Electric cars

November 24, 2008

I see Australia is the latest country to start the switch to electric cars and wean its population off dependence on oil.

It follows Denmark and Israel’s lead.

New Zealand has already clinched a deal with Mitsubishi for a fleet of electric cars to be introduced in 2009. And in Japan, Japan Post is replacing its vehicles with electric equivalents.

In England, London has already been at the forefront of electric car usage and Boris Johnston has given a grant for the scheme to be extended across the boroughs of the city.

Now Brighton and Hove are planning a similar system. They successfully secured a £2.2 million grant from the EU for their project. Their 10 charging points will cost £30 000 altogether or £3000 each, quite a bit cheaper than the London counterparts.

The Australian model will be powered by renewable energy. The recharging stations will be powered by wind turbines.

Project Better Place will raise $1 billion to provide 250 000 recharging stations in the east of the country.

This works out at $4000 per recharging station.

Thats a lot cheaper than the £7000 it takes to install a recharging station in London, but I guess the price difference is down to the sheer massive scale of the Australian project.

The similar Danish system is also run by wind turbines. Around 20% of Denmark’s electricity production comes from wind, but the fact that the car batteries are traded in to charge – and they store electricity from the grid – with a number of batteries charging at any one time means that wind power can provide base load even when the wind is not blowing.

In fact, 2 million electric cars in circulation would provide Denmark with a standby capacity of electricity over 5 times its needs.

Project Better Place are in discussion with another 30 countries keen to implement the system. The mayor of San Francisco wants electric cars there.

The same company has already done the same in Israel.

Norway has about 50 recharging stations, but plans to have 400 on the go by 2011. The Norwegian Car company Think currently makes around 10 000 electric cars a year and can’t up with demand but does plan to open new factories to increase production.

Not to be left behind the Swedish Government are planning to provide a network of recharging stations across the country. It plans to be oil-independent by 2020.

The Finns seem to have taken a different approach. They have started a scheme where they convert your existing car to electric using lithium ion batteries. They claim that the top speed of your car will be a little less but the acceleration of the car will be better.

Even the Icelanders – slated by new Secretary of State for Scotland Jim Murphy as being in an ‘Arc of Insolvency’ – have just shook hands on a deal with Mitsubishi to fleet test their electric cars in the country in 2009, similar to the New Zealand deal.

Another country in Murphy’s ‘Arc of Insolvency’, Ireland, will shortly announce plans to have 10% of all its cars powered by electricity by 2020. Project Better Place are already in talks with the Irish Government. Its predicted around 50 000 jobs could be created in Ireland with the establishment of such eco-friendly policies.

So much for the environmentally aware Scandanavians and the forward thinking Irish in their Arc of Prosperity you might say. What about Scotland?

Until recently Scotland had only one electric car. That was a G-Wiz, the electric car much used in London, with a slightly dodgy safety record. It also had only one public recharging station, in the Braehead Shopping Centre.

Clydebank Housing Association has provided electric cars for its tenants at Radnor Park. They are recharged at the local power station that provides electricity for the flats.

Its been funded by a £37 000 Community Scotland grant.

The Department of Transport is also planning to pilot a ‘green van’ scheme in various locations in England from Newcastle, Gateshead, and Liverpool to Leeds and Coventry. In Scotland only Glasgow has been selected.

James May, of BBC’s Top Gear, is not a fan of the Westminster Government’s ‘green transport’ policy:

‘People think it’s about style or performance, but it’s down to the science. There has to be a hydrogen infrastructure in place to provide the energy to make electric vehicles work properly. We are nowhere near that point.’

Far from ‘kick-starting’ the revolution, May says the Government is simply ‘window-dressing’. ‘There’s a feeble bit of Congestion Charge relief if your drive an electric vehicle. This is no more a Green-vehicle strategy than my cat,’ he says.

Newer electric cars like the Smart Fortwo Electric can plug into a mains socket, has a top speed of 70 mph and can travel for 75 miles without a recharge.

The new Tesla Roadster is an electric sports car, assembled by Lotus. It can do 0 – 60 in 3.9 seconds and can travel 244 miles on a single charge of its battery. Of course it does cost 99 000 euros or around £84 000.

Tesla Roadster

75% of Scots in a recent survey said they would consider changing to an alternative powered car if they became readily available.

The Scottish Government has planned a consultation exercise on electric cars this Autumn. But there are already calls for the SNP Government to try and get Project Better Place’s network in Scotland.

But if it doesn’t act soon Scotland could be the poor relation of Europe in electric car takeup.

Spain has announced a target of 1 million electric cars on its roads by 2014.

Germany is launching its own network of electric car recharging stations.

Portugal is also announcing its own network of recharging stations. It will build 1300 stations by 2011.

France has recently announced a $549 million investment in electric and hybrid cars.

With the SNP Government’s commitment to renewal energy surely the Danish model based on wind turbines is the way forward? The combination of providing much more base load than we need and have the rest exported, the reduction of carbon emissions and the prospect of being oil independent when the oil finally runs out must be the favourite way ahead.

Back to James May:

‘The wind blows, the waves roll, the sun shines. The moon in the sky plucks at the sea to makes the tides, and Tennyson’s wild cataract leaps in glory. And he wasn’t talking about an eye infection. All of this will go on for as long as there is a world, and we need convert only a very tiny amount of it to electricity to keep driving until the sun goes out.’

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Sarah Palin’s prank call

November 2, 2008

In all the furore over the BBC Radio 2 prank call from Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross to Fawlty Towers’ actor Andrew Sachs, a brighter type of prank call was played on Sarah Palin by two Quebec DJs Marc Antoine Audette and Sebastian Trudel Audette.

The Masked Avengers, as they are known, phoned Sarah Palin pretending to be Nicholas Sarkozy.

‘Nicholas Sarkozy’ talked to Sarah Palin about hunting, killing baby seals and his wife being so hot in bed! And from his house he could see Belgium!

A transcript of the prank call can be found at Daily Kos.

Eventually the Masked Avengers owned up it was a prank.

It was a prank call in a much better spirit than Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross’ effort to Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs. For Jonathan Ross to tell a 78-year old grandfather that Russell Brand had ‘f**ked his granddaughter’ was in poor taste. Even if the grand-daughter, Georgina Baillie, is in a Burlesque group called The Satanic Sluts.

I don’t so much blame Brand and Ross for their call; sometimes comedy does go over the edge.

I blame the producers putting the show on air. Even after Andrew Sachs complained to the BBC that the call was offensive, it was still put on air.

If the call was pulled from the show and Sachs given a personal apology then all of this hoopla wouldn’t have begun.

Now Russell Brand has resigned, the Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas has resigned, and Jonathan Ross has a 12 week suspension.

Jonathan Ross is an experienced broadcaster and one of the BBC highest earners. His indiscretion, I felt, was worse than Russell Brand’s. Does his £18 million contract intimidate radio producers?

That’s the only thing I can think of why this call was aired.

Brand and Ross may have overstepped the mark. But they were doing their job. The producer wasn’t.

The BBC have now lost Brand and may still lose Ross.

They could probably do worse than give the Masked Avengers a shot.

They can see satire from their house.

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Sarah Palin and fruit flies

October 25, 2008

I guess no-one should be surprised by the latest anti-science diatribe by Sarah Palin.

This time she’s picking on the humble fruit fly.

She was giving a speech on promoting the funding of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA):

“For many parents of children with disabilities, the most valuable thing of all is information. Early identification of a cognitive or other disorder, especially autism, can make a life-changing difference.”

Now given that Sarah Palin has a Down’s Syndrome son, you may have thought have fighting for disability funding would have been a home run for her. You may also have expected her to champion scientific research into disabilities.

So for her to question the earmarked money for scientific research was a bit surprising:

“Where does a lot of that earmark money end up anyway? […] You’ve heard about some of these pet projects they really don’t make a whole lot of sense and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.”

Fruit fly research.

The fruit fly research that she is talking about must be the Olive fruit fly research. The Olive fruit fly is an invasive pest that threatening California’s multi-million dollar olive crop. In trying to save a chunk of California’s economy in these difficult times, the $211509 French grant probably is a worthwhile investment.

Besides, if you know anything about science, you’ll know that vital findings have resulted from the most tangential experiments. Who knows what benefits might come out this study?

Certainly not Sarah Palin.

If she was only aware of what research of the humble fruit fly has already given to science I bet she wouldn’t have mocked this research in her speech.

For example, progress in birth defects research. That work brought a Nobel Prize.

Progress in autism research. The very condition that Sarah Palin started her talk about. She has a nephew suffering from autism. Fruit fly research may bring vital clues to improve his life.

Diabetes research.

Cancer research. Indeed, fruit fly research has led to critical advances in the treatment of colon cancer and possibly all cancers.

Alzheimer’s research. And scientists have just cured fruit flies from Huntington’s disease, a massive leap to the treatment of humans.

And work on increasing the life-span of fruit flies may have benefits in slowing ageing in humans.

And what makes the fruit fly so ubitiquous in medical research?

Chiang Ann-shyn – director of the Institute of Biotechnology and director of the Brain Research Center at National Tsing Hua University in Hsinchu City, Taiwan – explains in this article:

‘One reason fruit flies were used was the similarities between their genes and human genes, Chiang explained. Although a fruit fly carries only around 135,000 genes, which might seem few in comparison to a human being’s 4 billion genes, a large number of genes that suffer from human genetic disorders can be found in the fruit fly. “Flies are cheap to breed, and their genes can be manipulated quickly,” he declared. Moreover, better understanding of genes would allow scientists to search faster for novel therapeutic drugs for healing diseases like Alzheimer’s, he added.’

I think its clear by now that Sarah Palin has no understanding of science.

Her Young Earth creationist views.
Her disregard for climate change.
Her appalling environmental record.
Her attempt to ban books from the local library in Wasilla.

And now this.

Go back to what she said at the start: “For many parents of children with disabilities, the most valuable thing of all is information.”

What Sarah Palin is promoting with her fruit fly ‘I kid you not’ nonsense is dis-information.

Its just as well it looks like the Republicans look like they are losing the election.

Having Sarah Palin as Vice President with an elderly, poor health John McCain as President just doesn’t bear thinking about.

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Rankings and levers

October 12, 2008

Newspapers have been quoting the survey by the World Economic Forum in which business leaders have been rating the solvency of world banks.

The rankings however were compiled just before the recent £50 billion bail-out by the UK, the nationalisation of the Icelandic banks and the larger US bail-out.

The website has the co-authors interviewed from the 3rd to the 7th of October. The report itself was published on the 8th October.

RANKINGS

1. Canada

2. Sweden

3. Luxembourg

4. Australia

5. Denmark

6. Netherlands

7. Belgium

8. New Zealand

9. Ireland

10. Malta

11. Hong Kong

12. Finland

13. Singapore

14. Norway

15. South Africa

16. Switzerland

17. Namibia

18. Chile

19. France

20. Spain

21. Barbados

22. Bahrain

23. Slovak Republic

24. Brazil

25. Estonia

26. Austria

27. Panama

28. Mauritius

29. Kuwait

30. Qatar

31. United Arab Emirates

32. Trinidad and Tobago

33. Senegal

34. Israel

35. Portugal

36. Iceland

37. Cyprus

38. Botswana

39. Germany

40. United States

41. Lithuania

42. Peru

43. El Salvador

44. United Kingdom

45. Greece

46. Benin

47. Costa Rica

48. Malawi

49. Guyana

50. Malaysia

51. India

52. Puerto Rico

53. The Gambia

54. Montenegro

55. Mexico

56. Croatia

57. Czech Republic

58. Jordan

59. Ghana

60. Suriname

61. Brunei Darussalam

62. Latvia

63. Saudi Arabia

64. Kenya

65. Jamaica

66. Honduras

67. Zambia

68. Burkina Faso

69. Slovenia

70. Sri Lanka

71. Pakistan

72. Philippines

73. Republic of Korea

74. Romania

75. Thailand

76. Madagascar

77. Colombia

78. Cote d’Ivoire

79. Italy

80. Bulgaria

81. Hungary

82. Cameroon

83. Georgia

84. Oman

85. Tunisia

86. Paraguay

87. Nigeria

88. Armenia

89. Morocco

90. Dominican Republic

91. Bolivia

92. Malia

93. Japan

94. Tanzania

95. Moldova

96. Bosnia and Herzegovina

97. Poland

98. Nicaragua

99. Venezuela

100. Uruguay

101. Guatemala

102. FYR Macedonia

103. Syria

104. Albania

105. Nepal

106. Mozambique

107. Russian Federation

108. China

109. Uganda

110. Serbia

111. Egypt

112. Ukraine

113. Vietnam

114. Turkey

115. Bangladesh

116. Azerbaijan

117. Taiwan, China

118. Ecuador

119. Mauritania

120. Mongolia

121. Indonesia

122. Zimbabwe

123. Tajikistan

124. Kazakhstan

125. Cambodia

126. Burundi

127. Chad

128. Ethiopia

129. Argentina

130. East Timor

131. Kyrgyz Republic

132. Lesotho

133. Libya

134. Algeria

Yes. That’s right.

The UK lies behind Peru and El Salvador.

Now given this report was a survey of the world’s economists whose advice our banks were no doubt taking; should we believe it?

Are the UK’s banks really behind Peru, El Salvador and Senegal?

Or is it an accurate representation that is slightly out of date, compiled as it was slightly before the bail-outs?

That must depend on whether you believe the bail-outs will work.

If reports are to be believed the Royal Bank of Scotland is next in line to be nationalised tomorrow. If that happens then there will be further pressure on the remaining UK bank’s to be nationalised too. The banking sector could be picked off one by one by the market and the taxpayer forced to pick up the tab.

On that Iain Dale post there have already been comments about the English taxpayer bailing out the Scottish bank.

It must be a pity, to all those who carp, that Scotland is not already independent.

An independent Scotland with a similar oil fund like our neighbour Norway could be similarly insulated from these turbulent times.

It would also have the economic levers to maintain its economy best, not just for the South-East of England as remains the case today. Remember Eddie George, the former Governor of the Bank of England: Unemployment in the north is a price worth paying for affluence in the South!

Although the credit crunch is global, take a look back at those rankings.

Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands. All small countries lying in the top 10.

Even Ireland, who have recently guaranteed all deposits in their banks, are sitting 9th.

The argument that Scotland is too small to be financially unstable is farcical! I don’t hear anyone saying that Denmark is too small and should be run from Berlin. (Not since the days of Adolf Hitler and the Second World War anyway!)

As countries large and small struggle with the credit credit crunch from the U.S. and Russia down to Iceland with its 300 000 population, this population argument of independence must be seen to be invalid. Iceland, with a population slightly smaller than North Lanarkshire, isn’t exactly Miramont Gardens in Pimlico!

Passport to Pimlico

What matters now is that we take the right decisions to get out this mess.

Those decisions may be different for each country. They may even be different for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

That’s why its important key economic levers are devolved away from Westminster.

Otherwise the Eddie George syndrome will hamper ‘the North’ recovering for years.

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The search for the Higgs boson

September 7, 2008

The world could be a different place after Wednesday.

The world is waiting for the results of the particle acceleration experiment in CERN near Geneva. Its when the new Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will be used for the first time. It cost £4.4 billion to build it and its so big it straddles Switzerland and France.

According to some the experiment could create black holes that could destroy the planet, though the odds on that are highly unlikely. If you’re feeling particularly unlucky don’t book your holidays – unless its on the space shuttle!

The idea is to photograph two protons – a proton is a type of hadron, hence the machine’s name – that are smashing into one another at high speed, and get a picture of the resulting particle fragments – made up of various building blocks that scientists call bosons, quarks and leptons – that fly off in all directions.

Physicists have already identified 16 such particles. They call this the standard model.

But there is a problem with this model. Some particles have mass, others don’t. Its not neat and science likes things that are neat. Neatness generally implies they’ve got it right.

Peter Higgs at CERN

One physicist, Peter Higgs, from Edinburgh University, thought of a solution to the problem whilst trudging through the Cairngorms in 1964.

I’ll give an explanation as I understand it. Apologies to any real physicists! Feel free to correct me in the comments.

Think of Higgs walking through the Cairngorms, Summer 1964. Its Scotland so it’ll be raining or just stopped. Anywhere off the paths would be a field of mud.

Could it be that the sub-atomic particles are also in a field? And just like Higgs’ clothes, some of the sub-atomic particles – depending on where they ‘walked’ – got covered in mud, giving them mass?

If that was the case, then the Higgs field – as physicists now call it – itself must have a corresponding particle (the dirt particle in the field – its now called the Higgs boson) that provides the mass.

So this Wednesday when the particle accelerator is switched on, scientists hope that they can photograph the Higgs boson – or rather see the traces of it,  in theory it should disappear too quickly for the cameras – for the first time.

Peter Higgs’ work was based on other scientists work on the predicted Goldstone boson. But his ideas have already earned him the 1997 Dirac medal, the 1997 High Energy and Particle Physics Prize, and the 2004 Wolf Prize in Physics and his portrait proudly hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

If the LHC experiment finds evidence of a Higgs boson, Peter Higgs would almost certainly receive a Nobel Prize.

Its still all ‘ifs’ right now though. The LHC has not been tested; the experiment on Wednesday will be its first run. Its so large and costly that any tests would take months and cost more! Might as well run it and see if it works – if it doesn’t, well that’s a test! And its not at all clear how long it will need to run before the colliding protons create a Higgs boson that can be detected.

Most scientists think there will be a Higgs boson.

If there isn’t then all those physicists need to think of another explanation for the mass of sub-atomic particles.

Peter Higgs is almost eighty now. He thinks it might take a year to find his Higgs boson. Stephen Hawking has bet him £100 it will never be found. Still Higgs is confident and intends to be still alive when its found!: “There’s a conference next year in Glasgow to discuss the first results from the LHC, and I’ve been invited – dead or alive.”

This experiment may finally give physicists a true picture of how matter is composed, and a glimpse of what actually happened at the time of the Big Bang. It may even open more doors to string theory.

Its the most important scientific experiment of the 21st century. And depending on its answers, it could be one of the most important experiments of all time.


Home Nations Olympic teams in history

August 25, 2008

My previous post described how the 1908 Great Britain Olympic football squad was in fact the English national amateur team.

One other thing of interest in that Olympics was that the Home Nations representated themselves in some sports.

For example, in Hockey there was a English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh side. (This before before the independence of Ireland and the partition of Northern Ireland.)

They competed with France and Germany to get the medals.

England won gold. Ireland won the silver. Scotland and Wales shared the bronze, as there was no 3rd place play-off.

Scotland beating Germany 4-0 at hockey in the 1908 Olympics

England and Ireland representated themselves at Polo.

The IOC rules about countries competing only if they have an IOC committee in place where enforced at these London games.

This was a British ploy to prevent the situation that had happened two years previous in the 1906 Intercalated Olympics – basically a mid term Olympics between 1904 and 1908.

Peter O’Connor, an Irish long jumper, high jumper and triple jumper, was sent to Athens by the GAA and the IAAA, Irish sport authorities. Of course, Ireland at the time was not independent from Britain and hence Peter and other Irish atheletes found themselves listed as representing Britain.

In a controversial long jump competition, Peter came second, but as the Union flag was raised to represent his silver, Peter climbed the flagpole and waved his Irish flag instead.

He later won the gold medal in the triple jump.

That’s why the IOC ruling was enforced in 1908 by the London Olympics, to try and stop any such political statements. However to primarily appease the Irish they allowed the Home Nations to represent themselves at some sports; particularly in those sports where Ireland had a good chance to win a gold medal.

A knock-on effect of this ruling was that Finland – at the time ruled by Russia – was listed as Russian. This was particularly upsetting for the Finns as Russia had not even bothered to send a team.

They decided to have no flag instead.

The official report on the London games stated “it might on another occasion be better to consider separate entries from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales…as well as from both New Zealand and Australia”

Even in the imperial mood of 1908 came the realisation that separate teams were the way forward.

One hundred years later and we’re still having the debate in the UK!


SNP win Glasgow East

July 25, 2008

Yes. The SNP have won Glasgow East.

It might be a shock result but is anyone surprised?

I’m not going to go into Labour’s terminal decline in Scotland today.

I’ve already posted quite a bit on Labour’s slapstick election campaign too.

No. Today should be about celebrating the SNP’s magnificient win.

A justified result for the SNP’s brilliant campaign team and candidate John Mason.

A win that delivered the promised ‘political earthquake’. (Yet another SNP promise delivered!)

An earthquake with tremors felt around the world:-

The USA: New York Times and Time magazine
Canada: The National Post
India : Top News
South Africa : News 24
Australia : Sydney Morning Herald
France: France 24
Spain: EITB 24

to name but a few countries coverage.

Now thats what I call putting Scotland on the world stage!

To do it permanently, independence is the next step.

Bring it on!