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Blog sponsorship books transport

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.

Categories
books Doctor Who Film Retrospectives Toxic Custard newsletter TV

Before home video

In the days before home video, we had to resort to other means to re-live movies and TV shows.

Novelisations of productions were common. I knew people who had hundreds of Doctor Who novelisations — virtually every story had a book published. I had perhaps a dozen.

WarGames book coverOther books made it into publication — scripts, programme guides, and spin-off material. Of course these are still common, but perhaps only for specific “cult” titles that the makers think will sell really well.

I used to have the script for The Singing Detective. At home I still have two books from The Goodies, which have a wealth of quite amusing material. I didn’t bought them, but acquired them both from the primary school library during clear-outs.

Some people would record TV shows onto audio tape. About a hundred 1960s Doctor Who stories are still lost — but audio recordings exist for every single one. (It’s perhaps a sign of the priorities of big bureaucracies like the BBC that paperwork exists for all the stories, despite the actual stories having been thrown out.)

In the 80s before I had saved up for a VCR, I recorded some stuff onto audio… from memory by just putting a tape recorder close to the TV, though I may have later rigged up a cord connecting the two directly. The Young Ones was an example — I had most episodes on cassette, and listened to them regularly for a while.

One of the movies I bought the novelisation of back in the day was WarGames, which as I’ve written about before, was very influential on me. As I recall it follows the movie script closely, but has a few extra titbits: such as that after the movie ends, David gets a summer job doing computer work at NORAD, and his school is convinced to buy some computers to teach computer studies to the students.

I don’t know what happened to my copy of the book. Presumably I got rid of it during a house move at some point. So in the best traditions of nostalgia, when I got curious and looked on eBay the other week, I found a copy for under $10, and bought it again.

I still love the movie. I bought the 25th anniversary Blu-ray release recently as well — it looks great in high-definition. I’ll probably re-read the book at some stage. It’s only 220 pages — it’ll be a pretty quick read I’m sure.

Nowadays, people can record anything off TV easily using cheap technology, and perhaps every major TV show and movie is released on DVD and/or Blu-ray, and (eventually) repeated ad infinitum on one of the many TV channels. No wonder novelisations have mostly disappeared, and few people record audio off the TV anymore.

  • Ever wondered about the term “Wardriving“, meaning to look for open Wifi networks while driving? It’s derived from “War dialling“, meaning to ring lots of phone numbers looking for computers answering… the word came from the movie.)
  • Speaking of scripts, there are over 80 made freely (and legally) available for download here: Go Into The Story
Categories
books

Beware of being distracted by portable reading devices

These days, some people are so addicted to their portable reading devices that they barely look where they’re going.

Reading

Categories
books Film

My verdict on the Tintin movie

Look! It’s Tintin on a bus…
Tintin on a bus

And here’s Tintin on a tram (and a tram in Tintin)…
Tintin on a tram / a tram in Tintin

So anyway, we went to the Tintin movie yesterday — in 2D, as 3D doesn’t work on me. I enjoyed it a lot. They did a good job of recreating the look of Herge, and there were plenty of references to keep Tintin nerds like me entertained.

The first half of the movie had a lot of bits of Tintin stories all mushed together, and it was a bit like watching a rock concert, recognising the start of a scene, but being keen to see how they used the material.

[Limited spoilers ahead]

Categories
books Home life Sport

A coupla things

The Slap

I finished reading The Slap. Great book, provided you don’t mind a little fruity language and adult themes in your novels. Looking forward now to the TV adaption.Thumbs up!

Possums

I was just thinking the other day that despite seeing a lot of possums around the neighbourhood, I never heard them in the roof.

Then when I was taking a look in the roof over the Easter break, I noticed a small hole, near the front of the house.

And the other night, I heard a possum scampering around up there. D’oh.

I told you so

I meant to post this a while back, but better late than never.

I reckon these guys have a good point.

We told you so

FORMULA one boss Bernie Ecclestone has said that he and Ron Walker now agree that the grand prix “should not have been run at the Albert Park street circuit”, and that “Melbourne should have constructed a purpose-built track for the race years ago” (Sport, 17/3).

Save Albert Park has maintained exactly that since 1994. A key slogan was ”Relocate (to a permanent track), don’t desecrate (Albert Park Reserve)”. If our group had been listened to rather than being maligned or ignored by successive Victorian governments, the state would now have a profitable permanent track and associated facilities given year-round use for motor sport activities, driver training, and testing of automotive products.

The state would have saved the hundreds of million of dollars now wasted on set-up and take-down of the temporary Albert Park circuit, and we would have a circuit capable of being modified to meet the changing requirements of F1 racing, such as increased overtaking opportunities.

Peter Goad, Save Albert Park, Middle Park

Age letters, 18/3/2011

Categories
books PTUA

In the wild

There’s a few thousand “More trains/trams/buses = less traffic” stickers out there, but it’s not that common to see them “in the wild”. By “in the wild” I mean stuck to cars that are not owned by PTUA committee members or their friends and family.

I don’t know who owns this little white car, but I was thrilled to see it had a “More trains = less traffic” sticker on the back of it.

PTUA sticker in the wild

It’s a bit hard to read the sticker… here’s a better picture of one (on my car):

PTUA bumper sticker

You might think it odd, but the stickers were designed to go on cars. The implicit message to following motorists is that if PT were better, that car (and lots of others of course) might well not be on the road.

Also observed in the world of promotion yesterday — it seems Penguin Books are jumping on the bandwagon of bill posters, more commonly promoting concerts.

Publishers advertising via bill post?!

Categories
books Film music

Quick reviews

A few quick reviews of things I’ve read or watched recently…

(The DVDs fall into the category of “I’ve been meaning to watch that; I’ll buy that if it’s less than $10. Ooh, there it is!” One book was borrowed, the other I got for Christmas.)

A Hard Day’s Night — got this cheap on Amazon, and thought the kids would enjoy it, which they did. Occasionally the accents are a tad hard to follow, but the antics of the Beatles, together with Paul’s “very clean” grandfather got some laughs. And because it’s based loosely on the real life experiences of The Beatles, it’s also a view into life in 1960s Britain.Thumbs up!

Tron — found this cheap in JB Hifi. It smells a bit of 80s computer-age wonder cash-in, with users having real beings inside the computer who run all their jobs. But it was quite enjoyable, and very interesting graphics for a 1982 film.Thumbs up!

A Nest of Occasionals, Tony Martin — very funny stuff, particularly the tales of writing radio adverts, which had me in stitches at one point. I’m going to have to check out his other book, Lolly Scramble.Thumbs up!

Jasper Jones (by Craig Silvey)– Superb, a real page turner, really enjoyed it. And again, fully intending to get hold of his other novel, Rhubarb.Thumbs up!

(Currently reading Shane Maloney: “Stiff”.)

Categories
books

The mathematics of school textbooks

It’s all easy in primary school. You send the money in, you get a box of goodies. There’s few textbooks, and almost all are kept at and owned by the school.

It gets more complicated and expensive in secondary school.

So here’s the scenario: Two kids, two years apart. The school has a secondhand book scheme.

At the end of the year, books are sold for two-thirds the retail price, with the seller getting three-quarters of that. So basically for cashing in your books, you get half the money back — assuming you bought them new in the first place.

So with two kids going through, I’m trying to work out if it’s worth selling them through the scheme, or holding onto them unused for a year before using them again.

If you bought $100 of books new at the start of year 1, you’d get $50 back for selling them at the end. If you bought them back again for year 3, it’d cost you $66, and you’d sell them again for $50. Total cost $100 – $50 + $66 – $50 = $66.

If you bought them secondhand originally, the cost is $66 – $50 + $66 – $50 = $32.

If you bought them new, and held onto them until the end of year 3, it’s $100 – $50 = $50.

If you bought them secondhand, and held onto them until the end of year 3, it’s $66 – $50 = $16.

The big unknown here is whether or not the school decides to changes the textbooks along the way, as new editions and better texts are published. If they change them before year 1, you can’t buy them secondhand in the first place, but must buy new. If they change them for year 2, you can’t sell them in the first place. If they change them for year 3, and you held onto them, you have to buy new ones anyway, and you missed your opportunity to sell.

I wonder how fast the turnover is. Perhaps it pays to sit down and be selective, holding onto things which are recent editions.

And just when I thought I’d figured out what to do, my sister mentioned she can get publisher discounts through her work.

Categories
books News and events

NASA to prove Herge right?

Tintin and friends landed on the moon in 1952, some 17 years before Apollo 11 got there.

Tintin and friends greet Armstrong

While writing the story, Herge and his team researched what the moon would look like on the surface, and as anybody who’s read the book would know, it’s uncannily accurate.

After Apollo 11 made it to the Moon, it seemed that Herge had got only one thing wrong: in the story, Tintin and Haddock observed stalactites and stalagmites in a lunar cave, and then after falling down a crevice found ice.

…the existence of ice on the moon came about at the insistence of [adviser] Dr Bernard Heuvelmans. Herge had agonised about the question, not at all sure if he agreed with the prevalent scientific evidence that the moon was an icy place, but Heuvelmans’ advice won the day.

— “Tintin — Herge and his creation”, Harry Thompson, p146

Tintin discovers water on the moon

Now NASA have sent a probe to the Moon which may prove Herge (and Heuvelmans) right after all — they’re looking for the presence of water and ice. It seems a rather unsubtle method — crashing the probe into the Moon’s south pole — but the expected debris cloud hasn’t been seen, and it may be a little while until they know if water has been detected or not.

Categories
books transport

The Example

The Example, by Tom Taylor and Colin Wilson (published by Gestalt Books), might be the first graphic novel to be set entirely within the confines of Flinders Street Station.

The Example - graphic novel cover

It’s a short but thought-provoking read, combining a most-of-Western-world issue — paranoia over terrorism — with a more decidedly local Melbourne issue: the trains.Thumbs up!

Speaking of terrorism and paranoia, the other book I’ve read recently is Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers, which was a terrific, if chilling, account of a man who stayed behind to help after Katrina, and got locked-up for it with no charge, no lawyer, no phone call.Thumbs up!