Solar Car Racing Status Check #3

In solar car racing news, 29 teams are registered for the American Solar Challenge (ASC) in July. Scrutineering for this race begins on July 6, track racing on July 10, and the road race runs from July 14 to July 22. I am maintaining a detailed information page and teams list for this race. Five teams are attending with cars that raced at WSC 2017 (including one Australian team), although these cars will require adjustment to satisfy ASC rules. Seven other teams had existing cars (including one Russian team). The remaining teams have been building new cars.


ETS’s beautiful new car, Éclipse X, was unveiled on 16 May (picture credit)

Recently unveiled cars for the ASC include Missouri S&T (18 April), Poly Montreal / Esteban (23 April), Georgia Tech (24 April), and ETS Quebec / Eclipse (16 May). A couple of teams have (very sadly) dropped out, while many other teams are frantically working on their cars. Iowa State University (PrISUm) and the University of Minnesota are holding a practice mini-race on June 3 (with cars on display at the Science Museum of Minnesota the day before). Full details on all teams and latest news here.


Many ASC teams are frantically working on their cars – AppState is shown, and they plan to reveal their car on June 22 (picture credit)

The Albi Eco Race was held on May 25 and 26. Bochum won with their SolarWorld GT, while Dokuz Eylül University / Solaris came second, and Polytech Clermont-Ferrand / Bélénos third. Details here.


Albi Eco Race cars (picture credit)

Fourteen teams have registered so far for the 24 hour iLumen European Solar Challenge (iESC) at Circuit Zolder in Belgium (September 19 to 23), and Twente will be defending their title there. World champions Nuon might also attend (with an old car). I am maintaining an information page and teams list for this race as well. See also the official iESC social media at  


Circuit Zolder seen from above (imagery: Landsat, solar car photo: Bochum, chart: Scientific Gems). Sunset/sunrise and the phase of the moon are correct for the date

Preparations are also continuing for the SASOL Solar Challenge in South Africa (September 22 to 30). Defending champions Nuon and Japanese team Tokai will attend this event, along with local teams, such as North-West University, Tshwane University of Technology, the University of Johannesburg, Vaal University of Technology, Central University of Technology, and the University of Cape Town.


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True Stories – a book review


True Stories: And Other Essays by Francis Spufford

I recently finished True Stories: And Other Essays by Francis Spufford – a collection of real gems by a man who can truly write. A selection of essays, book reviews, and other non-fiction works, this book is divided into the thematic sections “Cold,” “Red,” “Sacred,” “Technical,” and “Printed.” The section “Technical,” for example, includes a piece on British engineering, together with a wide-ranging essay on Babbage’s “Difference Engine No. 2,” reconstructed by the Science Museum, London. Babbage never completed this device, of course, and perhaps could not have done so, given the technological limitations of his time. This leads Spufford into a general reflection on counterfactual history, drawing also on the novel The Difference Engine.

The section “Cold” includes several pieces on polar exploration, such as an introduction written for The Worst Journey in the World (a memoir of the 1910–1913 British Antarctic Expedition), and a piece on Ernest Shackleton. I’ve been fascinated by polar exploration since childhood, so I found these particularly interesting.


Grotto in an iceberg, photographed during the 1910–1913 British Antarctic Expedition (image credit)

The section “Red” deals largely with the former Soviet Union. It includes an explanation of Spufford’s fictional documentary book Red Plenty, and the essay “The Soviet Moment,” which is still online at The Guardian: “It was not the revolutionary country people were thinking of, all red flags and fiery speechmaking, pictured through the iconography of Eisenstein movies; not the Stalinesque Soviet Union of mass mobilisation and mass terror and austere totalitarian fervour. This was, all of a sudden, a frowning but managerial kind of a place, a civil and technological kind of a place, all labs and skyscrapers, which was doing the same kind of things as the west but threatened – while the moment lasted – to be doing them better. American colleges worried that they weren’t turning out engineers in the USSR’s amazing numbers. Bouts of anguished soul-searching filled the op-ed pages of European and American newspapers, as columnists asked how a free society could hope to match the steely strategic determination of the prospering, successful Soviet Union. … The loudest and most important lesson of the Soviet experience should always be: don’t ever do this again. Children, don’t try this at home. … Yet we’d better remember to sympathise with the underlying vision that drove this disastrous history, because it is basically our own.

The section “Sacred,” obviously, deals with religion (Spufford is an English Anglican). It includes a critique of Richard Dawkins, a reflection on C. S. Lewis, and a record of travels in Iran. The New Humanist still has online the essay beginning “Allow me to annoy you with the prospect of mutual respect between believers and atheists. … No? No. Because the idea of atheism as an extravagant faith-driven deviation from the null case goes against one of the most cherished elements in the self-image of polemical unbelief: that atheism is somehow scientific, that it is to be adopted as the counterpart in the realm of meaning to the caution and rigour of the scientific method.


Spufford visited the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan, Iran (image credit)

Finally, the section “Printed” includes miscellaneous introductions and book reviews, including an introduction to The Jungle Book, a review of the Mars trilogy, and an obituary of Iain M. Banks. This last section reflects Spufford’s wide-ranging interests in technology, exploration, and imagination. For me, at least, it established a connection of sorts with the author: we read the same things; we are brothers.


The last section of True Stories includes a review of the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson

See The New York Times and the New York Journal of Books for other reviews of True Stories. I’m giving it four stars overall, although several of the individual essays deserve five. This book was a delight to read.

* * * *
True Stories: And Other Essays by Francis Spufford: 4 stars


Albi Eco Race 2018


Timetable (click to zoom)

The Albi Eco Race at Circuit d’Albi in France this weekend had five solar car teams in addition to their other race classes (see also the race start). The weather was fine. You can check out the copious FB photographs from Eco Solar Breizh or the official social media (  and  ). Final results are shown below.


Albi Eco Race cars (image credit)

FR  Eco Solar Breizh 

This team came 14th at Abu Dhabi 2015. It is a French (or rather, Breton) team, started in 2008. They also raced at ESC in 2014, and came third in the 2017 Albi Eco Race. Their car is called Heol, and is a symmetric design. They recently got new solar panels. Final result: 5th.

FR  Bélénos 

This team is from Polytech Clermont-Ferrand. They raced at WSC 2009. Final result: 3rd.

FR  Lycée Jehan de Beauce (Project 28)

This team, from Lycée Jehan de Beauce in Chartres, fielded two cars: SolCar28 (illustrated) and WattSun28. Final result: 4th (WattSun28) and 6th (SolCar28).

DE  Bochum University of Applied Sciences 

This team came 2nd in the WSC 2013 Cruiser class. They came 3rd in the WSC 2015 Cruiser class. They came 2nd in the WSC 2017 Cruiser class. They came second in the 2017 Albi Eco Race. They drove to Circuit d’Albi with their 2011 car, SolarWorld GT. They also took their incredibly beautiful 2015 car, the ThyssenKrupp SunRiser. Both are 2-seat Cruisers. Final result: 1st (SolarWorld GT, 103 laps or 367 km) and 7th (SunRiser, 100 laps but late-race battery problems).

TR  Dokuz Eylül University / Solaris 

This team came 25th at WSC 2015. They came 9th at ESC 2016. Their car is called Destech Solaris, and is a symmetric design. They arrived at Albi very early Friday morning, after a long trip. Final result: 2nd.

This page last updated 15:52 on 27 May 2018 AEST


Eurovision Song Contest 2018

The Eurovision Song Contest has been on again (strangely, Australia has now become part of Europe). On the whole, I didn’t think much of the songs this year, although Ieva Zasimauskaite from Lithuania did sing an interesting song about love and marriage:

As usual, the voting is the really interesting aspect. This year, I’ve done an analysis where:

  • I looked at combined country votes in the final (jury plus televoting)
  • I assumed that countries would have given themselves the maximum score of 24

The diagram below shows a “cultural map” of Europe produced by multi-dimensional scaling of the votes by each country. That is, countries with similar tastes are located close to each other.

For example, Germany and the Netherlands have similar tastes. They both gave 6 or more points to Germany, Israel, Cyprus, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Lithuania, and the Czech Republic. They both gave at most 2 points to Moldova, Albania, France, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Serbia, Finland, Slovenia, Hungary, Portugal, and the UK. They differed on the remaining seven countries.

Colouring in the diagram is by the second principal component of the voting, which defines a cultural north-south axis.


The first “mixed-race” princess?


Photo: Mark Jones

I see that many Americans are excited by the upcoming royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. I have even heard suggestions that Meghan will be the “first mixed-race princess” in England.

This is, of course, nonsense. Technically, Queen Elizabeth II is herself “mixed-race.” Among other things, she is descended from Zaida of Seville (1070–1100), an Arab princess (daughter to Al-Mu’tamid ibn Abbad). Zaida fled Seville after the savage Almoravid takeover, taking refuge with King Alfonso VI of Castile. Zaida converted to Christianity, took the name Isabella, and became the mistress (and later wife) of King Alfonso. Queen Elizabeth II is her descendant:


Belief in God in the US

In another fascinating example of social statistics, Pew have just released a survey of US beliefs about God. The study included multiple questions about the nature and attributes of God, but my mosaic plot below only looks at the first one. The composition of each column is based on the recent survey, while the width of each column is based on religious composition data from a 2014 study by Pew.

In dark blue, 62% of the US believes in God “as described in the Bible.” A further 30% (in light blue) believes in some other god or higher power (or would not describe their belief in God in more detail). In red, 7% believe in no God at all, and in grey, 1% gave no response.

Columns correspond to denominations: Evangelical Protestant, Mainline Protestant, Historically Black Protestant (HBP), Catholic, Other Christian (OC), Jewish (J), Other Religion (Oth), “Nothing in Particular,” Agnostic (Ag), and Atheist (Ath). Numbers in the “OC” and “Oth” categories were not directly provided by Pew, and were estimated using totals provided (these two columns should therefore be taken with a grain of salt).

Among Christians, 92% of Historically Black Protestants and 91% of Evangelical Protestants believe in God “as described in the Bible,” but only 72% of Mainline Protestants and 69% of Catholics do. What’s more, 1% of Mainline Protestants, 2% of Catholics, and 10% of Jews say that they believe in no God at all (i.e. they adhere to their religion only culturally, and are actually atheists).

On the other hand, 90% of those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” believe in some kind of God or higher power. So do 67% of agnostics and 18% of atheists (clearly, many who claim to be “nothing in particular” are in fact Christians of some form, and many who claim to be atheists are in fact not).

Part of the explanation for this presumably lies in the fact that religion is in flux for many people in the US. Christians switch between the four main groups, some Christians lose their faith, while other people gain faith in Christianity or in another religion. Religious reality is more complex than a handful of numbers might suggest.