WorldWideFuture Weblog

the future of education, politics, science and art

Of cardboard boats, flugtags and the competitive spirit

Watching the Beijing Olympics one can’t but be but drawn in by the spectacle, the drama and the enthusiasm of participants, observers and even nations. It seems the whole world stops to watch their fellow citizens perform in high-tension excitement.

Consider the amount of money and effort that went into hosting the Olympics. Consider the amount of money and effort and time that was invested in training the athletes. Consider the enormous amount of money and effort and personnel that went into broadcasting and reporting on each nation’s attempts at the coveted medals. Obviously, there is something to sports competitions; and perhaps to the spirit of competition itself.

St Peter High School entry in the annual National Capital Elecathon electric car race

St Peter High School entry in the annual National Capital Elecathon electric car race

Competition plays a big part in art and engineering as well, and has an important place in education too. Witness the soapbox derby races, the technical skills competitions, even fun events like the Red Bull Flugtag, each event creating opportunities to showcase and compete on one’s technical skills and abilities. Having played a part in several types of educational competitions, I can attest to the usefulness of the concept of competition to learning, and to the world wide future.

Fun at athe annual Skills Canada-Ontario Cardboard Sled Race in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Fun at the annual Skills Canada-Ontario Cardboard Sled Race in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

What skill competitions give to a person or an organization is the opportunity to yes, showcase their technical prowess, but more importantly, it gives one the impetus to work harder, work smarter and move skill sets forward. The competition event gives one a goal and a target to strive for, a mastery learning opportunity, and a benchmark in which to gauge one’s needs for improvement for excellence. There is a lesson somewhere when Olympic and world records are broken on a continuing basis. (Can we imagine where records no longer are broken? Are we already where Olympians are freaks of nature?)

Annual Orleans Soapbox Derby in Orleans, Ontario Canada

Annual Orleans Soapbox Derby in Orleans, Ontario Canada

I remember when I first entered the teaching biz (1992) there was a call for banning of school competitions (other than sports of course) because it supposedly hurt the egos and self esteem of those that don’t excel. Perhaps we witnessed this in the Beijing Olympics…for a while it looked like Canada was going to be medal-less, and we had to watch our athletes apologize profusely to the camera for not getting a medal (never mind they were Olympic caliber athletes and missing medals by 100s of a second!) Competitions need to be framed properly. Competitions need to be designed as fun activities with the understanding that it is a growth activity, not an end-of-the-road, make it or go home event. Students need to understand that it is activity to help them achieve a goal for themselves, and that it is all about learning to do one’s best.

Who would have guessed...a race of cardboard in water during the annual regional Skills Canada-Ontario Cardboard Boat Race in Nepean, Ontario

Who would have guessed...a race of cardboard in water during the annual regional Skills Canada-Ontario Cardboard Boat Race in Nepean, Ontario

Here in Ontario, we have Skills Canada events such as cardboard boat races (and in Ottawa we have the cardboard sled race) that are the best examples of the spirit of skill competitions. They are fun if not downright hilarious, and it has been amazing to see the level of ingenuity and engineering skill it has engendered each year. The annual regional, provincial, national and international skill competitions are perhaps more serious, but the skill levels demonstrated are unique goals that any student can strive for.

Cooks do their best at the annual Skills Canada-Ontario provincial skill competitions held in Waterloo Ontario

Cooks do their best at the annual Skills Canada-Ontario provincial skill competitions held in Waterloo Ontario

Soapbox derbies, electric car races and other similar events have their serious competitive side, but there is the fun element that allows anyone to be part of the excitement and more importantly, the learning. I think the Red Bull Flugtag is a prime example of the necessary spirit of competition…no one seriously enters to be a winner, just to be there and have fun. Can you imagine if we had three legged potato sack races, hot dog eating, and apple bobbing competitions at the summer Olympics? Yeah, bring it on!!

Doh! The Grat Beavertail Cookoff entry from Ottawa does it's flying thing at the Ottawa-Gaineau Red Bull Flugtag In Ottawa Ontario, August 3rd, 2008
Doh! The Great Beavertail Cookoff entry from Ottawa does it’s flying thing at the Ottawa, Ontario, Canada Red Bull Flugtag on August 3rd 2008

Note: All photographs © Michael A. Scott photowagon.ca 2008. All rights reserved.

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August 30, 2008 Posted by | education | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dreaming along Michigan’s Woodward Avenue

I just returned from the 14th annual Woodward Dream Cruise 2008 in Detroit Michigan. This is the largest celebration of car culture in the world, with two weeks of events leading to the 16 mile Saturday cruise down Woodward Ave. from Detroit to Pontiac Michigan. Over 1.4 million people lined the street to watch an estimated 30,000 cars go by and to take part in a wide variety of car culture events. This year we brought our 1991 Nissan Figaro, a Japanese import, into the heart of the American Motor City. I was looking forward to doing the cruise for quite a while. While every city has its “Woodward Avenue” (for me, from Windsor Ontario, the Canadian Motor City, it was Tecumseh Road), this one is special since it occurs where American automobile history began and was made.

Car fans lining Woodward Ave. Detroit Michigan August 16 2008

Car fans lining Woodward Ave. Detroit to Pontiac Michigan August 16 2008

I guess I was taking a chance bringing a Japanese import into the heart of a struggling Mecca of American iron. Only one person called me a traitor (!), but many, so many more were genuinely interested in this highly unusual car among unusual cars (unusual at least for us here in the middle of North America). People everywhere wanted to know…what is that? It was a great pleasure answering questions and posing for pictures. The reactions from people when they suddenly noticed it was right hand drive made the trip from Ottawa worthwhile.

My Nissan Figaro on Woodward

My Nissan Figaro on Woodward

My ride is a 1991 Nissan Figaro, one of only 20,000 made for the domestic Japanese market, and only made that one year. It is powered by a 75 bhp, 998cc 4 cylinder turbocharged engine, and gets about 38mpg or about 4-5L/100km. It is a one-of-a-kind design by the Pike Factory, a special design team at Nissan in the late 1980s – early 1990s. It is a retro styled car, based on 1950-1960s Italian and British sports cars. It was announced at the 1989 Tokyo Auto Show as “Back to the Future”, and you had to win a lottery to by one; 250,000 applied. To me it represents a very unique and radical exercise in small footprint automotive design, and it is a hit wherever it appears. I have taken it to many local auto shows, as well as MicroCarNorth in Orillia, Ontario; Boston for Gould’s Annual MicroCar Classic; and now the Detroit Woodward Dream Cruise.

Cruisin' the Dream Cruise 2008

Cruisin' the Dream Cruise 2008

While I was always interested in cars, I got interested in small footprint micro and mini cars after seeing some of them at our Ministry of Transportation’s fuel economy test facility in Ottawa. The facility had examples of Smart Cars (including a four seater!), various diesel and ethanol cars, and more importantly, a Honda Beat and some Japanese micro-trucks. There is so much more going on in the Orient and Europe in regards to high mileage and economic vehicles. I think that small footprint cars represent the future, and there is something to be said for doing more with less when it comes to engineering and innovation.

One of 30,000 cars along Woodward

One of 30,000 cars along Woodward

What does the Dream Cruise represent to the world wide future? In order to understand the future, we all know one must study the past, and the present. It was fascinating to see 100 years of history represented by the cars burbling along Woodward, both lovingly restored or customized. It was also fascinating to see the interest the automobile has on us here in North America, and it was most interesting to see the workmanship and pride of ownership of engineered machines represented along Woodward. It might be big business and big engineering that produce the vehicles, but the automobile truly comes alive when an individual customizes, restores or resurrects the machine. The automobile, though a mass market machine, represents the individual and individual freedom when put in the hands of the automobile enthusiast. Despite the rational arguments from mass transportation supporters, the automobile will never lose its appeal, and with some real innovation and futurethink, has an important place in the future.

SpongeBob surfin' Woodward

SpongeBob surfin' Woodward

What will become of the automobile in the future? For one thing, I don’t think the love of machines and of history will ever leave us. I don’t think that the lessons in innovation and engineering represented by the automobile will ever disappear. There is a direct link from Henry Ford’s 1908 assembly line to every device we now use, and will use in the future. Perhaps some of the future engineers who will design the 21st century were sitting there along the curb of Woodward Avenue, holding on to their Hot Wheels or dolls, waving to the men and women in their machines, dreaming of the day they too will have the opportunity to drive their passion down that long stretch of road.

More Dream Cruise Info:

Official Site for Woodward Dream Cruise

Detroit Free Press coverage

AutoBlog pictures

Keegy Canada coverage

My images at the photowagon

Fotos by Design Images of the cruise (with my Figaro in the lineup)

August 21, 2008 Posted by | education, future, transportation | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Smaller is in!

I have just posted my images of the 2008 MicroCarNorth and Gould’s MicroCar events on my photographic website at photowagon.ca, under Automotive World. Both events are where micro and mini car enthusiasts gather to celebrate their passion for these tiny orphaned cars…MicroCarNorth is held in Coldwater, Ontario, Canada and Gould’s annual event is held in Newton, Massachusetts (outside of Boston).

The Nash Metropolitan...what is not to like?

The Nash Metropolitan...what is not to like?

I am quite enamored now by the engineering aspects of micro and mini cars, and of the people who lovingly restore and maintain these orphans of the automotive world. There is a lot to be said of the future of transportation demonstrated by these cars in the past.

Jeff Upton's Messerschmitt...a post war beauty

Jeff Upton's Messerschmitt...a post war beauty

The media is filled with stories now about the rapidly diminishing business for the auto giants such as GM, Ford, Chrysler, etc. as consumers realize that oil is becoming a precious commodity in a rapidly expanding global marketplace. It is not a new story of course; witness the 1930s depression, the early postwar years in Europe and even the 1970s oil crises. What does the worldwide future hold? More people, rising global middle class, growing need for more oil can spell only one thing: the future is smaller.


The 1958 Heinkel...beautiful example of the "bubble car"

The 1958 Heinkel...beautiful example of the "bubble car"

We here in North America of course have been pretty pampered by cheap gas. Most of us here can’t imagine what it has been like to live in Europe where gas has been much more expensive than we have been griping about. Many are oblivious to the changes in lifestyle that are about to slam us here. Already we have been experiencing the closing of plants and laying off of workers in the auto industry, as consumers begin to realize they need to abandon the 2-3 ton vehicles they are using to go to the convenience store. Of course, the auto industry has always experienced boom and bust cycling. I can attest to the cyclic nature of the auto industry as a previous autoworker myself (Chrysler Engine plant in Windsor Ontario, Canada’s Motor City across from Detroit). Back in the early 1970s I remember the farmers fields around the city filling with unsold cars. I never knew what became of those cars, (I heard they were shipped offshore) but what a symbol of excess and consumerism. The changing business model is as interesting…can’t sell big cars or trucks anymore, used prices dropping, profit margins skydiving. There must be a limit to growth, and eventually western consumers will be pitted against the growing middle class in Asia for limited resources. Perhaps this is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. With the successful introduction of the Smart Car in the US, the impending flood of Nanos in India, and finally an announcement that low speed electric vehicles will be allowed in Canada (albeit with too many restrictions), we may be seeing a resurgence of the small car. Perhaps we will also see a resurgence of interesting engineering demonstrated by yesteryear’s microcar.


The Vespa 400, an image of the future?

The Vespa 400, an image of the future?

The microcar is generally a vehicle built in the years from the 1930s to 1960s with three or four wheels, with small single to four cylinder engines (some from motorcycles), with the overriding effort being to make cheaply to allow more consumers with limited budgets to obtain basic transportation. They were made in response to the Depression or in post war Europe where resources were difficult to obtain and fuel and taxes were excessively expensive to most. Nowadays, these cars are popular with car fanatics who like the contrarian, or quirky nature of these machines. Perhaps cars like the BMW Isetta or the Messerschmitt KR200 or the Fiat 500 or Bond Bug will give us a view into the future.


My own 1991 Nissan Figaro...back to the future from Japan!

My own 1991 Nissan Figaro...back to the future from Japan!

The Bruce Weiner Museum has a great web presence listing many of these totally unique cars (the Peterson Museum in LA has a good description too). They are quite the sight on roads these days, especially now amongst the bland rolling boxes of today. It must have been quite a sight to see the streets filled with these things, as some folks have described to me. While they might not have the safety crash protection or the emissions standards we have legislated today, the lesson is that you don’t need much to get form A to B, really. Ralph Ranalli from the Boston Globe got it; he explains in his report of the Gould’s MicroCar Event in Newton Massachusetts that “mini and microcars might actually be relevant again in the once-SUV-crazed US”. He describes the Gould’s meet as “rare chance to glimpse both the past and the future in one place”.


A Fiat 500 taxi anyone?

A Fiat 500 taxi anyone?

The ingenuity shown by these vintage cars is outstanding. What do we see today but each car virtually indistinguishable from each other. We see bloated sheet metal and plastic overpowered engines. Imagine, someone thought a BMW or a Mercedes SUV was a good idea! Nothing uglier. You ride in today’s cars, not drive. I am not saying that the vintage microcars are better than today’s, but when you drive something different, everyone else is just a citizen.

An Isetta, Bantam and Figaro at Gould's MicroCar in Netwon Mass.

An Isetta, Bantam and Figaro at Gould's MicroCar in Newton Mass.

What are the lessons we need to teach our youth? We need to teach them about ingenuity and engineering design focused on practical application of ideas to solve problems, not cosmetic design. We need to teach them that their world will require innovative thinking and unique solutions. We need to teach them enjoyable ways to solve engineering challenges. The world wide future is smaller, in more ways than one. And that will be a good thing.

(For more info on microcars, check out the Vintage MicroCar Club, Gould’s Bubbledrome, and Ralph Hough’s MicroCarNorth.)

August 8, 2008 Posted by | education, Environment, future, transportation | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments