WorldWideFuture Weblog

the future of education, politics, science and art

Ultra cool Nissan Land Glider Concept

Must admit, haven’t been blogging for a while as I am getting into the Twitter/Facebook thing. So many things to do, so little time. However, I am still researching into the worldwide future and I came upon this awesome concept vehicle highlighted in Wired’s Autoblog: the Nissan Land Glider at http://www.wired.com/autopia/2009/10/nissan-land-glider/. Between this and the Leaf, hmmmm, Nissan might be the company to watch!

Nissan Land Glider Concept

Nissan Land Glider Concept

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October 23, 2009 Posted by | Environment, future, sustainable future, transportation | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Small step forward, giant leap….?

Here on the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon, it is heartbreaking to watch the scenes of the Apollo astronauts bouncing or riding across the lunar landscape, to know that we came and went and went no further.

Aldrin on the Moon 1969

Aldrin on the Moon 1969

To think human kind was able to motivate hundreds of thousands of people to take those dramatic steps, to reach the pinnacle of human achievement, to develop such amazing technology in such a short span of time, only to stop dead in our tracks and walk away. It is a shame, and to the generations of young people who did not have the benefits of continuing inspiration to dream and to accomplish dramatic things…it is something that needs to be addressed.

Consider first principals: that to solve the issues of environment and food production and housing and health, young people need to be encouraged to pursue scientific and technological and engineering careers. There is only a few motivational paths that can spark the intense interest to “dream the incredible, do the impossible”:

1. War. Great technological leaps, but certainly not useful in the long run.

2.   Altruism (solving cancer, feeding the world, solving the environmental crises). Certainly laudable, but the problems are multi-generational, quite intractable and while it attracts individuals who can chip away at the problems, it is difficult to focus the masses to create the technological spark.

3. Go where no one has gone before. The hard focus that can lead to so many unexpected paths, products and services. By setting  the impossible goal, by creating the WOW project, people will be motivated to be innovative and creative and risk taking. Going to the moon was not about the science, it was about the engineering and problem solving. Read the Chariots for Apollo or the story of the 1986 Voyager aircraft round-the-world tip to get a sense of what that means.

It is images like this that inspired generations

It is images like this that inspired generations

I don’t intend to wax nostalgic about the “good ol’ days”, nor do I intend to belittle the incredible disruptive technological advancements of the past 40 years, but I think the young people of today need a WOW project that will give them the incentive to “reach for the stars”. ‘Be all that you can be’ should be astronaut, not soldier.

Mars is a laudable goal for sure, but may be too far away in time. The moon beckons, and it will eventually lead to the inevitable evolution of humankind…Mars and beyond. A colony on the moon may be the answer to developing a wide raft of valuable technology in the medical, food production, energy production, communications and materials engineering fields, as well as more we can’t yet imagine.

The best and the brightest need an attractor to focus on solving the world’s problems, and that is accomplished through grand adventure. The world wide future need a WOW! project.

Consider this: what powered the 1960’s Apollo spacecraft? Hydrogen fuel cells.

July 21, 2009 Posted by | education, Environment, future, sustainable future | , , , , , | Leave a comment

A year for educating green

The CBC, Canada’s national broadcaster, with sponsorship from Cisco has developed an interesting project called One Million Acts of Green. The idea is that people can register their act of environmental kindness or sustainability on the website to reach the goal of one million acts. The contributions in terms of greenhouse gases saved are calculated and noted. (The site currently states that 666,527 acts have saved an estimated 36,043,512 kg of green house gas to January 09 2009).

Now, while I consider things like changing to CFC bulbs or turning off the lights to be of marginal impact on a huge global problem, and pales in comparison to what countries like Germany are doing as a nation. But perhaps this challenge is an interesting take on the idea. I fear that people will soon suffer from over-saturation about talk of the environment and will soon tune out on the message (much like in the 1980s). The current economic picture may compound this effect, where considerations about the environment and economic sustainability will take a back seat to “jobs”. (Never mind that gas prices here are half of what they were earlier this year). Perhaps challenges like One Million Acts of Green will keep the fires burning so to speak, but then again, I hope it does not trivialize the problems or challenges. When it comes to educating the public, and our youth, about the necessity of the smaller footprint, we need to go big or go home.

Hopefully each citizen will consider that the best way they can make change for a sustainable future is by political action. A great example is Hermann Scheer, a German parliamentarian who has been a major force in helping Germany become a shining green economic powerhouse. The same CBC mentioned above had an eye-opening show (“The Gospel of Green” on our national investigative documentary program called the fifth estate), about Germany’s resolve to create jobs and a sustainable future by dramatically switching to renewable energy systems. A full 35% of jobs in Germany is expected to be in the renewal energy field by 2025.

When it comes to keeping people, industry and government moving forward to solutions to complex problems in energy, transportation, food production, communications and biotechnology, (the “Big Five” economic giants) I like to keep in mind Doug Hall’s three laws of marketing physics as outlined in his book: Jump Start Your Business Brain. Hall states people will stay the usual course unless something moves them off that course, (think Newton’s Laws of Motion). The Hall Three Laws are:

1. Overt benefit (must clearly state: What’s in it for me to change)
2. Real reason to believe (must clearly state why someone should believe you have a better answer)
3. Dramatic Difference (your solution must be dramatically different from previous efforts)

Simple in theory, perhaps not always implemented in practice, but it would behoove those that want to change the way our society operates is to ensure they are obeying Hall’s laws. To educate people and transform their way of life we need to make the project big, dramatic and rich in purpose. We need to clearly show that sustainable energy and food and transportation means jobs, and a future of possibilities. Most importantly, we need to show politicians and corporate decision makers a million reasons why this change is important to all of us in the worldwide future.

One Million Acts of Green
CBC fifth estate on Hermann Scheer

January 5, 2009 Posted by | economy, education, Environment, future, sustainable future, transportation | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A future subverted

The real crime concerning the current economic crises, (real and media imagined), is that almost all talk of the looming environmental crises has disappeared from the political discourse. Instead of Silent Spring we have Silent Fall, (and maybe Silent Winter?) where the carbon heat death of the planet has taken the back seat to the gambling loses of the well-to-do. Greed is the new green, and we are all poorer for it.

Here in Canada this fall we had completed another $100 million election for naught. The opposition Liberals, who exhibited exemplary courage with a proposed “green shift” of taxes from income to polluting behaviours, also exhibited a lack of fortitude and leadership to keep it at the forefront against a Conservative government quite lacking in any environmental initiatives. The economic meltdown silenced the green shift as the Conservatives continually hammered the electorate with the dangers of the Liberal’s “carbon tax” during tough times. The silence of the Liberals sealed the fate of green shifting taxes forever. Despite a viable model in many countries, it will be political suicide for anyone to bring it up again.

The American presidential campaign has just wrapped up as well. I don’t recall hearing many pronouncements on the environment, though Obama has all appearance of becoming the first green president. (One can only hope). But…ten billion a month on the war in Iraq. One trillion dollars to bail out the mistakes of bankers and so called stock market analysts. You won’t be hearing much about conservation, biodiversity, ecology, sustainability, carbon sequestering, pollution control or alternate energy while jobs are being “outsourced” and “Joe six pack” is going to lose his job. The world wide future has receded into the background noise, and it may be long before we ever reconnect with the immediate problems of sustainable energy, food and water and air to breathe.

Funny thing is, the answer to these environmental issues may also be the direct and most possible solutions to the recessive economy.

December 20, 2008 Posted by | economy, Environment, future, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Electrifying the Road

It’s not that I am a firm believer or a devout champion of the cause..I still need to be convinced…but I find the history and the growing future of electric vehicles fascinating. I posted previously about the Canadian built Zenn and electric car proponent Shia Agassi, but there is interesting developments right here in my own backyard (Ottawa Ontario). I have worked with the folks of the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa (EVCO) for the past couple of years with our National Capital Electrathon electric car race. (Pictures soon at photowagon.ca). This is an annual event (except for last year) where high school students design and build an electrically powered non-recharged car in a race for the number of laps in a given time period (one hour). (You run a single 12V car battery until it dies…it is a design exercise of engineering efficiency).

Collage from EVCO

Collage from EVCO

Anyway, the EVCO folks were featured on a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp) news item. The EVCO guys and gals take beat up cars, strip out the gasoline engines and replace it with an electric motor. A true hacking experience, you have to admire these back garage pioneering entrepreneurs. Perhaps these Mad Max creations won’t go very far on a charge, and won’t be featured on a NASCAR track any day soon, but you gotta admire the perseverance and the ideology. Their creations might not be the direct answer to the problem of transportation in the world wide future, but then again, one never knows where the next Henry Ford will come from.

Check out the EVCO folks at evco.ca/, and see about the CBC coverage at evco.ca/site/CBC-24jun2008

October 26, 2008 Posted by | education, Environment, future, transportation | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Puffins poop, lipstick smears and we all lose, again

I started this blog because I was concerned about “future crashing into the present” as described by Alvin Toffler in Future Shock. I hoped that my blog would be a means to keep myself actively informed and perhaps help me bring insight into a bit of the future for myself and my fellow netizens. Well, now it is election season in North America, a.k.a. the theatre of the absurd. The Americans, of course, have been at it for what seems like eternity. We here in Canada are just beginning our spectacle (well, it seems we have been at it forever too, with an ineffective minority government). The election ritual makes me ponder the impact and implications of democracy on the world wide future. First, can we hope that we will have a leadership that is informed enough about true scientific and economic factors to govern a complex society; and secondly (and more universally), does democracy in its present form work in a global economic situation? Can we hope that politicos will forego the usual self-preservation pandering to portray the future as it really needs to be?

Lessons can be learned from the current political theatre both in Canada and the US, where in the case of Canada, puffins poop and in the US lipstick hides the old guy. This is blatant pandering to the masses if there ever was one.

We live in times where we, the people must make hard decisions to secure a viable future for the next generation and beyond. The cracking of ice sheets are sounds that should be heard around the world as the dire warning they are. But is the environment even creating a single bubble in the water cooler? At least in Canada it is an issue, though clouded. In the US, the supposedly “leader of the free world”, you can hear the tumbleweeds blow by the whole issue.

In Canada, our Liberal party, currently in opposition, has come up with a plan to tax the wasteful and encourage future thinking (called the Green Shift). On first read, it looked like yet another tax grab that will never disappear (wasn’t income tax a temporary measure to pay for WWI?) But at second read it makes sense for the future if enacted as described (increase taxes on wasteful high energy consumption, decrease income taxes and tax relief for sustainable energy use). However, the Conservatives, now dressed in cozy blue sweaters, heap scorn on the plan by portraying puffins pooping on the Liberal leader Stephan Dion. The Conservatives, who used to have the word “Progressive” in front of their party name and have rightly stripped it off, have not addressed a single issue regarding the environment. They even lead a futile attempt to keep the Green party from the upcoming televised debates. Boy, we aren’t moving ahead very far, aren’t we?

Elizabeth May, head of Canada's Green Party

Elizabeth May, head of Canada's Green Party. Can the green message ever be effective in today's political theatre of the absurd? (Photo by Michael Scott, taken at Orleans town hall meeting March 22 2007)

Meanwhile, back in the US, the party of George Bush has resorted to the blatant attempt to hide any real issues by hiring an unknown woman (Sarah Palin) to run as the VP (a gun toting, bible thumping one at that!) McCain had to go all the way to Alaska to find anyone who will detract from the disastrous last eight years of their ruling mandate. I haven’t heard the word “environment” even mentioned once by the media since who knows when…the story of the day is about lipstick on pigs.

The quandary for democracy is that the hard issues…paying more for services, scaling back to cover debt or increased costs, making sacrifices for protecting the environment, making long term plans for a more sustainable future, are in direct conflict with saying the right things to get elected. The result is bowing to the lowest common denominator, while lies, deceit, clouding the issues, pandering to special interests, spending sprees (real or imaginary) and empty promises. We, the people, lose. We need to take a cold hard look at democracy and how it really works in a much more complicated, globally connected world. One just has to watch with a cynical eye any of the commercial ads by politicians to understand that we will not be served by the current crop of politicians.

There is a problem with our electoral system that precludes a true democratic process, and yet it is easy to fix. At present, if one was disenchanted and disillusioned with the political process one can either spoil their ballot or not vote at all. But either method is meaningless…the statistics just get melded into the apathetic or mistaken pile. What we need, for the furtherance of democracy and to send a clear message of distrust and disgust for the empty rhetoric of party politics is a line on every ballot: NONE OF THE ABOVE. Simply, if one is not in favour of political party pandering, deceits, false promises, empty rhetoric or hidden agendas, then one can send a message to the system to rethink and come back again with a realistic and responsible government. NONE OF THE ABOVE. We need a way to say: a successful sustainable future requires clear honest messages and serious planning that goes beyond the politics of the past. The future has crashed into the present, and has highlighted the need for a systematic retooling of our society’s infrastructure. We need to start fixing the way society is run by looking at the way people are hired to make the decisions if we want a bright world wide future.

September 15, 2008 Posted by | Environment, future, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Shai Agassi…meet Zenn

I read with great interest the cover article “Driven” by Daniel Roth in Wired Magazine (16.09 Sept. 08, page 118). The cover says: The Future of the Electric Car” and that seems just about right. In the worldwide future, design is more than just coming up with a product or service. Design must consider the entire scope, enterprise and life cycle of a designed solution. A designer of a product or service must consider the entire enterprise, or how it connects with the entire infrastructure of society. Consider how the world has changed since Edison invented the light bulb: even improving on the original design (for example: compact fluorescents) brings about a whole new set of problems (questions about the actual lifespan, the use of dangerous chemicals, disposal, environmental costs of manufacturing vs. incandescence, the list goes on. (My quote from teaching design: Design is what you do when you don’t know the answer…or the question).

The electric car is a case in point. Zero emissions are a noble goal, but how much will that car cost the consumer, or the environment? What chemicals will have to dealt with in manufacture; or in disposal? What do you do when your battery quits taking a charge? How much will a replacement cost? How much will it cost to build the infrastructure to support electric cars? I really would like to know the answers to these questions, especially from GM, who has been advertising its ephemeral Chevrolet Volt for some time already as if it already exists.

Shai Agassi, a young entrepreneur, has come up with an idea for building a sustainable (key word!) business (Better Place): an electric network that will support a new age of smart electric cars. Agassi’s idea is that you essentially lease the car and battery, and pay for its use through metered electricity. (Like the free cell phone paid for by usage or, going way back to that prime example of Chris Anderson’s Zero Economy, the King Gillette’s disposable shaving blade). The benefits are that you don’t have to buy an expensive car or more importantly, an expensive battery that will need replacing after so many charges. The car is provided to you, you pay for it by paying for the consumable portion: the electricity. The company develops the charging stations and the retailing infrastructure. If you need a fresh battery for a long trip, you just go to the charging station where they swap in a new battery in 10 minutes. You don’t need to worry about the cost of ownership and replacing worn out batteries. You pay for what you use, which is the way everything should be.

The idea is there, and Roth’s story outlines the process Agassi has been going through in finding a place to do trials, and a manufacturer to produce the vehicles and stations. A single car has yet to be produced. Brought to my mind our own (Canada) home grown electric car that is sold through out the world by the Toronto based Zenn Electric Company. Seems to me Agassi, you have a solution…Zenn already has the cars, and better yet the world wide license to develop electric vehicles using EEStor’s innovative high capacity battery system (three times the storage capacity of lithium ion). And, Transport Canada has finally allowed (just barely…they do need a kick in the ass) the use of these cars here in Canada.

Zero Emissions No Noise

The Zenn: Zero Emissions No Noise

Agassi…meet Zenn. Is this the solution we have been waiting for?

September 2, 2008 Posted by | Environment, future, transportation | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

EnviroEducation

The world wide future belongs to today’s student who learns through solving tomorrow’s challenges

-Michael Scott 2008

[All photos (c) Michael A. Scott, photowagon.ca 2008]

Site of the Macoun Marsh Biodiversity site, Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Laying out the foundation of the outdoor classroom

The outdoor classroom is taking shape

The outdoor classroom is taking shape

Adding the roof

The classroom takes shape

The classroom takes shape

Toward the end of a long work week

Toward the end of a long work week

The outdoor classroom will be used year round by students from all over the city

The outdoor classroom will be used year round by students from all over the city

The outdoor classroom is but a part of the learning experience

The outdoor classroom is but a part of the learning experience

The Macoun Marsh project is an excellent example of the WOW! Project…Dream the Impossible, Do the Incredible. We all learn best by doing, by experiencing for ourselves, by taking ownership of our time and efforts. For the full picture story of the construction of the outdoor classroom in the Macoun Marsh Biodiversity Project, go to photowagon.ca under World of Education.

July 4, 2008 Posted by | biodiversity, education, Environment | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments