Blitz Series: What is the Solar Impulse 2?

It’s an aircraft, albeit a weird looking one that aims to achieve things that have never been done before.

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Solar Impulse 2 (Image from: http://www.solarimpluse.com)

Last year, on the 9 March 2014, I watched slightly bemused as the awkward looking aircraft with a gigantic wingspan and a tiny cabin took off from Abu Dhabi on CNN. This was the first leg of a long journey round the world to prove a point – that it was possible to circumnavigate* the earth powered entirely by the energy of the sun. While we may not see commercial aircraft rising on the wings of the morning any time soon, this proof of concept is definitely one of the bigger steps towards a greener, more renewable future. It is absolutely laudable and demonstrates that a big chunk of the technology for that future, is already here. The official website echoes that message throughout.

As tends to happen to most things that are not short and sweet, I stopped thinking about the Solar Impulse 2 a couple of days later, after all it’s not scheduled to return to Abu Dhabi until August this year. All that changed last week a colleague who is an aviation enthusiast (he flies gliders in his spare time over the mountains straddling Switzerland and France) didn’t stop poking me to follow along as the aircraft did it’s most challenging phase yet, a 117.87hr flight from Nagoya, Japan to Hawaii in the USA crossing the Pacific Ocean and smashing multiple records including; longest solar flight time and distance in a manned aircraft, and longest solo flight in any type of aircraft by time. Shout out to  André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, the men who are piloting this expedition.

In the spirit of short and sweet, I won’t bore you with the technical details of the aircraft beyond answering the obvious question of “how does a solar airplane fly at night?” That answer is actually the same for most forms of solar energy exploitation, you have a solar array that supplies power and simultaneously charges a set of batteries when light is available. When the light goes down, the batteries kick in and continue to power the system till the sun is back up. That simple explanation takes years of engineering and hard work to pull off in an aircraft like this so the feat is quite impressive. Let me invite you to discover a piece of the future via the following links.

Official website: this has got tons of information and even links to sign up as a supporter. You can also view in real time data from the plane when it’s in the air including how much power its using and the split between batteries and solar panels etc.

Youtube channel: this has got great clips from the project including some crazy GoPro shots.

Wikipedia: our favorite fallback has information on the entire Solar Impulse project and recommended links to broaden your knowledge of these exciting developments in clean travel.

Go check them out!

Update: unfortunately, during this historic trip issues with overinsulation on the aircraft’s batteries left many cells permanently damaged due to overheating. The entire battery pack will be replaced so looks like the plane is grounded in Hawaii till next year… Too bad 😦

* I’m not sure this is a strict circumnavigation since most of the flights are in the Northern Hemisphere, which means technically the plane will travel a shorter distance than if it had been flying round the equator. But that is besides the point. For a more detailed discussion of circumnavigation, check out this Wikipedia article.

Blitz Series: Vessyl

Every now and then I come across a new innovation that makes me say “wow!” This is a first one in a while. Basically, its a cup that is able to recognize its contents and provide a calorific estimate and hydration value. That allows you to integrate your liquid intake with all the other smart data you’re probably already gathering about your activity levels etc. if you’re in the target market. Take a look at the promo video below.

Fine.. I know you know what you just poured into your cup so that’s not a big deal, but that functionality (I’d suspect) is key to the Vessyl’s ability to provide the calorific and hydration estimates. So, am I buying? Yes, when it goes commercial. I’m on a furlough from beta testing, but who knows – the situation is fluid (pun intended).

Glory!

The struggle of the American Blacks is at once alien and familiar – resonating with the familiarity of a chronic backache.

Perhaps that’s because it’s not only a race or class struggle, it’s a struggle for humanity itself.

A struggle to be considered human, same as the other.

Blitz Series: Overtaking

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I took a long road trip over the weekend guided by the disembodied voice from Google Maps as my main company.

“At the roundabout, take the first exit and continue on the Accra – Cape Cost Road.

It was a journey of many firsts for me and it was far more enjoyable than I expected it to be. But this post was not about the journey as much as the random thoughts that crossed my mind along the line. Here is one of them.

It’s the average speed that matters.

On many occasions I was passed by vehicles going at what seemed like 4 times the speed limit (50km/h. haha), couple of minutes later we almost always ended up trailing each other because there was a holdup, a toll gate, a slow moving truck climbing a hill, you get the picture. Extrapolate that and we all probably spent approximately the same time on the overall journey give or take a few minutes. What we didn’t all do though is go through the same amount of risk in achieving that result, and perhaps there is a life lesson in there for this fast paced world.

It takes a few seconds to end up in a situation where you never get to the destination at the sort of speeds I was seeing, especially since these were single carriage roads we are talking about. A little less speed and the risk is majorly reduced for a negligible (in the long run) change in performance. And for me this was something that particularly resonated. Now without doubt the high speed drive is a lot more fun, I know cos I used to be one of those guys. Maybe I’m just getting old…

What’s the Blitz Series?

You’ve probably noticed some posts are showing up with the header “Blitz Series?”

Yeah, those are my attempts to keep the post going without 3 month breaks like what happened last year. Most of my posts tend to get written only after a bouncing around in my head for a long time (doesn’t help that I endlessly postpone writing them). So the Blitz Series (and they have their own section) are relatively short posts that don’t require long rumination. Like an idea that pops into my head while waiting in a queue, or commentary on an issue that has been in the news.

So  that’s it folks, please comment and share. Thank you.

Blitz Series: why would Apple want to rock with a new Beat(s)?

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The news has been making the rounds for a while and it looks official now that Beats By Dre will be part of the Apple family for a cool $3 Billion. This will be Apple’s biggest spend on acquiring a company yet and you have to wonder, why are they doing it?

While Mr Cook and his board may be the only ones who truly know the answer, there are a number of reasons why the acquisition may be particularly synergistic. Here are my top five.

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Blitz series: the case for expedited services…

NOTHING in Nigeria goes for the right price.

Huh?

Ok. Let me rephrase.Most things in Nigeria, especially public services, don’t go for the right price. That’s a double-edged statement in the sense that I’m saying they are not properly priced to start with, and we don’t even get to enjoy or utilize them at the stated price. So when you go in to get that International Passport, or Driver’s licence, or whatever.. you end up paying multiples of the stated price either to get the standard service or a slightly quicker turnaround time. Which leads me to the question?

“Why not price the bloody things appropriately in the first place? Or if we need to maintain the affordable sensibilities, why not define standard and premium services so that we don’t keep lining pockets in NIS or FRSC as they have already created these classifications?

Here are a couple of cases where I think everyone will benefit if standard expedited services exist:

  • Passports, IDs and Licenses: some people don’t mind waiting some weeks to get these. Others want it yesterday.Let’s have different prices for both categories and let people choose the level of service they want. We’ve already demonstrated these things can be ready a lot faster than the advertised timings. Formalize it
  • Airport check-ins: there is already a line for premium customers that stays empty 90% of the time. Especially on local flights. Sell it and earn extra revenue. If you wanna skip the queue, part with some extra cash. Some people already do it, but they give the money to the “guys on the ground” who make it happen. Close the leakage and trap the extra revenue.

I’m sure there are many more cases where this will work. Let me know some of the other ones that cross your mind.

Note, the idea here is not to excuse the generally poor service we get when consuming public services, that’s a separate issue. The point I’m drawing attention to here is that there is clearly a desire by a subset of customers to get things faster. Let give them what they want and bring in the (bribe) money to the official purse.