October 2007

30 October 2007
User-controlled Transitions lenses – on a bus
Brian Micklethwait

One of the technological developments that Patrick and I talked about in this conversation was how much better and stronger glass has been getting lately.  Window pains have gone from flat transparencies that shatter into fragments if you so much as nudge them to giant hi-tech heat and light control systems that you can drop a car on without damage to anything but the car.

Soon, it would appear, we will be able to alter these membranes (membrains?) for ourselves, at any rate when travelling by bus:

Think user-controlled Transitions lenses, but for automobiles.  Got it? If so, then you’ve got a pretty decent idea of what makes Hino Motor’s concept motorcoach - which was being shown off at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show - unique. Developed by Research Frontiers, the SPD-Smart technology covering those expansive panels there on your right “allows vehicle occupants to instantly, precisely and uniformly control the amount of sunlight, glare and heat passing through the windows, sunroofs and other glazings.” Additionally, it blocks over 99-percent of harmful UV radiation and can be darkened or lightened with the press of a button. ...

Cool.  Literally, if cool is what you want.

26 October 2007
First commercial A380 flight
Rob Fisher

The first commercial A380 flight happened yesterday.  I chose to link to that particular news source because they have a nice picture of a couple enjoying their private first class cabin with double bed.  It reminds me of the good old days of passenger aviation, when private cabins and restaurants were normal.  It remains to be seen whether this is a short-lived publicity gimmick with private cabins soon to be replaced with extra economy class seats, or whether luxury flights like this can be profitable.

22 October 2007
Mobile phone news
Rob Fisher

I recently learnt a couple of things about mobile phones by reading the backs of other people’s newspapers on the train.  (I don’t read my own newspapers as a rule because I like to maintain a cheerful, optimistic outlook.)

The first thing is that a system is being trialled that will allow a mobile phone to be used as a train ticket.  The newspaper story contains almost no details about how this will work, but Chiltern Railways provide more information.  It’s actually quite clever:

Passengers receive their ticket in the form of a barcode sent directly to their mobile phone by an SMS text message. Staff on board the train and at London Marylebone station will be able to check the ‘mobile ticket’ with special barcode scanners.

The second thing is that airlines are gearing up to allow the use of mobile phones on aeroplanes.  Previously airlines and the FAA have maintained that this is far too dangerous, what with the radio waves and sensitive equipment on board.  Certainly any interference problem would be exacerbated by the fact that, unable to see a nearby base station, a phone ramps up its power.  The system planned by airlines including Ryanair works by putting a base station repeater on the plane, enabling phones to work at very low power levels.

The Metro article does not go into much detail, but a very well referenced Wikipedia page comes to the rescue, with information on these developments and the issue in general.

Do Segways have a future?
Brian Micklethwait

Ferrari are seriously pissing on their brand.  Read about Segway (and yes there is now a Ferrari Segway) engadgetry generally here.  Early last month, a fat cop used one to catch a bad guy, or so it says here.

Are Segways sane or merely the latest manifestation of the Sinclair C5 syndrome?  Do they perhaps have a future in a world dominated (a) by flat pedestrianised surfaces and insanely long pedestrian ramps to anywhere higher or lower, and (b) by vast herds of old people who will otherwise hardly be able to move at all?  Maybe they do.

Again with the doors not opening
Brian Micklethwait

This time, what happened was that the train overshot its landing at a scheduled stop, and only the last half of the final carriage was next to the platform.  And once again, guess what, they refused to open the doors even of this one carriage, to let people off who wanted to get off at that particular station.  (It was our old friend leaves on the line which had put the driver off his game.) Would be exit-ing passengers had to go on to the next stop, and then take another train back.

This would never have happened in one of those old trains, with horribly clunky but independently hand operated doors, instead of the centrally controlled doors they have now.  Suddenly, these new carriages take on the air of prisons.

Squander Two tells the story.  It wasn’t so much what the guard said that got him angry, as the way that he said it.  ST didn’t, as they used to say, care for the fellow’s tone.

19 October 2007
The doors will not open
Rob Fisher

In between making lengthy PA announcements about how he was sorry he didn’t have any information to give us, our train guard mentioned that the station we were stuck at for ten minutes was not a scheduled stop and the doors would not be opening.

I wonder why.  What if people wanted to get on or off at that station?  Why not make the best of a bad situation?  Perhaps official procedure prohibits it, in which case it is a rather petty example of the rule obsession of which Jonathan Pierce complains.

It wasn’t always like this:  As a small child in the 80s I clearly remember being led across the tracks with my mother by the station attendant for some reason or another.  I’m sure it was perfectly safe.  Today such discretion would be unthinkable (third rails notwithstanding).

18 October 2007
Drew Carey explains road pricing
Brian Micklethwait

I did a “view source” at Garnerblog and just shovelled it all into here, so maybe Patrick will want to edit.

Anyway, here it all is, Drew Carey on how the magic of the market might unblock LA:





17 October 2007
Liquid crystal Professor
Brian Micklethwait

A recent posting chez moi combines transport and, sort of, blogging.  A train named after the man who discovered the principle behind liquid crystal displays.  My posting was just a little snap of his name.  Here is the stuff about the man himself, a certain Professor Gray, and here is the train.

imageI noticed that this train itself sported LCD type displays on the outside, with information about itself.  And of course there are now many LCDs inside trains, telling you what stations will be visiting, not to smoke, etc.

Best of all, I think, are the constantly updated LCDs at stations giving you at least an up-to-date guess about what will soon be arriving, when, and where it will go.  I find these signs immensely reassuring.  (They are even more useful at bus stops, because until bus stops had them, there was nothing to tell you when buses were arriving or where they would be going, apart from those ludicrously complicated spreadsheets prepared last November, which were impossible to unscramble.)

At present, however, the LCDs at stations only tell you where the next train is going to go.  They don’t do the same for the second or third train on the way.  That can be annoying, because your decision about taking the first one might be influenced by knowing where later trains will be going.

How soon before the LCDs in trains are as good and as useful as the LCD you may well be reading this on?

By the way, is that nob beyond the LCD in my picture by any chance a camera?

15 October 2007
Wheels with a difference
Brian Micklethwait

During the summer I took a break from all blogging, but I have now resumed, chez moi and at Samizdata.  And I now resume here, with apologies for my prolonged absence, with a link to the transport gizmo that has most impressed me during the last few months.  I refer to the Nissan Pivo2.

You can’t understand the significance of this vehicle from still photos.  You have to see the video.  So, here it is:

Don’t let its Teletubby looks and that annoying monkey head computer fool you.  This remarkable vehicle embodies one of the most important advances in motoring, and especially in parking, that I have seen since the car itself was invented.

Just in case you didn’t get the video to work, or if you rely on words to find your way to interesting postings, I refer to the swivelling wheels.  These wheels are what every incompetent parker has always wanted.  You can just put it next to where you want to park it, and then tell it to swivel its wheels through ninety degrees.  Then you move sideways into the parking slot.  Even if other motorists park right next to you and leave you with only an inch of clearance at both ends, it’s no problem.  Swivel, sidle.  Swivel again, and drive away.  Brilliant.

I “designed” this vehicle in my head forty years ago, and my version looked uncannily like the Pivo2 does.

I’m guessing that what makes this concept possible is that small electric motors have got more powerful lately, to the point where you can have one for each wheel, plus another to swivel each wheel.  Plus, I’m guessing that car batteries are getting better all the time.  Or maybe Nissan just reckons that this is the way things are headed, and they want to be ready when they’ve got there.  But: don’t really know.  Comments?

Government to abandon national road pricing scheme - good. Probably  …link
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)UK pricing scheme
09 October 2007
The taxi driver and the mayor
Rob Fisher

My taxi driver to the airport this morning can’t use the M4 bus lane because he drives a minicab, not a black cab.  This is despite mandatory licensing being introduced for minicabs a couple of years ago.  (I am against taxi licensing, incidentally.)  Ken Livingstone says that there are too many minicabs to allow them to use bus lanes, but the M4 bus lane is not like other bus lanes.

My taxi was a large Mercedes with a 3.2 litre engine.  This is exactly the type of vehicle I want to be driven to the airport in at 7am.  The taxi driver is getting ready to trade in his Mercedes because Ken Livingstone is raising the congestion charge for such vehicles to £25.  He’s considering a hybrid because there is no congestion charge for these.  By playing with the economics of the situation, Livingstone has a huge influence on how I get driven to the airport.  He’s also having far more influence over people’s choice of vehicle technology than he deserves.

The folk over at Picking Losers would not approve.  They think that markets pick winners, and politicians pick losers.

04 October 2007
Transport Bloggers talk about transport
Patrick Crozier

Last night a few of the Transport Blog crew met up in Central London.  Surprisingly enough the subject of transport did in fact crop up now and again.

One discussion we had was over the Boeing 787.  It seems that one of the big advantages of its lightweight construction is that it allows higher cabin pressures.  For some reason, it’s to do with white blood cells apparently, this means that passengers won’t be so tired when they reach their destinations.  It’s amazing how advances in technology can have strange knock-on effects.  I wonder if the Airbus 380 will be similarly blessed.  I suspect not.

Another discussion was over train gauges.  They differ between Spain and France, so how, we wondered did Rob manage to board a train that managed to take him all the way from Paris to Barcelona?  And how did they manage to make the change of gauge without him noticing?  This is how.