This is how to build the next world:
Today I went for a drive in a brand new Nissan Leaf. The Leaf, as you may know, is an electric car. There aren’t that many true electric cars on the market (the Chevy Volt doesn’t count because it has both electric and gasoline engines).
The Leaf is surely one of the butt-ugliest cars I’ve ever seen in my life, but otherwise it’s a pleasant ride, a typical small hatchback. I took it out for a drive of about 25 kilometers, and was, of course, worried that the battery would run out. However, the car was fully-charged when I picked it up, and is capable of covering up to 140 kilometers on a charge, depending on driving conditions.
If I hadn’t known it was electric, I probably would not have known from the driving experience, except to say that the car was unusually quiet, particularly at low speeds. The Leaf is comfortable, well-appointed and solid–there are no compromises that I could detect in the way it’s made. Driving it is quite straightforward once you get past the fact that there’s no ignition key (you start it like a computer, by pushing a power button on the dashboard). The dashboard is designed, unmistakably, to address range anxiety. It’s reassuringly informative about the available charge, the projected range at any given moment, and even an estimate of the time you’ll need to recharge the car. When you plug it in at the end of your day, there’s a flashing blue “charging” light on the dashboard, easily visible from a distance, so that you might look at the car in the driveway from your house, say, and you’ll know if it’s still charging. For today’s 25K trip, I racked up an estimated charging time of 2.5 hours.
Kudos to Nissan for a brave innovation. I hear tell the car isn’t selling well, and some people put that down to skittishness about an expensive small car with a limited range. My two cents: if Nissan wants to sell more of these, the first problem is aesthetic. The new Ford Focus EV, by contrast, is quite a handsome vehicle, and it’s what I would go for if I cared to spend 40K on a car.
Rachel Maddow had a great show tonight, including an interview with the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and a clip from a recent address by President Obama, that frankly made me cheer out loud. Watch
You know, we had pretty cool toys in the 60s when I was a child, but nothing that would touch this:
Oh, to be young now, with parents who would buy me such adventure and autonomy as such a vehicle would confer: to drive around! Of course, when I was a boy, of an age to have such a toy: we used to go roaming about, all over the countryside, nobody attached much risk to it. Kids mostly don’t get to do that so much, these days.
Arthur C. Clarke once famously observed that “any sufficiently-advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic“.
Every now and then I run across a story about remarkable new technology, something that makes my jaw drop a little. Here is a TED Tak, by Jack Horner: Building a dinosaur from a chicken.
Horner begins his talk with the idea that birds are (literally) modern dinosaurs: they are what some dinosaurs evolved into. I was first exposed to this idea as a young man, reading Desmond’s The Hot-Blooded Dinosaurs. I gather it’s now a widely-shared view that birds’ ancestors were dinosaurs, and that therefore, the genetic line of dinosaurs persists into modernity (see Wikipedia on the origin of birds).
Horner is working on a project which involves genetically regressing a chicken into the form of its dinosaur ancestors. This is to be accomplished by enabling obsolete and unexpressed genetic software in a chicken’s DNA that produces things like teeth, claws and a tail.
Horner has a dry wit and it’s a heck of a story. Something I found remarkable: that the technological accomplishment (of being able to turn genes on and off) is almost in the background, it hardly seems novel or cutting-edge. The clever thing in the story is Horner’s idea that contemporary dinosaur DNA is readily available and can be manipulated to reveal its own ancestor. Magic!
Just lately, one of my favourite things on TV has been the Rachel Maddow Show. A self-avowed liberal American commentator, Rachel is erudite, charming, witty and scathing in her critiques of the American political scene. I wish we had this kind of political coverage in Canada.
is about how to make (non-dairy) cheese substances — analogs for anything from bocconcini, to something that resembles sharp old cheddar — even to the degree that it melts under a grill more or less like the real thing. Amazing.
There’s something quite engaging about the way the article is written; I enjoyed reading it for that reason foremost.
It includes a recipe for fake cheddar cheese. It would be interesting to try to make such a thing.
The Monty Python Galaxy Song — makes me wonder what else I missed in their comedy:
I love crows, I think they’re beautiful birds, and part of that arrives with the air of awareness they seem to possess. Watch this TED talk for insight into the complexity and subtlety of a crow’s world, which is our own: