Time travel in a Tesla (video)

I have seen the future. There’s not much petrol in it.

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Tesla Model S – all electric supercar

I’ve been following Tesla for a while since they started on the Tesla S journey. The goal was electric cars for the mass market, but they started off at the high end where the revenues and margins are much better; the end of the market where owners may have another car and be more forgiving of experiments that may go sideways; the end that supports pricey vehicles that may not have everyday applications. This was a smart move – and I was interested to see how it plays out over time. This is like smartphones – started with business folks and Blackberry, today is an essential part of life. Mass adoption changes everything. Continue reading

African kids shouldn’t study quantum physics

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Image from tcdailyplanet.net | Flickr Creative Commons

Or things like that.

I had a particularly upsetting day for me during my stint in England in 2010. I was rounding up my studies in Industrial Systems and Management and had been invited for a cocktail by my sponsors. My thesis then was in the fairly esoteric field of ant colony optimisation algorithms and I was quite pleased with the initial results of my work. I think my supervisors and industrial sponsors were too! We were looking at novel schemes for algorithms that may one day be part of the backbone of so called self serving assets e.g. aircraft that are aware of their state and autonomously select and procure maintenance services for themselves as they fly all over the world. So pretty next gen stuff.

So I was in that place where I was flirting with the idea of research for the next couple of years. You know? A PhD from a prestigious university and everything. I was mulling the idea everyday, weighing the odds, exploring potential supervisors etc. In the middle of that period was this lunch/cocktail thing that came along and we were all just standing there that afternoon, chatting about everything and nothing in particular when this man asked me what my next plans were.

I spoke freely, told him about my current research and my thoughts of a potential PhD along those lines. He looked at me incredulously and said something like “but how is that relevant to Africa?” Hmm. The man has a point, doesn’t he? We can’t even figure out how to generate electricity for the continent and this one is talking about aircrafts that call the service centre to check themselves in. I can’t remember how I responded to that seemingly innocous question, but I was upset. Upset because the tone of his voice suggested that being from Africa automatically drew bounds around what I was allowed to explore – development, sustainability, you know the usual suspects.

He looked at me incredulously and said something like “but how is that relevant to Africa?” Hmm. The man has a point, doesn’t he? We can’t even figure out how to generate electricity for the continent and this one is talking about aircrafts that call the service centre to check themselves in.

That’s unfortunate. Completely against the spirit of the place we met and I daresay, against the spirit of education itself. I understand the spirit of the scholarships that we frequently get handed out in exchange for showing promise. The idea is to use the opportunity to develop skills, return home and make our countries better. I get that. But does that circumscribe the limits of our intellectual exploration or contribution to knowledge? My personal view of education, especially tertiary education is that the subject matter itself is not what counts (except in some particular cases) but the process of learning – I promise a post on that shortly. So I didn’t think he had a point. In fact he probably won’t have asked the same question of a self sponsored student. But oh well.

I didn’t do a PhD in the end. For a bunch of reasons that had nothing to do with the suggestion that it was out of scope for an African kid. But I wonder how many of those interactions go on daily. How many people who could probably make phenomenal contributions to different aspects of human endeavour get nudged away, because of where they come from, because of how they look, because of their sex, or their orientations? Folks, don’t let anyone; even those who have been tremendously beneficial, limit you. Do what you will, follow your curiosity. Live. Be.

Don’t stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing – Albert Einstein

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).

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.

Continue reading

Bye Bye Blackberry!

First. Some background.

Earlier today:  the news dropped that BlackBerry could in a matter of weeks be a private company. For those for who that is greek, it means while right now they trade on a stock market and their shares could be bought and sold by anyone, in a matter of weeks, all current shareholders will be given $9.00 for each share they own and BlackBerry will pass from being a publicly owned (or listed) company to being the property of private owners.

Two days ago: a global roll-out of the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service to users on Android and iOS was halted. The reason proffered was that a leaked version of the BBM for Android that had been installed by users the previous week generated data traffic that was far more than that of an average user, as a result of the about 1.4 million new subscribers that jumped on the BBM ship in the 8 hours that it was available, the servers could not handle it – and there was no straightforward way of disabling just the offending version. The roll-out was stopped and is on hold till further notice. Continue reading