You’ve been warned

December 30, 2017

You've been warnedI really like this sign.

There is a suggestion of the risks you might be running (but no more), advice (but the decision is up to you) and clear information about the risk recovery mechanisms and constraints.

No nanny state here.

You’ve been warned – now make your decision.

 

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Another brilliant weekend at Goodwood – wondering at intriguing solutions….

B type 50 brake 1With cable brakes it really spoils your day if, in turning the front wheels, the geometry change causes the brakes to be applied because the path length of the brake cables changes.  So you want to put a lot of effort into designing a system where the tangent of the brake cable path is always aligned with the centre line of rotation of the steering hub.  And on the 1930 Bugatti Type 50 this is achieved through an elegant little offset sprocket.

B type 50 brake 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Have you seen all the recent hype about “augmented reality” so that manufacturers can provide service information just at the point where it’s needed by the technician doing the work? (If you haven’t seen it – this is typical: https://9to5mac.com/2017/08/07/augmented-reality-car-maintenance-genesis/)

Invicta had this cracked in 1931 with a gorgeous engraved plate mounted just where you’d need it as a reference.

AR 1931

Invicta 1931

 

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Then there was the amazing Delage 1926 gearbox with a very unusual shift pattern – reverse is beyond 1st gear – yes, in a straight line!

Delage box

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And leaping to the present, Gordon Murray’s iStream technology (which was mooted to massively reduce investment costs in manufacturing: http://istreamtechnology.co.uk/, and was expected to appear in city cars http://gordonmurraydesign.com/GMD/T25.html) actually appears in its first customer car – the new TVR

iStream

See also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URzSrI-3_PY

Just a few examples from across 50 years of automotive innovation …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Technology Venturing Forum

September 30, 2017

TVFAn interesting couple of days this week at the Technology Venturing Forum in Cambridge (https://www.ifm.eng.cam.ac.uk/events/technology-venturing-forum/).  This is developing into a very promising community for leading edge thinking about new ventures in all their forms in an ever more digital world.  I presented my thinking on the increasing sophistication of academic engagement with industry, the emerging role of the post-doc and the move from relationships between companies and universities to relationships between ecosystems. Others covered IP, corporate venturing, business models, open innovation and tools to explore the innovation space.  Usefully, it was all firmly grounded in pragmatic reality and experience.

I’ve been enjoying Neil Crompton’s wonderful commentary on the V8 Supercar series (for years now).

Fascinating to see how, by knowing what to look for, he spots and comments on minutia that presage unfolding events.  This from his experience driving as well as commentating.

Multiplies my enjoyment by orders of magnitude.

And just one specific instance of a general truth.

Frank Pick

September 1, 2017

The other day, I dropped by Piccadilly Underground Station specifically to see the Frank Pick memorial.  These words were found in his manuscript notes for (a talk to?) to Workers’ Guild in 1917.

Sentiment (170901)

And I couldn’t have phrased better the summary description of how the initiatives of this remarkable man seem to me to have been years ahead of his time – see below.

Plaque (170901)

 

I find Pick’s sentiments thought provoking, and I have to wonder what he meant by “<”; simple inequality or something more profound?

And why didn’t he reverse the words and use “>” which would be a far more obvious sentiment?

How do others see risk?

July 26, 2017

Surely one aspect of a good conference is one which opens up new questions and perspectives on a topic – and by this definition “Sharing an Uncertain World – Lessons in Managing Risk” in mid-July was a good one (https://www.geolsoc.org.uk/uncertainworld17).

Under Chatham House rules – so no attributions in what follows (which I’ll correct as and when the presentations are published).

Examples of interesting questions and perspectives were:

  • The discussion of how organisations are motivated to downplay the risks of hazards which they feel they can’t afford to mitigate.  The topic was raised as follows “The appetite to accept risks is inextricably linked to the willingness to invest resources in their mitigation”.  But a pithy version arose in subsequent conversation “We can’t afford to handle it, we can’t ignore it, so maybe we should just downplay its importance”.

 

  • If there is a dominant model for the underlying phenomenon or mechanism by which risk arises, then beware the dangers of discarding data that doesn’t fit the model.  Easily done with the best of (scientific) intentions – but could hide the fact that the model is wrong or incomplete, together with one’s grasp of the risk itself.  Which suggests that adaptability in your assessment of risk may be the most important attribute in the face of uncertainty.

 

  • This was developed further with a question about the dangers of consensus opinions about data, models or issues.  If reaching consensus requires excluding (or quelling) the outliers then how best to manage the risk of accidentally excluding valuable insights or the weak signals that hint at different causal mechanisms?

 

  • Compelling evidence of why and how the megatrends (climate change, urbanisation, globalisation and the digital revolution) interact to increase risk levels as people and wealth become more geographically concentrated in riskier places, and increasingly interlinked via systems of ever-faster dynamics.

 

  • The interesting phenomenon whereby those who manage risk well have increasing difficulty communicating the reality of remaining (or even of increasing) risk to an increasingly complacent audience.  This was supported by Simon Day’s work suggesting that fatality rates from tsunamis are an order of magnitude greater among communities that don’t see many compared with those communities for which they are a recognised reality.  (reported earlier as http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2007AGUFMOS23B..04D )

 

  • Nice idea of the metaphor of risk as a commodity – created by some, bought by others and absorbed by yet others.  Where is value created, destroyed and realised?

 

  • An excellent exploration of the intrinsic difference of ensemble modelling which shows up the sensitivity to parameters but tells you nothing about uncertainty.  To explore uncertainty you need to compare multiple models based on different presumptions.  Then you can go on to usefully explore risk thresholds and appetite for risk without getting confused by modelling issues.

 

  • Widespread agreement about the difficulties that humans have in coping with large or small numbers and the continuing search for visualization tools to help communication.  But one intriguing communication idea was to check whether you can summarise the core of your message into 140 characters (there goes any nuance!)

 

  • Risk appetite – and two interesting questions
    • You’re always facing risk – either accepting it, avoiding it or mitigating it.  Here’s a key question.  Are you doing that from knowledge or ignorance?
    • And does your risk appetite increase the more you engage with a specific risk because your knowledge enables you to recognise and mitigate the risk – or because you become desensitized?

 

  • Exploration of compound processes – because a disaster is never a single event.

 

 

  • No particular insights shared, but a widespread recognition of the difficulties of combining quantitative information (of possibly spurious precision) with qualitative information into a framework to allow decision making.  (Again, something faced by IPCC) And, of course, the narrative later to explain and sell the decision.  With the open question of the alignment of the narrative with the reality of the decision.  Represented by whose reality?

 

Smith's geological map of UK

Held in the Royal Geographical Society, we were also treated to the story of the world’s first national geological map by William Smith (https://www.geolsoc.org.uk/Library-and-Information-Services/Exhibitions/William-Strata-Smith) – a story of politics, passions and professional competitiveness as much as of cartography.  But striking to see how much Smith influenced all subsequent geological mapping conventions.

The rocking microtome (a device for creating thin sections of material for examination under a microscope) was invented by Horace Darwin in the early 1880s.  Horace, son of Charles, was a co-founder of the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company and they were manufacturing their microtome in 1885

1885-version-th

And in 1957 they were still making the same instrument – very little different.

1957-version-th

The company was sold in 1968 and disappeared in a series of mergers over the next 20 years.  But others make the instrument today …

radical

 

 

How many other technology products are so little changed over 130 years?  Surely it says something about the initial design concept.

 

(There’s a fascinating display of scientific instruments and of the history of the CSIC in the Whipple Museum in Cambridge: http://www.sites.hps.cam.ac.uk/whipple/. All sorts of ideas on display.)

At the end of August I went down to London to see the exhibition of Leonardo Da Vinci’s models and designs (www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/plan_your_visit/exhibitions/leonardo)

ldv-160831

Very impressive, especially some of his flying machines – but they couldn’t possibly work, could they?

There alongside was an exhibition model of Festo Engineering’s “smartbird” which can be seen in action on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnR8fDW3Ilo.  Festo themselves have been actively pursuing biomimicry for many years and also creating an open innovation network – the Bionic Learning Network with a number of universities and design centres and companies.  This has inspired them to use the principles behind the mechanism in a bird’s beak to create a very efficient high-span, high strength gripper.

Less restrictive than mimicry is inspiration and hence to ‘bioinspired’ innovation – and for a map of the market-readiness of bioinspired  technologies see: www.terrapinbrightgreen.com/tapping-into-nature/#technologies.  And see www.pointloma.edu/experience/academics/centers-institutes/fermanian-business-economic-institute/forecasting-and-expert-commentary/da-vinci-index-b for the Da Vinci index aiming to track activity in bioinspiration.

A whole new domain to explore – and Leonardo was an early pioneer, even if he didn’t get any of his bioinspired designs to market.

W125 iceboxTo reduce drag on a speed-record car you want to avoid the air intakes for the radiator.  Simple – use an ice chest instead, as Mercedes did with their 1938 V12 W125, achieving 432 kph.

 

 

 

 

 

Non-skid tread

 

Tyre tread that says what it does – but I wonder how well it does what it says?

 

 

 

 

Temp gauge

 

 

 

 

 

 

Temperature gauge from an ancient FIAT which includes tabulation of the boiling point of water at different altitudes – useful in the absence of a pressurized cooling system

 

 

 

 

 

IF engine

Need an engine for your recreation of a 1905 land speed record car?  Want some serious torque?  Why not use a 1920s airship engine? This the Isotta Frascgini 16.5 litre, V8 engine, producing 250 hp and 820 lb/ft of torque.

Scaling brilliance

August 13, 2016

Bombe detailIn July I visited Bletchley Park and was impressed, as so many before me, by the bombes (mechanical calculators – not computers) and the brilliance of the code-breakers, Turing among them.  I was also massively impressed by the community of volunteers who have rebuilt demonstration bombes in the absence of drawings or of parts – all were destroyed after the war.

But actually, I was most impressed by the insights of a man called Gordon Welchman.  He did have his moment of cryptoanalytic brilliance in designing the diagonal board – a key part of the system for decoding Enigma messages.

But his greater contribution, in my eyes anyway, was his realization of the need for scale and for joined-up operations.  Linking together the intercept stations, the understanding of the radio networks and what they said about organizational structures, the multiplicity of bombes, their manufacture and operation, the deciphering of messages, and the extraction of insight from the results.  And he got his head around this early enough to have the infrastructure in place before the inevitable explosion in volume and complexity of traffic.  3000 motorcycle dispatch riders per day, plus teleprinters delivering messages.

A system capable of managing this much data, decoding it, indexing it and then disseminating the information was a remarkable achievement that was hidden in plain sight of all involved.

(And I enjoyed his book “The Hut Six Story” in which it is all detailed. However it is a shame that the publishers saw fit to remove, from the 2016 edition, Welchman’s call to action for the future, replacing it with pages of minor bickering about details of history.)