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


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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.


InSight mission to Mars launches on schedule

The InSight Mars lander launched yesterday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and is scheduled to land on Mars on 26 November. There, it will probe beneath the surface and check for “marsquakes.”

Follow the progress of the mission here.


The InSight lander (JPL/NASA image)


Reflections on school performance in the US

The US has just had a release of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results. They are not good. Of grade 8 pupils in public schools, 65% failed to meet proficiency standards in reading, and 67% failed to meet proficiency standards in mathematics. This is a serious problem, and it is worth getting to the bottom of it.

Doing a multiple regression on average state grade 8 reading scores, the politics of the state governor has no effect (p = 0.67). States vary enormously in the money they spend on education, ranging from $6,575 per pupil in Utah to $21,206 per pupil in New York. This makes no difference either (p = 0.93). What does make a difference is the state poverty rate (R2 = 0.49, p = 0.000000014).

For grade 8 mathematics scores, the story is similar. Politics of the state governor (p = 0.76) and money spent on education (p = 0.51) have no effect, but the state poverty rate does (R2 = 0.55, p = 0.0000000008).

Clearly, poor children do much less well in school, and spending money on schools does not address the problem. Why do poor children do less well in school? Research shows that on day one, poor children have a cognitive and behavioural disadvantage. Poor children eat less well. Poor children are starved of words, because their parents, on average, spend less time talking, singing, and reading to them.

The problems lie at home; the solutions must also lie at home. Rather than spending more money in schools, the US seems to need more assistance to parents at home. For example, the State Library of Queensland has started a wonderful Dads Read programme in Australia. Bookstart in the UK offers a free pack of books to children at 0–12 months and at 3–4 years. Also helpful would be guides to teaching number skills, guides to nature walks, discounts for families at museums, and other assistance in STEM areas (I’m start to feel like it’s time to write another children’s book). Surely this problem with reading and mathematics needs to be addressed with urgency!


Story time at the Dover Air Force Base library, Delaware (USAF photo by Roland Balik)