Photoed by me in Vauxhall Bridge Road, earlier this week:
I liked this enough when I first set eyes on it to snap it up, and that was two days before I even noticed the “we’ve got one ‘ere” bit. Like I always say, my camera regularly sees more than I do.
Last night I watched a television documentary about the career and achievements of Gordon Murray, a very different Murray from the tennis Murray whom I mentioned here on Saturday. Gordon Murray designs cars.
He started out doing racing cars. Time was when Gordon Murray was applying his extraordinary ingenuity to designing such things as “improvements” to McLaren racing cars, improvements whose only rationale was that they drove through some silly loophole in the rules of Formula 1 racing, a loophole that would soon close and render the new design feature utterly pointless. Okay, F1 is fun, and okay, most of what Murray did was make F1 cars go ever faster and get ever cleverer. But that rule-dodging bit in particular seemed like a serious waste of a talent, and I am sure the television people intended it to.
But Gordon Murray then took a big step towards applying his stellar engineering skills to a task more worthy of them when he designed the McLaren F1, which is the fastest car that multi-millionaires can buy to drive on regular roads. Better.
And now, Murray has designed a small car. This small car looks like a superior version of one of those covered over motorbikes, but actually it is a lot cleverer and more capacious than that. It is cleverer because it embodies half a lifetime of Murray’s experience in Formula 1, making everything in cars lighter, smaller and just plain better.
There are many ways to innovate. A good way is to innovate in just one aspect of a design, while relying on tried and tested technology for everything else. That way there is only one thing to go wrong and to get right. Very wise.
But Gordon Murray’s way is different. More “courageous”, you might say. He looks at everything. He looked at small cars the way huge teams of aircraft designers are perpetually looking at aircraft design, chiselling little ounces of bulk from here, there and everywhere, and where possible trying more serious rethinkings and rearrangements, adding up to a seriously improved product.
Innovation done this way can unleash a ton of mistakes, with all the good ideas getting overwhelmed by a few bad ones. Everything has to work. You have to get, near enough, a hundred out of a hundred, or you fail. You need lots of skill and experience to get a score like that. Gordon Murray, it would seem, has an abundance of both.
In particular, just as a for instance, this small car is interesting (courageous?) in using the same seating arrangement as the McLaren F1. In the McLaren F1, instead of the driver sitting on one side at the front, and then another bunch of people sitting behind on another big seat, or not, the F1 has the driver in the front in the middle, and two other seats on either side, but set back, in an arrow formation. The passengers can presumably stretch out their legs beside the driver’s bum. And the new small car has just the same seating set-up. Which makes it feel bigger inside than a regular small car, but much less bulky from outside.
Also, the doors to the new small car are an all-in-one door, which opens up and forward, like the top of an airplane. Combined with that seating arrangement, this makes it easier to get in and out of than the competition.
This small car comes in two versions. There is the black T25, which is petrol driven, and which looks like this:
And there is the blue version, the T27, which runs on electricity. They showed the T27 towards the end of the television show, in the company of some veteran cars in a place that looked a lot like central London, and I thought: hang on, this rings a bell. Sure enough, after a little digging in my photo-archives, I found this snap:
I took that picture of the T27 on the same day, early last November, that I took all these photos of veteran cars in Regent Street. (There is a slice of veteran car there on the right.) I far prefer the look of the black T25. Its strangely retro styling reminds me of a delivery van of the sort I recall from my youth. The blue T27 looks to me, still, like a boring little car only pretending not to be boring, which is why I had no idea how interesting it was when I first set my eyes and my camera on it. Oh me of little faith. Kudos to me, though, for taking “too many” pictures whenever I go out a-snapping. Time and again, as in this case, I only realise later, and sometimes a lot later, what I photoed.
Being so unbulky, this new T25/27 is much more fuel efficient than regular small cars, but its energy efficiency does not stop there. One of the most interesting moments in the programme came when they talked about how this new car will be made. There is more to cars being efficient than cars being efficient to drive. They also have to be as efficient and as cheap and as easy as possible to make, and this new car requires far less in the way of capital investment before you can start cranking them out. The huge manufacturing costs of regular automobiles, said my television, explained why most car makers prefer making expensive cars to cheap cars. Cheap cars don’t make any money. But this cheap car will make money for those who make it, or that’s the idea. That’s another huge potential step forward.
The claim was repeatedly made in this programme that this T25/27 is the biggest innovation in car making since the Model T, what with the revolutionary way that the Model T was manufactured. But the cars that this new gizmo makes me think of are the Citroen 2CV and the Volkswagen, which were likewise designed to be more easy to make than regular cars, were they not? The Citroen 2CV, I seem to recall reading, was banged out by peasants in a big barn, or some such thing, just after WW2, when manufacturing skills were scarce. This seems a lot like the T25/27 plan, which is a twenty first century version (i.e. with shipped in magic bits) of the same thing.
The T25/27 secret, apparently, is that the structural frame of the car is made of metal tubing, and that is far easier for cheapo, Third World type fabricators to work with than however small cars are made now, by the likes of Toyota and Ford and the rest of them.
The upshot of all this is that here is a small car, a truly small car, that will make regular non-multi-millionaire motoring massively less of an energy gobbler.
Which in fact means, if it all goes to plan, that many more people will drive around in such cars than drive around in any cars now, and the total amount of energy consumed by these cars as they wizz hither and thither will then go up. But, a lot more people will be having fun and getting themselves and their stuff from A to B. So: very good.
Or, it could be that too many of Gordon Murray’s innovations will turn out to be mistakes, in which case car historians may point back to the T25/27, to say where Toyota and Ford got their next bunch of ideas, while the rest of us may soon forget this most interesting and admirable man. What if, for example, we regular punters just can’t be doing with that strange new seating arrangement? What if drivers just have to have company sitting right next to them when driving? And what if that radically rethought manufacturing method turns out to have too many mistakes built into it? So maybe the T25/27 will go down in car history as an heroic failure, rather than getting flagged up as a triumph, Volkswagen or Deux Chevaux style. It may be remembered, that is to say, as a very gutsy shot at a real car that was actually only a concept car. We shall see.
Earlier yesterday, in the afternoon, I caught Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton moaning on the telly about their (McLaren) racing cars had been way off the pace in the British Grand Prix. Are they missing Gordon Murray, I wonder?
If the ten day London weather forecast is anything to go by, and I think it is, yesterday was the last day of nice weather that London will see for quite a while, again. So yesterday, thus forewarned, I made a point of going out and about in London, photoing. (Longer range weather forecasts are an entirely different matter.) Sure enough, the weather was excellent, except at the end when it started clouding over.
And one of the more diverting things I observed and photoed was this, on London Bridge:
Yes, it’s a Pedibus. Even though Transport Blog is now in a state of permanent repose, I acquired the habit of photoing any strange form of transport I observed, so that I could feature it there, in among all the droning on about rail privatisation, and the habit of taking weird transport photos whenever the chance arose stuck. Also, the above photo is yet another in my now vast collection of people taking photos.
Although, I really should have videoed it to do it justice.
The people actually powering that particular Pedibus look suspiciously young, attractive, healthy and gender-balanced to me. I suspect they are promoting the thing, rather than actually paying to use it. (Peddling it as well as pedalling it, you might say. (See first two comments.))
But I reckon that if that is mere promotion, it ought to work. The Pedibus, it seems to me, unites a number of modern obsessions all into one activity, obsessions such as:
- Sitting at a table with friends, shouting nonsense.
- Showing off by doing something very weird in public.
- Drinking alcohol.
- Pedophilia, i.e. taking exercise by sitting on some sort of pedalling device, perhaps a bicycle of some sort but often just a thing with only pedals.
- Greenery. You can imagine yourself not having not such a big carbon footprint as you might have, while doing this.
I also think that it may appeal to all those who favour pedalling but who are reluctant simply to be pedalled around by someone else, because that seems just too Third Worldish, and who are reluctant to pedal around London alone because it seems too scary.
Best of all, because (although you can’t see him in my picture) there is a person at the front steering, you get to do, sort of, drunk driving. Perhaps Londoners will rename this contraption the Pub Crawler, because it would be ideal for that.
Even bester, it would seem that you don’t have to wear a helmet, which will surely rile all the cyclists, either because the cyclists wish they didn’t have to wear helmets, or because they think everyone else doing anything at all similar to them (walking along the pavement for example) should also be compelled by law to wear helmets.
Bestest of all, the Pedibus annoys the hell out of pompous git licensed taxi drivers.
Next, Pedibus racing. I googled those two words to see if that was already happening. Apparently not, but I did learn that “pedibus” is the Latin for something or other to do with ancient Roman chariot racing. Although I couldn’t be bothered to work out what.
I love London.
A thing I keep banging on about is that a crucial stage in an argument occurs when the burden of proof gets reversed.
Crackpot Theorists devise a Crackpot Theory. It unites them. It excites them. It excuses their shared belief that The Free Market Is Not Good Enough. They demand action from each other. They capture small parts of government departments that most people don’t give a damn about. They write small laws and get them passed.
A few Critics notice, and start explaining that the Crackpot Theory is, maybe, a crackpot theory. The Crackpot Theorists say: No it isn’t! The Critics say: But you are making bad decisions! The Crackpot Theorists say: No we aren’t! As this phase of the argument gets seriously going, the Critics become ever more convinced that the Crackpot Theorists are indeed Crackpot Theorists, and because the Crackpot Theorists are behaving like the maniacal Crackpot Theorists that they are, the Critics grow in number, and in their certainty that the Crackpot Theorists are totally crackpot.
The small bits of the government departments grow into big bits, and infect other bits. The laws they introduce get bigger and more intrusive.
But sadly, nobody else cares, or not enough to stop all this. The money and inconvenience involved is still trivial, by the usual standards of government-imposed expense and inconvenience. Let the Crackpot Theorists have their fun! And besides: Maybe, just maybe, the Crackpot Theorists are onto something. Better safe than sorry! Anyway, what can you do?
As the Crackpot Theory grows in power, powerless people start to notice and to cry out: Your Crackpot Theory is just an excuse for us to be taxed more! Alas, for many people this is a feature, not a bug.
Throughout this phase of the history of the Crackpot Theory, the Critics of the Crackpot Theory are in the impossible position of having only one way of stopping the rise to prominence of the Crackpot Theory, which is to convince the Crackpot Theorists that they are wrong.
Some Crackpot Theorists are convinced. Quite a few of them creep away in ashamed silence. A tiny few even say in public that they were wrong. But others of them are now so wholly dependent for their livelihoods upon the Crackpot Theory being true that they stick with it anyway, despite now suspecting or even knowing what total crackpottery it is. What can they do?
Until, one day, the Crackpot Theorists pick a fight with a group of people powerful enough for their anger to actually matter, to the entire world.
At which point, the burden of proof, hitherto weighing down only upon the shoulders of the Critics, now descends upon the shoulders of the Crackpot Theorists themselves. Suddenly, they have to convince the world that they are right and that their Critics are wrong. They have to convince their Critics that their Critics are wrong, just to shut their Critics up from saying what the world now wants to be told, namely that the fight with those powerful and angry people is a fight that is not worth having.
But our Crackpot Theory says that we must have this fight! No matter what! The world must be saved, even if it is ruined in the process!
I’m just thinking aloud, you understand. Having seen this (linked to just now by the ever-alert Instapundit):
China will take swift counter-measures that could include impounding European aircraft if the EU punishes Chinese airlines for not complying with its scheme to curb carbon emissions, the China Air Transport Association said on Tuesday.
Wei Zhenzhong, secretary general of the China Air Transport Association, said:
“We would try to avoid any trade war.”
If that’s not a powerful and angry person threatening a trade war, I don’t know what is. If the trade war duly happens, next up:
trade war. (What was that about the EU putting an end to conflict between Great Powers?)
So, Crackpot Theorists, is your Crackpot Theory true enough to be worth stuff like this? Go ahead. Convince us.
One of the little pleasures of my life is looking back through old photo-archives and finding pictures that particularly amuse, in ways that I did register when taking them (otherwise I would not have taken them), but then forgot about.
So this morning, for instance, while looking through some pictures I took earlier in the month of the remarkable (because so remarkably ugly) Baynard House, I came across this picture:
Yes, it is ugly, isn’t it? But what interested me when I took that photo was also all those Men in Orange. What were they up to? What struck me at the time, and I distinctly remember this feeling now, was what an alarmingly large number of Men In Orange there were. It was like they were making an action movie and about to be slaughtered by James Bond or by a James Bond imitator, or perhaps even plotting an urban atrocity of some sort themselves, for real. None of the photos I took of these many, many Men In Orange quite captures the scary oddity of them, congregated in such an alarmingly large number. The above snap was only the least unsuccessful from this point of view.
So it was that, when I encountered this sign on the side of Baynard House a few moments later, I was amused, and not wholly surprised:
Click to make that more legible.
What the Men In Orange are doing is some major rearranging of Blackfriars tube station. Blackfriars Station as a whole, including an overground railway station that straddles the Thames on Blackfriars Bridge, is being entirely reconstructed, and the underground bit with it. (I show a couple more shots of the overground aspect of all this activity here.) Merely the London Underground (LU) aspect of this is a big job, which requires the attentions of Men In Orange in large numbers.
The above snaps were taken when I was on my way to One New Change. The process of writing about One New Change caused me to forget my strange encounter with the Men In Orange, until prompted to remember the experience this morning, thanks to the magic of digital photography and the infinitely capacious hard drives that computers have in them nowadays.
Here is a photo I took in March of this year, which I have been meaning to feature here for ages:
We shall see.
One of the many annoying things about the Olympic Games is how little clutches of contractors and workers, doing vital things, know that they can, during the frantic run-up to the Olympics, demand a hugely exorbitant price for merely doing their job, even if they had earlier sworn blind that they would not behave like this. I imagine that’s a very widespread Olympic phenomenon generally, which adds hugely to the final bill, and is just one more reason why I wish the damn things had gone to Paris and never come back, ever.
I surmise – no speculation of this sort could easily be proved – that if any such demand becomes just too demanding, the means used by the State to settle such demands are not confined to bribery. If I was the State, I’d also now be issuing threats. I’d send people round to knock on doors to explain, ever so politely (perhaps over a friendly cup of tea), to such persons as trade unionists and building contractors, just how nasty the State is now capable of being, to individual people whom it has taken against. The State knows where you live. The State decides how much tax you owe it. And so on. And it could get even nastier. So, don’t push your luck too far, there’s a good fellow.
This is all pure speculation on my part. I have zero inside knowledge of any such negotiations. It’s just that if that were now happening, I would not be surprised, whereas if it wasn’t, I would be very surprised indeed.
Another way of responding to such last minute demands is to say: Okay, if you don’t finish it in time, you don’t finish it in time and it doesn’t get finished in time. Pity, but there you go. And once the Olympic Games are over, we can then sack the damn lot of you and take our time. While keeping all your names on a Black List, for you to be suitably punished at our leisure.
This seems to be the approach being adopted in the matter of the Greenwich Cable Car. I am particularly interested in this New London Thing because, when finally finished and open for business, it will be another fine photo-op for me, to add to my London list of places like this.
Yes, says Mayor Boris, we do indeed hope that the Emirates Airline will be ready in time for the Olympics, as another way to get people back and forth across the river, to and from all that Olympicism. But if it isn’t ready by then, so be it. This is not an “Olympic Project”, or it only will be if it is ready for the Olympics.
I recall that the London Eye was supposed to be ready for the Millennium, but that, perhaps for the kind of reasons speculated about above, it wasn’t. Who now cares?
Pity you can’t take that line with such things as velodromes and swimming pools. Which is why I suspect that other means of persuasion are also now being deployed.
Last week, I read somewhere on the www that the new Kings Cross Station passenger concourse would be open to the general public for the first time on the following Monday, i.e. yesterday. When I got there yesterday afternoon, it was certainly functioning like a regular station concourse. It didn’t feel like it had only been open for a few hours, but then again it’s not as if an entire railway station opened, from nothing. This was a case merely of lots of people already using the approximate same place no longer having to thread their way through temporary arrangements, but instead having the pleasure of walking through this:
As you can see from my picture, I wasn’t the only photographer snapping away, and trust me, she and I were two of many. So maybe this really was the first public day of this new piece of London show-off modernity? The www confirmed it.
I knew roughly what this concourse was going to look like, having seen plenty of images of what the architects hoped it would look like, and, more recently, some photos taken by officially selected snappers before the rest of us were allowed in. But until you actually see things like this in the flesh, so to speak, you never really know what you think of them.
I was most agreeably surprised. Kings Cross, having been for the last decade put severely in the shade by the magnificently reborn St Pancras Railway Station, literally only a few dozen yards away, wasevidently making a huge effort to respond to that new Eurostar Palace. But I had feared something like one of those seemed-cool-but-actually-rather-naff, seventies, “designed” (as in: over-designed) pieces of lighting equipment. Not quite lava lamp, but in that kind of territory. I feared that the place would simply not be big enough to justify all that virtuoso metal patterning.
The reason I thought it would be too small for all that designer steelwork is that I had quite often walked past the outside of it, while they were building it. I photoed it again from the outside yesterday, and compared to how it looks inside, it appears from the outside to be tiny:
I say that St Pancras has upstaged Kings Cross for the last decade, but there are many who would contest this. St Pancras may have been awarded the Eurostar trains, but Kings Cross has … the Hogwart’s Express. Many of those visiting the new concourse gave no thought to its ceiling. They just wanted to have themselves photoed next to this sign:
I have a vague recollection of the real entrance to Platform 9¾ being in one of the old brick arches between Platforms 9 and 10, and an even vaguer recollection of waiting on Platform 10 for a train, and seeing some Pottermaniacs cavorting in front of this entrance. If that’s right, the sign I photoed yesterday is a fake. A fake, I tell you.
I guess they figure that the platform ticket business they might be doing is not worth all the bother.
Asks David Cameron:
Why is it that other infrastructure – for example water – is funded by private sector capital through privately owned, independently regulated, utilities… but roads in Britain call on the public finances for funding?
It might work, too, if roads really were private, with no subsidies to road owning companies and no government meddling in their operations, though I would be surprised if it works like that. The article suggests that this thinking is motivated by tight government finances. I rather like the idea of the government being forced to privatise everything because it has run out of money.
The president of the Automobile Association is not impressed:
In the water industry we saw big companies make big profits initially, at the same time as water and sewage costs went up by 42% and 36%.
Big profits are not a problem in themselves. But why would end user costs go up after privatisation if private companies are so efficient and competitive? It could be that before water privatisation the real costs were hidden inside other taxes, or it could be that water privatisation, much like rail privatisation, was anything but.
I am in Paris, staying with occasional Samizdatista Antoine Clarke.
Photoed out of the Eurostar on the way, the M25 bridge over the Thames:
When I got there and after I’d settled in, we went out for supper and then went walking for a while.
Arc de Triomphe:
Old internal customs duties office, which ceased functioning in 1943:
Antoine on Twitter this morning:
Ice cold in Paris … And those nice straight boulevards make wonderful wind tunnels.
Michael Jennings on Twitter:
Brian is having a good time then?
We were going to go out walking today, but instead will be indoors, either at Antoine’s home or in some museum.
It is surprisingly easy to get the sign wrong when reasoning about quantities. Consider this old riddle:
Three ladies go to a restaurant for a meal. They receive a bill for $30. They each put $10 on the table, which the waiter collects and takes to the till. The cashier informs the waiter that the bill should only have been for $25 and returns $5 to the waiter in $1 coins. On the way back to the table the waiter realizes that he cannot divide the coins equally between the ladies. As they didn’t know the total of the revised bill, he decides to put $2 in his own pocket and give each of the ladies $1.
Now that each lady has been given a dollar back, each of the ladies has paid $9. Three times 9 is 27. The waiter has $2 in his pocket. Two plus 27 is $29. The ladies originally handed over $30. Where is the missing dollar?
To get the missing $1 in the question we have done this arithmetic: 10 + 10 + 10 – 1 – 1 – 1 + 2 – 30 = -1
The correct arithmetic is: 10 + 10 + 10 – 1 – 1 – 1 – 2 – 25 = 0
Positive numbers represent payments from the ladies to the restaurant, and negative numbers represent money received by the restaurant. The result should obviously always come out to zero. That +2 should be a -2. Okay, there is a 30 where there should be a 25 as well, but only because the +2 yielded an intermediate result of 29 which is close enough to 30 to cause confusion.
This getting the sign wrong is the same mistake that means Tim Worstall has to point out that jobs are a cost. The new widget factory will create 1000 jobs, we are told. If it produces 1000 widgets per year, that means we get one widget per man-year of time. The man-year of time is a cost. If we could somehow arrange for the widget factory to create only 100 jobs for the same output, we would have just as many widgets and 900 man-years left to spend on some other useful thing. We would be richer.
This mistake crops up in trivial ways all the time. My friend recently gave up full-time work to look after the children for various financial and logistical reasons. Think how the economy is losing out, she mused. Not only am I not producing widgets, I am not paying the nursery workers or buying train tickets for my commute. Well it is true that the widgets my friend used to make are no longer made, but the nursery workers do not count: the same amount of childcare is being done as was being done before. It is not correct to add the childcare previously done by the nursery worker to the childcare now done by my friend. At worst there is now an unemployed nursery worker who will go and do something else instead, but that is just a market optimising everyone’s activities to match the level of demand. The train tickets were just part of the cost of getting the widgets made.
Ah, train tickets. We are going to get a new high speed rail link between London and Birmingham. The government is going to ‘invest’ £32.7bn in order to reap up to £46.9bn of ‘economic benefits’. I wonder how many of these benefits have the wrong sign. Counted among the benefits are “hundreds of jobs”, but these are already included in the cost figure.
Also counted are ticket sales. Which makes sense if the ‘investment’ was really an investment. But invest here really means to steal from the British public £32.7bn so that they can then pay, say, £40bn for train tickets in exchange for £40bn worth of train travel. I make that -32.7 – 40 + 40 = -32.7. Where is the missing £32.7bn?
The maths doesn’t add up; this is just sinking capital into a loss making project. If you’re going to use the power of the state to do that, then you shouldn’t be surprised that this country is getting poorer.
- Steve Baker MP denounces the plan for a new stretch of high speed rail, quoted (behind a registration wall) at the Financial Times.
I make this today’s QotD here not in spite of Guido having already featured it as his quote of today (and maybe also of the next few days) but because of this. Baker’s soundbite is getting around. Good.
Lots of Americans who read Samizdata but not Guido, and who are also confronting idiot plans to waste their money on high speed rail foolishnesses, will now also read this soundbite. Good again.
Meanwhile, as the FT’s headline proclaims, “economists insist” that this piece of Keynesian pump priming that won’t should go ahead, damn the expense. Well they would, wouldn’t they?
I like this picture:
I found it here. It is an escalator in the process of being replaced, at Charing Cross underground station, London. They’ve taken out the old one. They are now remaking whatever it is the new escalator will sit on top off. Then they will put in the new esacalator. It’s a routine they must have done dozens of times, with local variations to keep them on their toes. I do not doubt that when they finish their work, the escalator in question will function smoothly, no matter how many people ride on it or how heavy their luggage.
What I like about the photo is that it is, for me anyway, a reminder that there are still some things about our world that are progressing very nicely. The engineering of things like escalators continues to improve. But because the complexity that you see in this picture is, when the final object is rolled out, hidden, most people only think of such things on those rare occasions when they don’t work. At which point they grumble.
One of the big divisions in the world now, it seems to me, is between those who assume that such progress will necessarily continue, no matter how many mistakes the politicians make, and those who do not. Some people take technological progress for granted, while others notice it (often because they do it themselves for a living), want it very much to continue, but do not assume that it automatically will continue, no matter what.