Monthly Archives: November 2015

Google V. The Petrolhead.



Apparently, according to the latest hype upon the interwebby thingie, in about ten years time we are all going to be happy sitting in little boxes as Google shuffles us around the surface of the planet, I think that’s the idea anyway, or maybe we are  meant to be developing superhuman patience and delight in waiting half a day to refuel our electric cars so we can go another 100 miles down the road! It’s all so terribly confusing as to just what the future is meant to be nowadays. There was a time when it was so simple, each of us humanoids would have a hovercar resting in the garage, or at least a jetpack for popping down to the shops….. But hang on, shops were no longer going to exist either, we were  told that we would be swallowing pills of test tube protein and our new sneakers would be teleported to the door at the ‘touch of a button’. Doh!

Only a fool will pretend they know what the future will bring, so if we don’t know what’s going to happen then is best to try and shape it suit our own ends and the bigger the pot of money we have to throw at it the more likely we are to achieve some sort of power over events by which we may profit. Politics is the ultimate  example of this where  the billions wasted on electing a particular brand of morality that hardly differs from the alternative would be far better spent on actually helping the world survive. But vested interests mindful of their wallet have no interest in bettering the place for others, so they try and buy a sliver of influence in the hope that they may better it for themselves.

We are now seeing something similar with Autonomous cars, two huge IT corporations sitting on vast sums of money are wondering what to do with their mountains of cash and so they have both decided that what we all want is be chauffeured mindlessly around by their own particular brand of technology.  Note that there is no great demand for this from the public, what enthusiasm there is gives the distinct impression of being manufactured rather than organic and appears most often on social media outlets such as Linkedin rather than in the big wide world. Outside of the rarefied atmosphere of the web there is just a blank incomprehension as to why we should give up yet more of our personal autonomy to keep Apple and Google in clover.

I would not be alone in believing that technology is leading and commanding us rather than humankind being in charge of what is happening in our name. Don’t get me wrong, I am not for smashing up computers and burning hard drives in the street (except when my own PC plays up), nor am I about to retreat to the woods clothed only in a bearskin and beard, but I am not at all content with the idea that incredibly wealthy corporations should dictate to me as to how I should exist and insist on taking over all the basic functions of modern living that actually add value to my life. One of those basic functions is driving (biking really) and I am not alone. Have the proponents of automatic vehicles not recognised the tremendous amount of human activity and enterprise that is centred around the experience of owning and driving a car? All they need do is Goggle it after all, yet the appear not to have noticed, or think they are big enough to remould mankind’s desire for freedom, choice and individuality that is so strongly expressed through personal transport, such hubris normally ends in tears so bring it on. Meanwhile my personal opinion of the future is that in ten years time we’ll be doing and thinking much the same as we were ten years ago, our material surroundings may slowly evolve but human nature doesn’t change.

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The Future of Nostalgia



Nostalgia, as the oft quoted maxim points out, is not what it used to be.  This is perfectly understandable as the peak of interest in the past seems to run about 40 years behind the present. Or, to put it another way, yearnings for ones youth are strongest around the age of 50-60.  Of course this is a very broad brush approach but it’s not a bad guide to follow when looking to cater for the more mature folk who are making up an ever greater proportion of society.

As someone who  writes about the past in the form of vintage and classic machinery this is a subject close to my heart. It is certainly true that I personally have witnessed a shift in enthusiasm  during the time I have been contributing to classic machinery magazines from little grey Fergies and rattling old Fordson Majors to anything with a basic cab on. Nuffields are out and Leylands  are in, despite them being the same tractor under the skin, and the same applies to cars where saloons from the 60’s and 70’s are now quite collectible and Japanese bikes from that era have developed a fan club that is probably far greater than they enjoyed at the time. Nobody refers to Suzukis or Hondas as ‘Jap crap’ now and the shortcomings of many cars of the time are politely brushed under the carpet, especially when it  comes to reliability and economy.

All this is fairly straightforward and clear cut, however, there is something of a cloud upon the horizon and it has writ large upon it the word ‘electronics’.  Forty years ago was the mid seventies and up until then cars had pottered around using an ignition system based on a mechanical switch and a fuel metering device that had hardly changed in the previous 70 years, but contact points and the carburetor were about to be swept away for ever and the secretive black box ushered in to serve where visible and understandable physical principles had ruled before. Not long after the same applied to the diesel engines found in tractors, the steadfast and indispensable  injection pump succumbed to the common rail injection system (it’s always a ‘system’) with its timed injections of varying quantities of fuel according to what was called the engine map, and so it was with petrol engines as well.

The methodology was identical for both types of motor. The driver would indicate to a computer his or her intentions via the accelerator pedal as normal. The computer would then consider this request in the light of what the vehicle was doing, how the engine was running, what was actually possible and so on. It would do this by comparing the input data (throttle position) with a table (the map) listing the parameters and settings that were to be taken into account and then select the most appropriate amount of fuel to be injected and the most opportune moment to do so.  All this happened hundreds of times a second so we were not aware of what is going on, yet It led to great strides forward in fuel efficiency and err… emission standards, or so we were told.

Cheating at the test station aside it is undeniable that a tankful of fuel takes a car a lot further nowadays and the exhaust is certainly cleaner, so we should be grateful for modern engine management systems,  which I am sure most of us are, the downside being that the connection between man and machine has been eroded. For those of us who developed our driving skills on older cars there is still a sense of working with a living entity, a team effort between the operator and engine, a sense of cooperation that no longer exists. Before getting too dewey eyed it must be noted that this relationship would have as many troughs as peaks. Cars that refused to start in damp weather, tractor diesel pipes that would develop air leaks and bikes that needed their bank of carburetors servicing regularly if they were to stay in tune were all features of life that never trouble us now. Yet the problems were fixable, you lifted the bonnet and with a bit of savvy you could usually trace most faults, something that is impossible now without a computer to plug it into.

It is here that nostalgia has a problem. in 2045 will people wax lyrical about the fuel injectors on a Nissan Qashqai, share a knowing smile over the idiosyncrasies of the latest Honda Deauvilles or cry for the days of a hi tech Fendt? It is doubtful, unless we are all confined to traveling in anonymous boxes that give us no delight in motion or sense of control over our destiny, courtesy of Google or Apple or whoever else wants to reduce  the spirit of humankind to a grey meaningless existence. At least those that bring news of a more colourful past may be welcomed, but I fear we are more likely to be cast out  as traitors to the future numbness of life that is meant to bring us such happiness and contentment.