May , 2012
May , 2011
So Magnus Larsson gave this TED talk entitled “Turning Dunes into Architecture”. His idea is to build a giant wall across Africa, to halt or at least slow down the desertification process that is happening there. The idea is to use bacteria that bond with the sand to make it hard, something like adobe.
It’s such a very cool idea, both useful and beautiful, and I wish I had some skills or knowledge that would be useful to such a project. But unfortunately I have a feeling that, as the saying goes, “technology is easy, politics is hard” and that the things that would stop such a project are political and social.
February , 2010
Check out Leonardo da Vinci’s resume!
Although, it is really different than a modern resume in flavor, because it talks about what he can do, rather than what he has done. Something for those of us who are job searching to keep in mind.
October , 2009
The Mercury News has had two interesting articles recently on the topic of electric cars. This one, from Sept 17th, is a pretty good summary of electric cars that are coming soon, many made by big boys like Volkswagen, GM, Hyundai, and BMW.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find an online copy of the second article, but in some ways it’s even more interesting. The title: “Nissan to make electric cars hum”.
It turns out that electric vehicles are naturally very quiet. And since people working on cars have been struggling to make engines quieter for decades, it wasn’t intuitively obvious that there was such a thing as too quiet. But there is. Pedestrians tend to expect cars to make some noise, and especially kids, the elderly, blind people, or those listening to iPods may not notice a very quiet vehicle.
So the Nissan engineers started thinking about sound, and what kind of sound to add.
“We decided that if we’re going to do this, if we have to make sound, then we’re going to make it beautiful and futuristic,” Toshiyuki Tabata, a Nissan engineer, said. Then he and his team went out to consult Japanese composers of film scores.
Now that’s thinking about things in a new way! I’m so happy they didn’t just make a recording of a throaty gasoline engine. What they decided to do instead solves the problem in a much more interesting way.
September , 2009
I finally read The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen, which originally came out in 1997 (with a revised edition in 2000). See my review. I clearly should have read it a long time ago.
When reading it, I kept thinking how much it explains so many things about the GM EV1 project. It explains how the crack EV1 marketing team still had trouble defining a market (Christensen’s Principle #3: Markets that Don’t Exist Can’t be Analyzed). It explains why Tesla, which has sold something like 700 vehicles, is considered a success, while the GM EV1, which put out a lot more, is considered a failure (Principle #2: Small Markets Don’t Solve the Growth Needs of Large Companies).
It even explains how a big company like GM might have been able to do more with a disruptive technology. It’s in Chapter Six — Match the Size of the Organization to the Size of the Market.
It makes me wonder. What if GM had spun off the EV into its own small company, and put that company into its own markets, its own value network, and most of all, its own culture. I had noticed right away, in moving from California to Michigan in 1991 how much the culture was different. But they wouldn’t have had to move the project all the way to California. Nope, Ann Arbor, which physically is practically next door, is culturally way different. I think spinning it off, even if kept as a fully owned subsidiary, and moving it to Ann Arbor, would have resulted in a far different organization, one that could get excited about small markets, and could grow and nurture the small markets.
The EV1 that actually was built was a great car. The small market that loved it, really, really loved it. But imagine if it had been allowed to mature, to improve every couple of years with a new version. Imagine where we would be today!
Then again, hindsight is 20/20 as they say. A lot of very smart people tried very hard, but the innovator’s dilemma got them. Let’s try and stay awake and not let it get us the next time.
August , 2009
So now it appears that VW has purchased Porsche. How many global automotive companies can we get down to, do you think? This should mean some cost savings in the scaling. But the trick, as usual, is to get the cost benefits while still managing to keep the unique characteristics of each brand. I hope it works.
May , 2009
So we all talk about electric cars and electric motorcycles and electric scooters as “green” technologies. But does the simple fact that they’re electric guarantee that they’re green? Not necessarily. I recently watched an episode of “30 Days” on Hulu that was about coal mining. Fifty percent of our electricity currently comes from burning coal! So half of the electricity we’re using to power these alternative vehicles also comes from coal. And it’s true that we have cleaner ways of burning coal than we used to. However it’s still far from what most people would consider “green”.
But besides the pollution that’s caused by burning coal, the “30 Days” show highlights the cost in people’s lives to mine coal underground, and the cost to land to mine coal via strip mining.
It really brings home the idea that, in the engineering world, everything is a trade-off!