicles. In this time I have learned something about vehicles, my own personality, and Patricia’s.

My temperament attracts me to utilitarian French vehicles because of their comfort, ground clearance and load carrying capacity, and despite their notorious lack of reliability. Yet, I manage to see them possessing utilitarian elegance. I have appreciated the Citroën Berlingo since its inception, but I am less enthusiastic about its current and upcoming electric Multispace, its multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) variants. Even the new Renault Kangoo ZE update in the same segment, is not being built as an EV from the ground up. However, I find Renault (and its sub-brand Dacia) along with Fiat, the most interesting European automotive manufacturers, precisely because there is a sense of whimsy in their design. What they lack in quality, they make up in style. Fiat, back in 2018, announced a 500 Giardiniera station wagon. Then in 2019, it presented the Centoventi (120) concept, which they suggested, could become the first Panda EV. Both would be built on an electric only platform. Both hold a design appeal I find lacking in a BMW or Cadillac or a Ford F-150. The main difference between 2019 and now, is that Fiat has become part of Stellantis, headquartered in Amsterdam, but with 30 manufacturing facilities around the world. Most new Fiat products would be built on the Stellantis STLA Small EV platform.

Fortunately, Patricia won’t let me make the most ruinous decisions, and tempers my desire for fashion, form, frivolity and fun. She will undoubtedly tell me that it would be much more sensible to purchase a Hyundai, such as the upcoming Ioniq 3 (compact) or Ioniq 1 (mini) crossover SUV EVs, but that I should wait until 2025, when more mass-market models will be available, at lower prices. Nirvana is less than 40 months away!

Regardless of what happens, it should be noted that I will not be the first in the family to own an EV. My daughter, Shelagh together with her domestic partner, Derek, own a BMW i3.

Shelagh and Derek’s 2017 BMW i3

Dolores O’Riordan: A tidbit

(1971-09-06 – 2018-01-15)

Dolores O'Riordan 2016 (cropped).jpeg
Dorores O’Riordan 2016-07-09, Weert, Netherlands. Photo: Bart Notermans.

One Track: The Cranberries, Zombie (1994). Video directed by Samuel Bayer.

A Second Track: Bad Wolves, Zombie (2018). O’Riodan was in London to record this version of Zombie with the Bad Wolves, when she died.

One Quotation: “When I was about 14, I got a tacky keyboard for 250 pounds and put on a drum machine and found I could write a song.”

One Comment: On 1993-03-20, in Warrington, Cheshire, England, terrorists had planted bombs in cast iron dustbins/ garbage cans/ trash cans. They phoned the police with a coded warning that there was a bomb, but they didn’t say which town.  When one bomb exploded 25 minutes later, panicked crowds ran directly into the path of the second explosion. Three year old Johnathan Ball died at the scene, while 12-year-old Tim Parry was seriously injured, and died five days later. Fifty-four other people suffered injuries. Zombie was a direct response from O’Riordan and the Cranberries to the horror of Warrington and all the other atrocities that had taken place. It pleads: “Another mother’s breaking / Heart is taking over / When the violence causes silence / We must be mistaken.”

Trøndelag Commuter Rail

The new FLIRT train at Stjørdal Station, 2021-08-31. Photo: Kolbkorr

On 2021-08-31, Adressavisen, Trøndelags largest newspaper, was itself divided. Its translated headline read: “These trains are called both a scandal and an improvement even before they have carried a single passenger[.] Scandal or success? It all depends on who you ask. Here’s what you need to know about the controversial hybrid trains[.]”

This was the day when Norwegian Minister of Transport Knut Arild Hareide (Christian People’s Party) cut the ribbon to welcome the new trains that will serve on the Trøndelag Commuter Rail line, at Trondheim Central Station. With him was Lena Angela Nesteby, the Acting CEO of SJ Norge = SJ Norway, operator of the line.

Notably absent was Trøndelag County mayor Tore O. Sandvik (Labour Party), who was also invited to experience the new hybrid train, but declined. Instead, he comments: “This is the biggest political belly flop in Norwegian railway history”.

He believes that instead of eating cake, explaining away, procrastinating and purchasing trains that few others use, one should have first electrified the entire Trøndelag Commuter Rail line, as the governing parties guaranteed in their election promises in 2017. Then, in 2018, after seven years of planning, when the budget was expected to fund implementation, there was no money for electrification (except a minor amount for yet more unnecessary planning!)

As will be seen under policy, further down in this post, the extent of the Trøndelag Commuter Rail line is not always easy to ascertain. Some regard everything north of Trondheim as part of the Northland Rail line, and everything south as either part of the Dovre Rail line or the Røros Rail line. However, most people in Trøndelag regard the Trøndelag Commuter Rail line, as the regional train line stretching from Steinkjer (north of Inderøy) to Trondheim (22 stops further south), or Lerkendal (the most common end-point, just south of Trondheim city centre, with 3 additional stops). Some would even extend it to Støren (considerably further south of Trondheim, with 8 additional stops after Lerkendal, which is also the maintenance centre for the trains. The rail connection also continues on to Røros, to make a 4.5 hour trip along 290 km of track. Wikipedia has further details about the line.

For the past few years, improvements have been made to the rail infrastructure in Trøndelag. Platforms throughout the line have been extended to a length of 120 m, with a platform height of 76 cm above top of rail (ATR). Notably absent is electrification. This is much more difficult and time consuming to implement. Bridges can make implementation difficult, especially if the bridges are old, and were never expected to be electrified.

The new train sets reflect this lack of electrification. These are Stadler FLIRT ( Flinker Leichter Intercity- und Regional-Triebzug = Fast Light Intercity and Regional Train) made in Switzerland by Stadler Rail. These are bi-mode, hybrid electric multiple unit articulated train sets that will have six cars permanently attached, with a length of 112.7 m. The maximum speed is 200 km/h. Floor height is 78 cm (some sources say 80 cm) suitable for the specified platform heights, which is the new standard platform height in Norway. These are referred to as type 76. On other Norwegian lines, train sets without PowerPack cars have been in use since 2012. These are referred to as Type 74 when used as regional trains with 2 + 2 seating. Local trains with an overweight of cramped 2 + 3 seating are identified as type 75. In total 14 type 76 train sets, each seating 241 passengers with 2 + 2 seating, are in the process of being delivered to Trøndelag Commuter Rail.

The PowerPack car, is an additional one-third length non-passenger car inserted in the train set with diesel engines generating electricity, allowing the train to run “off-wire”. It has a gangway through the centre to allow passengers to pass between the two parts of the train. This is a needless expense. Our family expert on rail transportation said that about 1 billion (or 20%) of the 5.5 billion NOK investment in these 14 train sets, will go to the PowerPack cars, and their control. These will not be needed at all in about four years time. The existing BM92 units could have served an additional four years and/ or the electrification of the line could have started earlier.

The cars are equipped with Jakobs bogies, named after the German railway engineer, Wilhelm Jakobs (1858–1942). It is a bogie that connects two cars. In Norway, the Jakobs bogie is used on other Flirt trains. Another notable user is the French TGVs made by Alstom.

The Jakobs bogie has the following advantages: It stiffens the train set so it is less prone to folding like an accordion during a derailment. At high speeds this is very dangerous. It happened at the Eschede derailment, the worst high-speed train crash ever, on 1998-06-03. Yet, TGV trains have several times derailed at high speed, 290-300 km/h, and still remained standing in the tracks – something the Jakobs bogies have probably contributed to. Therefore, the derailments have not claimed lives or caused serious injuries; The trains are lighter with only one bogie per. wagon instead of two. This is the case even though the increasing load on each bogie means that the cars have to be made somewhat shorter; Trains become cheaper with fewer bogies, as bogies are complicated and expensive; The wheel noise, which makes up a large part of the noise from a train, is reduced with fewer bogies. Inside, the wheel noise is also most noticeable in the transition between the cars, where people do not tend to stay. A disadvantage of Jakobs bogies is that it is usually impossible or, at best, time-consuming to add or remove cars. This must be done in a workshop. One practical approach is to connect two or more train sets.

Type 92

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/86/Hommelvik_stasjon_2.jpg/1280px-Hommelvik_stasjon_2.jpg
The BM92 trains are being replaced. This shows the typical two-car set stopped at Hommelvik Station in Malvik municipality, on 2008-06-28. Note that access to the train involves four steps. The steps all have variable width. At the front of the train, the width is greater at the front than the back. This makes it extremely difficult to bring anything wheeled, such as a wheelchair or pram, onto the train. Photo: Alasdair McLellan.

NSB Type 92 is a class of 15 diesel multiple units built by the former German train manufacturer Duewag, later to become part of Siemens. The two-car train-sets were delivered in 1984 and 1985, and were refurbished in 2005 and 2006. Each set seats 168 people, is 49.45 meters long and weighs 92 tonnes. The front car is powered with two electric motors, giving a power output of 714 kW and a maximum speed of 140 km/h. The cars are totally unsuited for use by anyone with mobility issues. Access to the train involves four steps. The steps all have variable width and are located at the ends of each car. This means the width is greater towards the end than towards the middle. This makes it extremely difficult to bring anything wheeled onboard, such as a wheelchair or pram. One of the train-sets was destroyed in an accident at Åsta that claimed 19 lives on 2000-01-04, leaving 14 sets.

Policy

Norway, Norges Statsbaner (NSB) = Norwegian State Railways was founded in 1883. In 1996, it was split into three separate governmental agencies. The ownership, maintenance and construction of track was transformed to the newly created government agency Norwegian National Rail Administration, while a new Norwegian Railway Inspectorate was created to supervise all railway operations in the country. NSB was renamed NSB BA and created as a limited company, wholly owned by the Ministry of Transport and Communications. This was followed by a number of rebranding efforts. The latest of which was in 2019 when NSB was renamed Vygruppen and rebranded as Vy. The name change was supported by 7% of Norwegians.

Norway decided to set its train routes out to tender, as encouraged by the European Union. Traffic Package 1 covered the south, 2 the north, 3 the west. There should have been a Traffic Package 4 covering the east of Norway. This package was large and comprehensive. After the first three packages showed that Vy was not competitive, this fourth package was cancelled. So much for the virtue of competition.

Details: This paragraph can be skipped by anyone with a life. Traffic Package 1: South. Long distrance trains (including night-trains, Sørlandsbanen: Oslo S – Kristiansand – Stavanger; Jærbanen; Lokal trains in Stavanger – Egersund; Arendalsbanen: Regional trains Arendal – Nelaug. Package 2: North is described further down in more detail. Package 3: West. Bergensbanen has the greatest traffic. A large proportion of traffic is tourist and leisure travel. Flåmsbanen is not covered by traffic package 3. Traffic Package 4: East, that included local trains Spikkestad /Asker – Lillestrøm og Stabekk/Oslo S – Ski; Regional trains: Oslo S – Ski, Stabekk – Moss, Oslo S – Mysen/Rakkestad and Oslo S – Hakadal/Jaren along with the Regional express trains Oslo S – Halden og Oslo S – Gjøvik. Flytoget the airport train from south of Oslo to Oslo Airport, Gardermoen, to the north.

In Sweden. Statens Järnvägar (SJ) = (Swedish) State Railways, existed from 1888. It was disbanded in 2001, with the assets transferred to seven separate companies, the first three owned by the Swedish government and the latter four being privatized. SJ AB is one of these Swedish state-owned companies, and it is the largest train operator in the Nordic region and the only one who operates trains between Scandinavia’s three capitals (Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo).

SJ Norge won the competition to operate trains in the north of Norway, as this map shows. Map: SJ Norge.

SJ Norge AS is owned by SJ AB, and in 2019-06 they were awarded traffic package 2 North, by the Norwegian Ministry of Transport and Communications, effective 2020-06-08. They are using the brand name SJ Nord = North. The contract period lasts until December 2030. SJ Nord operates seven train routes in Norway based on this package. The longest stretches are the Nordlandsbanen, which runs between Bodø and Trondheim, and the Dovrebanen, which runs between Trondheim and Oslo. The package also includes the Raumabanen, between Dombås and Åndalsnes, and the Rørosbanen, from Røros to Hamar, with connections north to Trondheim and south to Oslo.

Saltenpendelen is a local train connecting Bodø, Fauske and Rognan. Trønderbanen, which is the topic of this weblog post, officially runs between Steinkjer and Melhus via Trondheim. While Meråkerbanen, which SJ refers to as “the neighbour train” connects Trondheim to the Swedish cities of Åre and Östersund, via Storlien. In addition, SJ Nord offers bus travel to cities such as Tromsø, Narvik, Namsos, Ålesund, Kristiansund and Molde.