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

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.

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

Zenn and the art of motor vehicle ownership

I just returned from the 13th annual Gould’s Micro Car Classic in Newton Mass., and it was a blast. We drove our 1991 Nissan Figaro down from Ottawa Ontario, about a 7-1/2 drive. My Figaro is not quite a microcar, but it is a minicar, powered by a one litre turbo. The Nissan Figaro was a one-off creation by the Pike Factory, a design division of Nissan, who created four different retro styled vehicles based on the dimunitive Micra platform. I always wanted something unique to drive, and this JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) car is about unique in these here parts as you can get. The looks on people are wonderful to behold, and I have met many people who just have to come by and ask “what is that?!”

My Nissan figaro

My Nissan Figaro

Now even though the Figaro is unique, the MicroCar classic is quite a collection of unique vehicles. One has to be amazed at the engineering represented by these vintage cars, typically made from the 1930s up to present day (in the form of the Smart car or Mini-Cooper, though the majority was made from 1930s to 1960s). From Messerschmitts to Bantams to Goggomobiles to Isettas, these cars represent a time where affordability and gas mileage were the critical criteria. Sounds an awful like what we need to consider today. While you can’t say that some of these machines are easy on the environment, I think they do represent the world wide future. Consider…what do we really need to move about town, two tons of steel and a massive V8 engine or a small footprint automobile that gets 50mpg (2l/100km)?

A Messerschmitt and BMW Isetta

A Messerschmitt (fr) and BMW Isetta

There are many things to consider safety wise but I have a feeling that current regulations represent a massive hurdle to fostering innovation and allow for cheaper and greener alternatives. Consider that here in Canada we have the innovative Zenn Corporation (among others), building all electric vehicles for low speed inner city transportation. However, Transport Canada regulations prevent these from being sold in Canada! They are sold all over the world except for here in our own country. It is time to change regulations and breed innovation, because these times call for new ideas and radical departures from the way things were. The amount of testing that is currently required stops all but big money from getting into the market. Importation rules like an age limit (15 years or older in Canada, 25 years or older in the US for example) needs to change to allow importation of specialty cars (read green cars) for individual use.

I think that the Brand Credo from Zenn says it all:

Since we first began to walk, we have loved the feeling of movement.
To get around and see the world.
To be free.
Cars have given us mobility.
But with the heavy costs of pollution and oil dependency.
ZENN is about returning to the purity of that original feeling.
ZENN may look like a car, but it refuses to act like one.
You’ll experience the simple joy of moving freely.
With silent, exhilarating acceleration
ZENN will quietly change the way you think about getting from A to B.
The air is clean and your conscience is clear.
ZENN is a car that, while it runs on electricity, is fueled by optimism,
The belief that individuals can make a difference,
That we can do better.
ZENN is enlightened mobility

A call to arms perhaps, time for the people to demand that innovation be rewarded, that special rules make it allowable to try greener alternatives. On the education front, it would be ideal if more corporation and government help be offered to high schools and post secondary institutions to help boost engineering projects related to futurethink transportation. There are a number of interesting projects such as solar or electric car races that will no doubt bring some answers to the question of how we will move around in the future.

I have seen the future, and it is smaller.
-M.Scott 2008

July 16, 2008 Posted by | education | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment