2019 World Solar Challenge: the route

Following on from my route map above for the World Solar Challenge (click to zoom), here are some personal route notes (revised from 2015 and 2017). The WSC has confirmed that the control stops are as indicated.

The graph below (click to zoom) shows approximate altitudes (taken from the Stanford 2013 elevation profile for this version of the graph). The highest point on the route (about 730 m) is 20 km north of Alice Springs, although the steepest hill (Hayes Creek Hill, summit 203 m) is about 170 km from Darwin.

Darwin – Start


Solar Team Eindhoven’s Stella starts the race in 2013 (photo: WSC)

The city of Darwin marks the start of the race.

Katherine – 322 km – Control Stop 1


En route to Katherine in 2011 (photo: UC Berkeley Solar Vehicle Team)

The town of Katherine (on the Katherine River) is a gateway to Nitmiluk National Park. It also serves the nearby Royal Australian Air Force base. The average maximum October temperature is 37.7°C.

Daly Waters – 588 km – Control Stop 2


The famous Daly Waters pub (photo: Lakeyboy)

Daly Waters is a small town with a famous pub. The Eindhoven team left a shirt there in 2015.

Dunmarra – 633 km


University of Toronto’s Blue Sky Solar team leaves the Dunmarra control stop in 2013 (photo: Blue Sky Solar)

Dunmarra once served the Overland Telegraph Line. Today it is little more than a roadhouse, motel, and caravan park. In previous races, this was a control stop.

Tennant Creek – 987 km – Control Stop 3 / End of Cruiser Stage 1


Tennant Creek (photo: Tourism NT)

Tennant Creek (population about 3,500) is a small town serving nearby mines, cattle stations, and tourist attractions. Shopping can be done at Tennant Creek IGA.

For 2019, Tennant Creek marks the end of Cruiser Stage 1. Cruisers must arrive between 14:00 and 17:00 on Monday (with penalties for arriving after 14:00). Cruiser teams will spend the night, and have the option of metered recharging between sunset and 23:00.

Karlu Karlu / Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve


Nuon Solar Team’s Nuna7 drives by the Devils Marbles in 2013 (photo: Jorrit Lousberg)

The 1,802 hectare Karlu Karlu / Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve lies along both sides of the Stuart Highway about 100 km south of Tennant Creek. It is home to a variety of reptiles and birds, including the fairy martin (Petrochelidon ariel) and the sand goanna (Varanus gouldii). Race participants, of course, don’t have time to look (unless, by chance, this is where they stop for the night).

Barrow Creek – 1,210 km – Control Stop 4


Barrow Creek Roadhouse and surrounds (photo: Adrian Kitchingman)

Barrow Creek once served the Overland Telegraph Line and nearby graziers, but is now nothing but a roadhouse. The Telegraph Station is preserved as a historical site.

Ti Tree – 1,300 km


Nuon Solar Team’s Nuna6 drives by a fire between Tennant Creek and Alice Springs in 2011 (photo: Hans Peter van Velthoven)

Ti Tree is a small settlement north of Alice Springs. Much of the local area is owned by the Anmatyerre people. In previous races, this was a control stop.

Alice Springs – 1,493 km – Control Stop 5


Alice Springs (photo: Ben Tillman)

Alice Springs is roughly the half-way point of the race.

Kulgera – 1,766 km – Control Stop 6


Sunset near Kulgera (photo: “dannebrog”)

Kulgera is a tiny settlement 20 km from the NT / SA Border. The “pub” is Kulgera’s main feature.

NT / SA Border – 1,786 km


Entering South Australia (photo: Phil Whitehouse)

The sign at the Northern Territory / South Australia border shows Sturt’s Desert Pea (Swainsona formosa), the floral emblem of the state of South Australia.

Marla – 1,945 km


Road train at Marla (photo: Ed Dunens)

Marla (population 100) has a health centre, a roadhouse/motel/supermarket complex, a police station, and a small car repair workshop. The name of the town may be a reference to the mala (Lagorchestes hirsutus) or to an Aboriginal word for “kangaroo.”

Coober Pedy – 2,178 km – Control Stop 7 / End of Cruiser Stage 2


Coober Pedy (photo: “Lodo27”)

The town of Coober Pedy is a major centre for opal mining. Because of the intense desert heat, many residents live underground.

For 2019, Coober Pedy marks the end of Cruiser Stage 2. Cruisers must arrive between 16:30 and 17:00 on Wednesday (with penalties for arriving after 16:30). Cruiser teams will spend the night, and have the option of metered recharging between sunset and 23:00.

Glendambo – 2,432 km – Control Stop 8


The Belgian team’s Indupol One leaves Glendambo control stop in 2013 (photo: Punch Powertrain Solar Team / Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Glendambo is another small outback settlement.

Port Augusta – 2,720 km – Control Stop 9

At Port Augusta, the highway reaches the Spencer Gulf. From this point, traffic becomes much heavier, which makes life more difficult for the drivers in the race.

Adelaide – Finish


Adelaide makes quite a contrast to that lengthy stretch of desert (photo: “Orderinchaos”)

Adelaide, the “City of Churches,” is the end of the race. The official finish line marks 3,022 km from Darwin.

Cruisers must arrive between 11:30 and 14:00 on Friday (with penalties for arriving after 11:30).


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Cities in Flight by James Blish: a book review


Cities in Flight by James Blish (1955–1962)

I recently re-read the science fiction classic Cities in Flight by James Blish. The galaxy-wide sweep of this four-part novel had stuck with me ever since I first read it as a child – likewise the role of the city that has two names twice. However, I had forgotten that the story opens in what is now our present (2019, with a prelude set in 2013 and a brief reference to an event of 2018). It was interesting to compare Blish’s vision of the future with our reality – where are our planetary outposts, for example? On the other hand, we have already begun forgetting facts, and letting computers remember them for us. Likewise, we have already started automating all “ordinary” jobs.

As an aside, it should be noted that the fourth part of the story, A Clash of Cymbals, was published in the U.S. as the less poetic The Triumph of Time.

The basic premise of this four-part novel is that a newly invented antigravity spacedrive allows cities to lift off into the galaxy and become “Okies” or itinerant labourers. Depressed American steel towns, for example, take off in search of planets with ore that needs refining. People, however, are still people, and not all the cities are friendly.

The writing is classic “hard SF.” There are even differential equations! The plot is heavily influenced by Oswald Spengler and the overall view of humanity is rather pessimistic (though not as pessimistic as some other novels). The second of the four parts, A Life for the Stars, focuses on a teenager (unwillingly) joining the exodus of cities, and thus has the form of a “coming of age” novel. The fourth part, like Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero and some other classic “hard SF,” ends with a sort of Big Crunch/Big Bang (although, as usual, the philosophical implications of a cyclic universe are inadequately explored).

The timeline of the novel spans more than two millennia:

  • 2018: Jovian expedition (in progress as They Shall Have Stars begins)
  • 2019–2021: development of the “spindizzy” antigravity spacedrive and first interstellar expedition (They Shall Have Stars)
  • 2105: fall of the West; earth ruled by Stalinist “Bureaucratic State” (hinted at in They Shall Have Stars)
  • 2310: the Battle of Altair begins the Vegan War, which in turn leads to the formation of the Hruntan Empire
  • 2375: rediscovery of the “spindizzy” on Earth; “Okie” cities begin to spread across the galaxy
  • 2522: collapse of the “Bureaucratic State” on Earth
  • 3111: New York, N.Y. leaves planet Earth (its career in space forms the major part of the novel)
  • 3602: Earth police take action against the remains of the Hruntan Empire (Earthman Come Home)
  • 3975: the Battle of Earth (Earthman Come Home)
  • 4104: the End (A Clash of Cymbals / The Triumph of Time)

As a classic, this novel is well worth a read, in spite of some writing flaws that are obvious on a re-reading. See here for a more detailed review and plot summary. Goodreads rates the combined novel as 3.95 stars, which is consistent with my 3.5 (I have a tougher scale).


Cities in Flight by James Blish: 3½ stars


Albi Eco Race 2019 begins!


Image credits 1, 2, 3

The Albi Eco Race 2019 has begun. The solar-car segment (“Niveau 3”) includes Bochum University of Applied Sciences with their legendary 2011 car, SolarWorld GT (top left), as well as their sexy 2015 car, the thyssenkrupp SunRiser (top right; it will make a comeback at WSC later this year) and their 2017 car, the thyssenkrupp blue.cruiser (not shown). The French (or rather, Breton) team Eco Solar Breizh is fielding their challenger Heol and their new urban mini-Cruiser hx2 (bottom). I understand that the Lycée Jehan de Beauce (Project 28) is also participating, along with the fantastic Ardingly Solar team from the UK (who will take their Cruiser to WSC as well).

The actual solar-car race is from 9:00 to 16:30 on Saturday (French time), if I am understanding the timetable correctly. There are active Twitter feeds from Ardingly, Bochum, Eco Solar Breizh, and of course the race itself.

Sadly, it looks like rain.


Image credits 1, 2, 3

Edit: it seems that the SolarWorld GT suffered some damage, which means that only two Bochum cars are competing. Also, hx2 is not competing in the solar-car segment. Below are the speeds from the qualifiers.

Further edit: The thyssenkrupp blue.cruiser won the event on points. The thyssenkrupp SunRiser came second, with 119 laps in 8 hours, i.e. an average of about 53 km/h. Heol from Eco Solar Breizh came third.


Eurovision!

The 2019 Eurovision Song Contest is on right now. Above (click to zoom) is a combined word cloud for the songs (or English translations of the songs).

From the point of view of getting into the final, it seems to be bad to sing about Heaven (Montenegro, Portugal), war (Croatia, Finland), cell phones (Belgium, Portugal), or cold (Latvia, Poland, Romania). On the other hand, it’s good to sing about lights (Germany, Norway, Sweden).

Good luck to everyone for the final!


Origin by Dan Brown: a book review


Origin by Dan Brown (2017)

I recently read Origin, the latest Dan Brown novel. Just about every Dan Brown novel covers topics dear to my heart, such as cryptography, computer simulation, the theory of computation, and artificial intelligence – but also the history of science, the history of Christianity, Dante, and Galileo. Dan Brown routinely promises an accurate depiction of these background topics (in this latest novel, he says “All art, architecture, locations, science, and religious organizations in this novel are real”). However (as I also pointed out for his Angels & Demons), the reality of his novels doesn’t quite live up to this claim. To pick just three examples, Yves Klein did not invent the pigment in International Klein Blue; “Pope Innocent XIV” was an Argentinian antipope, not a Spanish one; and it is not suprising when computer simulations produce results reflecting the assumptions built into their design.


Gaudí’s la Sagrada Família (image credit) plays a major part in the novel. It has been on my bucket list for decades. It still is.

Even as a work of pure fiction, Origin still disappoints. As with Dan Brown’s previous novels, the constant appearance of crazed gunmen doesn’t make up for the plot weaknesses. And a major theme of the novel is artificial intelligence – now, I don’t object to this being portrayed far in advance of current technology (that’s not uncommon in fiction), but the theme of artificial intelligence has been handled far better by (among others) Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke/Stanley Kubrick, Michael Crichton, and Peter F. Hamilton. I also found the book’s ending profoundly anticlimactic. However, if you’re a fan of Dan Brown novels, you’ll probably like this one too.

For other reviews, see The Week (“Dan Brown is a very bad writer”), The National (“The idea that a computer simulation would fundamentally destroy the faith of billions in their religions is so utterly, cluelessly juvenile that it seems right at home in a Brown novel”), and The Stream (“It’s sci-fi done by someone who knows nothing about sci-fi”).


Origin by Dan Brown: 2 stars


Personality and Gender

The so-called “Big Five” personality traits are often misunderstood. They all have catchy names, expressed by the acronym CANOE (or OCEAN), but in fact all they are is a summary of answers to certain kinds of personality questions:

  • Conscientiousness: I pay attention to details; I follow a schedule; …
  • Agreeableness: I am interested in people; I feel the emotions of others; …
  • Neuroticism: I get upset easily; I worry about things; …
  • Openness to experience: I am full of ideas; I am interested in abstractions; …
  • Extraversion: I am the life of the party; I start conversations; … (this last one is also measured by the MBTI test)

These tests work in multiple cultures. In this article, I am using data from the Dutch version of the test, the “Vijf PersoonlijkheidsFactoren Test” developed by Elshout and Akkerman. Specifically, I am using data from 8,954 psychology freshmen at the University of Amsterdam during 1982–2007 (Smits, I.A.M., Dolan, C.V., Vorst, H.C., Wicherts, J.M. and Timmerman, M.E., 2013. Data from ‘Cohort Differences in Big Five Personality Factors Over a Period of 25 Years’. Journal of Open Psychology Data, 1(1), p.e2). In my analysis, I have compensated for missing data and for the fact that the sample was 69% female.

The Dutch test consists of 70 items, in 5 groups of 14. The following tree diagram (click to zoom) is the result of UPGMA hierarchical clustering on pairwise correlations between all 70 items. It can be seen that they naturally cluster into 5 groups corresponding almost perfectly to the “Big Five” personality traits – the exception being item A11, which fits extraversion slightly better (r = 0.420) than its own cluster of agreeableness (r = 0.406). This lends support to the idea that the test is measuring five independent things, and that these five things are real.

On tests like this, women consistently score, on average, a little higher than men in conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, and extraversion (and in this dataset, on average, a little lower in openness to experience). Mean values for conscientiousness in this dataset (on a scale of 14 to 98) were 60.3 for women and 56.1 for men (a difference of 4.2). For agreeableness, they were 70.6 for women and 67.6 for men (a difference of 3.0). There are also small age effects for conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness to experience (over the 18–25 age range), which I have ignored.

The chart below (click to zoom) shows distributions of conscientiousness and agreeableness among men and women, and the relative frequency of different score ranges (compensating for the fact that the sample was 69% female). Thus, based on this data, a random sample of people with both scores in the range 81 to 90 would be 74% female. With both scores in the range 41 to 50, the sample would be 72% male. This reflects a simple mathematical truth – small differences in group means can produce substantial differences at the tails of the distribution.