How the 20th century was almost dominated by electric vehicles, rather than petrol

It’s amazing to think that had circumstances been different, the western world might have developed its road transport around electric engines rather than fossil fuels.

That’s one of the key points made by “A Most Deliberate Swindle“, by Mick Hamer – the tale of the London Electrobus company, which pioneered the use of electric buses in London in the early 1900s. I was sent a preview copy — it’s being released later this week.

It’s an interesting story, and is really both a book about Edwardian-era fraud, and transport. I confess the latter is of more interest to me, so I have to admit I skimmed a little bit over the background story of the some personalities involved: a mix of gentlemen who spotted what was essentially a worthwhile venture, a viable electric battery bus, and used it to fleece shareholders out of their money.

As it turns out, a major contributor to the buses being reliable enough for service was the batteries, and part of the story relates to how the Electrobus company’s management fooled the American inventors into handing over the technology.

And yes, for a time, the electric bus service was successful and popular with passengers, thanks in part to a smoother quieter ride, which also made them popular with local residents.

The idea unravelled thanks to the scammers being more interested in making money by cheating people than selling electric vehicles and running electric buses.

The real sting in the tale is towards the end of the book, when author Hamer points out that 20th century motor vehicles ended up being mostly petrol powered because the technology happened to be ready for prime time, cheap enough and reliable enough, at just the right juncture. It gained momentum, and like VHS winning over the technically superior Beta, became dominant.

So but for chance, it could have been electric vehicles instead that dominated during the 20th century, certainly for buses, but also for other service vehicles and even private cars.

London as a city in many ways holds enormous influence, particularly around the Commonwealth, but also farther afield. If electric vehicles had taken off in Britain in the 1900s, then right across the world, issues such as city air quality and lead poisoning from cars might be much less of a problem than they were and are — particularly now, when more electricity generation is being moved to clean sources of power.

Today, Tesla and others are pushing electric cars, and while they won’t solve traffic congestion, they are certainly advancing the technology. In the last year or two, numerous countries have announced the phase-out of petrol and diesel cars.

And yes, there’s a push for electric buses too — they’re being promoted by local companies and campaigns — here in Melbourne, PT Not Traffic have a campaign for electric buses on inner-city routes.

There’s plenty of detail in the book, and one thing that struck me was the names of the companies (both real and fraudulent), which back in those days certainly told you what the company did (or at least claimed to do). These days they’re a lot more abstract than some of those in the book: “The London Electrobus Company”, “The Electric Tramways Construction and Maintenance Company”, or the “Gould Storage Battery Company Limited”.

It’s a good read, and worth a look. It’s due out this Thursday 28th September.

Ten years twittering

Ten years ago today:

Yep, ten years ago today I joined Twitter.

As you can see, my second Tweet was just as compelling:

This was all pre-smartphone (at least for me) though some the Nokia phones I had until 2011 could do Twitter.

At the time, I don’t think Twitter could do pictures. And links took up a lot of space from the 140 character limit unless you used a 3rd-party URL shortener — many of these have since gone bust or dumped those early links, so many old Twitter links are now dead.

Here’s what my Twitter timeline looked about a year later, in late 2008. Looks like I was still sometimes posting in “Daniel is” IRC-style. (This is via the Web Archive, so the timestamps are all wrong.)

My Twitter page in November 2008 (courtesy of the Web Archive)

Critical mass

Social media networks tend to reach a critical mass of users that encourages more people to get on board and post.

What’s fascinating to see is Twitter has become ubiquitous in areas such as breaking news. Journalists in particular love it – I assume as a trend it spread from the USA. Looking at Australian journalist profiles, there seems to have been a rush onto Twitter in about 2009-10.

These days, most Australian TV news services show their reporters’ Twitter handles on-screen. (In fact ABC TV news usually shows journos’ Twitter handles, but not the reporter’s name!)

No doubt thanks to PTUA work, I’ve got about 5800 followers. This is nowhere near as many as a lot of other people have, but apparently it is in the 99th percentile of active Twitter accounts.

Then again, on a system where apparently 391 million accounts have no followers at all, perhaps it reflects how many fake or robot accounts there are on the system. That’s okay, TwitterAudit reckons most of mine are real!

How to use social media is up to you

I’m personally not keen on the lengthy threads some people post on Twitter – they can get initial attention, but long-term are very difficult to find later — which can be frustrating as often they are full of excellent insights into the issue at hand. My view is post it on a blog somewhere, and link to that.

But ultimately, how you use social media is up to you. And who you follow will obviously influence what you see.

The major social networking systems each have their place, and I use them in different ways:

I use Twitter for following news, and “public” stuff.

I use Facebook purely for friends and family (though I also have a public Facebook page – you can follow it for blog updates).

I glance at LinkedIn sometimes, but restrict it to people I know via work and PTUA interactions.

Google Plus? I barely ever look at it.

I suspect more people use Facebook everyday than Twitter, but I probably like Twitter more. It seems more open than Facebook’s and the others, which try to keep you on their site/app.

10 years on Twitter

One side-effect of Twitter is that I’m probably blogging less. Often I’ll fire off thoughts as one-liners rather than develop them more fully into blog posts. Kind of a shame, but it also reflects that I’m far busier now than I have been in the past.

Something I do like is a lot of prominent people are on Twitter, and many of them will respond to questions from randoms like me. (In turn, I try to respond to others, but sometimes there just isn’t the time.)

And if you’re wondering, apparently this is my most re-tweeted ever — a comment on US conservatives’ reactions to the US Supreme Court ruling that same-sex marriage is legal. Apparently it was pushed along by being included in a Buzzfield article.

As a time-waster, social media is probably unparalleled. But it’s fun, and informative.

So I’ll keep on using Twitter, and if you’re on there too, feel free to follow me!

So darling share this wine with me, we’ll be together on the eve of World War 3

Friday night concert! I was sold on Things Of Stone And Wood – though my compradres were really going for the support act, Club Hoy.

It might be cruel to call TOSAW a one-hit wonder, though none of their efforts charted as well as Happy Birthday Helen. But the song was on an album called “The Yearning” (1993) which I really really liked back in the day… perhaps apart from the title track, which seemed overly earnest and solemn. I liked it so much I had both the album on CD, and the EP of the single. Listening to the album today, it’s still terrific.

Friday night’s concert was a full performance of “The Yearning”, a near 25th anniversary performance. I admit, the last two concerts I’d been to were similar setups: Ocean Colour Scene’s Moseley Shoals, and Deborah Conway’s String Of Pearls.

A nostalgic Gen X-er and his money are easily parted.

Northcote Social Club, 24/3/2017

M and I made our way to Northcote and met up with Tony and Elizabeth. We found some dinner and as we chatted over some food, which gave Elizabeth and I a chance to hear Tony and M’s tale of being shushed for talking at a concert many moons ago by a fan of the support act. Don’t talk over Dave Graney!

A notice in the window of the Northcote Social Club gave us the running times of each act (and a song lyric on the sign above), and we opted for dessert over Rick Hart (sorry Rick).

We headed into the club at about 9:30 and found a spot close to the stage.

Club Hoy at the Northcote Social Club, 24/3/2017

Club Hoy came on, and were really good, despite two blokes behind us talking incessantly about the other concerts they’d been to (and presumably talked through).

After a few songs, another bloke trying intently to listen to the band turned around. “Shhhh!”

“Sorry mate”. They disappeared. I laughed and laughed (quietly). Thank you, defenders of support acts everywhere.

They finished up, and suddenly from nowhere, TOSAW fans filled the room, with the two biggest blokes in the place crowding out some of our view. Alas, Tony and Elizabeth bailed at this point to return home to their respective families before it got too late (it was about 10:30pm), which was a great pity because I think they missed a great show. (But I would say that; I accept I’m a Club Hoy newbie and a TOSAW fan.)

Things Of Stone And Wood, Northcote Social Club 24/3/2017

Lead singer Greg Arnold doesn’t look a day older – his long hair, beard and moustache probably help, and I was left wondering if he’s had them since 1993 or if he just grew everything out for the anniversary tour.

No matter. They rocked. It was a great show, with TOSAW tragics singing every word, but everyone present in the sold-out club seemed to enjoy it. And let’s face it, a good deal of what makes a great show is whether the crowd gets into it.

There was some nice band repartee as well. They seemed genuinely delighted to be there in front of such an appreciative crowd, and don’t seem to mind being known popularly just for Happy Birthday Helen (“it took us around the world”).

They answered something I’d long wondered: was The Yearning (track 7) meant to lead straight into Single Perfect Raindrop (track 8)? Why yes! But due to a miscalculation of sorts, on the cassette the effect was ruined, because you had to turn the tape over. No such problem on the CD.

After the 14 tracks of the album, they went on to play a few later songs, including one that sounded very familiar when I heard it: Wildflowers — which they remarked is unfortunately relevant again.

…as well as the B-side “She Will Survive”, with its very memorable lyrics about Jane Austen.

And then it was over. What a great show, and a great night out for $40.

If you remember them from back in the day, and have a chance to catch them (that show was sold out, but they’re on in Geelong this weekend), I can thoroughly recommend TOSAW.

In the town where I was born

I don’t have “get rich quick” schemes.

I kind of have “get moderately well-off, gradually” schemes.

The worst one has been buying shares. I got a tip that shares in Xero (the online accounting software company) would skyrocket. And they did, from about $6 to something like $40. But that was before I got around to buying them. By the time I bought them, they’d dropped to about $25. They subsequently fell to $15. Currently they’re sitting at $18. I didn’t buy a huge number of shares, but I’ll hold onto them for now rather than sell at a loss.

Here’s one of my crazier schemes:

Before Christmas I spotted this at one of the local toy shops: Lego set 21306: the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.

Ooh. Alas, I didn’t get it for Christmas, but I thought maybe I’d go buy it for myself.

My mate Josh used to talk about Lego as an investment. Some Lego sets are very limited runs, and over time become quite valuable, especially if in the original box, unopened.

It got me thinking… maybe I should buy two? Keep one for myself; keep the other for, say, five years, and sell it on. I might make my money back, meaning the set I keep is free.

It had vanished from the toy shops. All the toy shops. Chains like Big W and Target had it listed on their web sites, but out of stock. I checked a bunch of them, including checking with a friend who runs a shop that sells Lego. No luck. All gone. No more coming.

Yellow Submarine Lego

My last hope was the official Lego online shop. The catch is you pay an eye-watering $25-35 for shipping.

But wait! Go above $200 and they waive the shipping fee! The set is $80, so including shipping I could order one for $110, two for $195, or three for $240. So I ordered three.

(Checking again now, the web site offers conflicting information — one page says $200, another says $100.)

The sets arrived today.

This may be my silliest investment scheme yet, though even now the set is listed on eBay at a “Buy it now” price of around $120. Who knows if they’re actually selling at that price.

I’ll let you know how it went in about five years.

Good riddance

Since I don’t have a transport-related post ready at the moment, here’s a quick one about music.

I’m loving the Sonos system. I’d been warned that buying extra speakers for it was addictive, and it’s true. I just got another Play:1. They’re the smallest of the range, but they still pack a punch. (All Sonos speakers are $50 off at the moment, until the end of the year… help me, I don’t need more, but may not be able to stop myself.)

But anyway…

I sometimes listen to Green Day at work when I’m trying to concentrate. It’s good for drowning out background noise.

I was remarking to my sons that “Time Of Your Life” is just about the only Green Day song you hear on many radio stations. It’s also perhaps the most un-Green Day like Green Day song.

They replied that they don’t like the song, it’s too overused, and too nice.

Nice? Ah… so I was able to tell them three things they perhaps didn’t know about the song, which might be reasons to like it.

1. It was used on the Seinfeld finale (well, the clipshow episode that aired with the finale). Even for millenials, Seinfeld is a hit, so that’s worth some brownie points.

2. On the album recording, if you listen carefully from the beginning, you’ll hear Billie Joe starts playing, hit a couple of wrong notes, then utter an expletive before starting again.

3. It’s not called “Time Of Your Life”. Its full name is actually: “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”, which puts a completely different spin on it. Indeed, Billie Joe Armstrong wrote it in anger when his girlfriend broke up with him and moved overseas.

Does this make it unsuitable for end of school celebrations and funerals and the like? Probably not. Wikipedia: To the band’s surprise, the song became a hit at prom dances. … Billie Joe Armstrong remarked that, in retrospect, the lyrics make sense when viewed that way. “The people that you grew up and braved the trials of high school with will always hold a special place. Through all the BS of high school you hope that your friends had the time of their life, and that’s what the song is talking about”.

Also amusing: the song’s style is quite unlike the rest of the Nimrod album. Songfacts says: The song was such a sonic departure for the band that record stores reported a high rate of returns from customers who purchased the Nimrod album expecting similar songs.

But in any case, my sons decided they had a new-found respect for the song.

The lesson here? Sometimes things aren’t quite what they seem at first glance.