The 1789: the hypercar that runs on biomethane

Vision’s 1789 is a hypercar inspired by Le Mans and it cares about the environment.

This is my first post about cars (although an article on the Pontiac Banshee might be coming soon) and what a way to start.

Vision Automobiles has debuted its new hypercar, named the 1789 in honour of the French Revolution. According to Hypebeast, the car derives its driveline components from Welter Recherche Technologie Industrie and Michelin. It also runs on biomethane, a biogas that has a similar quality to natural fossil fuels and, according to a study by IFP Energies Nouvelles, “biomethane-fuelled cars are the best transportation option to preserve air quality”.

Our first creation, 1789, is a revolution. It is an iconic model that crystallizes French expertise in motorsports and luxury. VISION 1789 – a two-seater vehicle inspired strongly by the prototypes from the 24 Hours of Le Mans – takes the driver’s seat in order to immerse the driver and passenger into the extreme world of automobile racing. 1789 is a real prototype in an evening dress and its interior, a showcase designed to the measure of its owner.

Everything has been thought to provide unique driving sensations to the driver. This is why 1789 has an extremely well worked flat bottom, specially developed to produce an outstanding aerodynamic support. Its power-to-weight ratio close to 1, and its rear transmission are the extension of this vision of motor sport.

Check out the gallery below and Vision’s Instagram for more.

Forgotten software: HyperCard

HyperCard influenced some of today’s most well known programming languages but most people today have never heard of it.

Last July, Samuel Arbesman wrote about forgotten software that inspired our modern world and told the story of Apple’s HyperCard. The software and dev kit was made for Apple Macintosh and Apple IIGS computers and predated the World Wide Web as a hypermedia system. Computer engineer and designer Bill Atkinson brought HyperCard to life in 1987, calling it “an erector set for building applications.”

Simply put, you could build your own software using HyperCard, with each program made up of “stacks” of “cards”. Each card could contain text and images, as well as interactive elements like buttons, with the ability to interconnect between other cards. Think of these stacks as rudimentary websites of sorts that exist entirely on a single machine, with each card as a page.

HyperCard used an object oriented language called HyperTalk for data manipulation and the interface and used syntax that was easy for beginners to understand. Lines of code read like human sentences, for example:

put the first card field into theValue
repeat with i = 1 to the number of card fields
    hide field i
end repeat

The concept paved the way for software that surpassed it such as wiki and Hopscotch.

HyperCard was a gateway to programming and was what first got me comfortable with the idea of coding. It’s probably not ridiculously hyperbolic to say that it inspired an entire generation of future software developers to think computationally. The developer of the original “wiki” software – the foundation for Wikipedia – was inspired by HyperCard. At least one of the current crop of Apple engineers also credit it for getting them into programming. And Samantha John, co-creator of children’s programming tool Hopscotch, says it inspired the software she’s helping to build.

Unfortunately, as many things do in tech, the HyperCard died out by 1998 when Apple stopped updating it and stopped selling it altogether in 2004. Arbesman called out some of the latest spiritual alternatives to HyperCard including Scratch, Glitch, and “bridging” tools like IFTTT and Zapier but, in his own words, “it’s time to go out and recapture that HyperCard feeling.”

The Electrodeck

The Electrodeck is an electric Skateboard Invented by Charlotte Geary, a 13-year-old girl from Bournemouth.

Electric skateboards aren’t new but for Charlotte Geary, it was the chance to make something great at the age of 13.

The Electrodeck is a regular skateboard fitted with a 400W hub motor and a battery, operated by Bluetooth remote control. The rider uses it to select speed and control the direction, similarly to what is being done in electric surfboards. The biggest pro of a motorized surfboard, according to Charlotte, is that, by not having to think or worry about having to touch the ground, riders would be able to focus more on doing tricks and having fun.

Her design for the Electrodeck was entered in the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s Sports of the Future competition where the winner got a prototype made.

Fingers crossed it becomes a proper product as electric skateboards are super cool.

Remember Fluorescent Multilayer Discs?

In the early 2000s, a rival to DVDs was presented at COMDEX but they never came to fruition. What happened to Fluorescent Multilayer Discs (FMDs)?

When it comes to data storage, the project management triangle comes to mind when I think about the winners and losers.

  • VHS vs. Betamax and Laserdisc
  • CDs vs. vinyl and MiniDiscs
  • DVDs vs. VHS and FMDs
  • Blu ray vs. all of the above

“Wait, FMDs? What the hell are they?” I hear you ask.

Fluorescent Multilayer Discs (FMDs) were a type of optical disc made by Constellation 3D. FMDs use fluorescent materials to store data rather than reflective components like CDs and DVDs. As CDs and DVDs use reflection over two layers to read, write, and store its data, there are limits to how much it can do as well as issues with interference.

But with Fluorescent Multilayer Discs, the fluorescence gives the discs the same properties as 3D optical data storage, allowing for up to 100 data layers. More data layers mean more storage space and the theory was FMDs could hold up to 1TB of data compared to up to 9.4GB on a double-sided DVD.

How does it work?

Here’s what makes a Fluorescent Multilayer Disc so cool:

  1. Fill the pits of an FMD with fluorescent materials.
  2. When coherent light from the laser hits a pit, the fluorescence activates and converts the light into incoherent light of a different wavelength.
  3. FMDs are clear so the light travels through multiple layers without interference. They can also filter out laser light and reduce noise compared to DVDs and CDs.
  4. As well as being faster and of higher quality in terms of reading and writing data, you also get up to 1TB of storage. Back in 2000 that was a huge deal. Following data from mkomo.com, 1TB of hard drive storage would have cost over $10,000.

A 50GB prototype was shown at COMDEX in November 2000. But what happened? Money.

RIP Constellation 3D

Constellation 3D shut down following “a failure to receive a committed investment by a Swiss-based investor” and nobody else bailed them out. The company later filed for bankruptcy and, in 2003, D Data Inc. acquired Constellation 3D’s patent portfolio, including the FMD. They rebranded it as the Digital Multilayer Disk (DMD) probably as it sounded closer to DVD and everything was “digital” at the time.

As Digital Multilayer Disks, the format’s ambitions aren’t as lofty. They still exist but can only store between 22–32 GB of data but can potentially hold up to 100GB of data. There’s also the fact that the market was saturated for discs that could be read by red laser technology such as:

  • Blu-ray
  • HD DVD (which lost to Blu-ray)
  • Enhanced Versatile Disc (EVD) (same as above)
  • Professional Disc for DATA (PDD or ProDATA) (also obsolete)

So there you have it. Even if Constellation 3D had the money to carry on in the early 2000s, I don’t think they would have succeeded. Consumers had no need for storage that big and that’s where the money was. But I love the idea of a clear fluorescent disc.

The Galton board and the Normal distribution

Sir Francis Galton was a Victorian genius who invented the Galton board with real world applications. Find out how it works here.

Have you ever watched the show Tipping Point or played on a coin pusher machine? You drop a coin from the top of the machine and is bounces around a series of pegs before landing on a moving platform. People try and predict where they want the coin to land in order to push the most coins down but it’s rigged (arcades surprisingly don’t want you to win money).

The concept shares similarities with a more interesting contraption known as the Galton Board. Invented by Sir Francis Galton, a 19th century polymath from Birmingham, UK, the probability machine stood at 19.05cm by 11.43cm desktop and demonstrated an important probability distribution in real-time known as the Normal distribution.

It works as follows:

As you rotate the Galton Board on its axis, you set into motion a flow of steel beads that bounce with equal probability to the left or right through several rows of pegs. As the beads accumulate in the bins, they approximate the bell curve, as shown by the yellow line [see video below] on the front of the Galton board.

From the chaos of randomness comes a uniform curve seen in everything from physics to finance, rainfall, even the growth of hair, nails and teeth. And all that from some beads bouncing against some pegs.

Emmanuella Mayaki: the 10-year-old coding genius

What were you doing when you were 10? Emmanuella Mayaki was receiving diplomas and teaching kids in after school clubs. Come meet a coding prodigy.

I started coding in HTML and CSS when I was 10. 20 years later, I’m barely an intermediate coder. But at 10, Emmanuella Mayaki is already light years ahead of people 3x her age.

Emmanuella is a Black Nigerian girl who recently got her first job at the Southfield Primary School in Coventry, England, as their after school coding club teacher.

Her love for tech started 3 years earlier and she later received a diploma and continues to learn more programming languages. At 10!

In the club, there are currently about nine pupils. Hopefully, the club will increase its members in September. Today, my Academy App among others is already on Google Play store where I pass on knowledge of coding and graphics. I remember at age seven, I set a target to become a professional web designer and analyst at age nine, and I have accomplished it,” she added. “In the first week, I was pretty nervous because I had never taught a group of children. Although, my experience was sublime because I gained experience and I also enriched my skills. My observations were that not everyone grasps how to do it on their first try and there are some that they rush through it in a breeze.

Emmanuella speaking to Face 2 Face Africa

I am in awe. May she be protected at all costs.

Why is Richard Feynman so revered?

Richard Feynman is one of the most famous scientists of all time but what made him so loved?

Without knowing much about him, I watched a BBC film about Richard Feynman called The Challenger. It told the story of how Feynman (played by William Hurt), helped to discover why the Challenger space shuttle disaster happened. Two years after the Rogers Commission Report was released, Feynman from kidney failure brought on by liposarcoma.

But how did he become such an admired and beloved teacher? Open Culture gave its thoughts on the man and his lessons:

If Richard Feynman had only ever published his work in theoretical physics, his name would still be known far and wide. As it is, Feynman remains famous more than thirty years after his death in large part for the way he engaged with the public.

His famous book, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, is free to read online, Bill Gates called him “the best teacher he never had”, and many of his lectures are available to watch online. In short, he made science accessible to anyone willing to learn and he was incredible at what he did (he won a Nobel Prize in 1965 jointly with Julian Schwinger and Shin’ichirō Tomonaga.)

But the essence of Richard Feynman was in his wonderment at discovery and not fearing the unknown:

I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things but I’m not absolutely sure of anything and the many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here and what the question might mean. I might think about it a little but if I can’t figure it out, then I go into something else. But I don’t have to know an answer, I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things. By being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose which is the way it really is as far as I can tell possibly. It doesn’t frighten.

That, in itself, is a lesson we can and should all take with us as we try to navigate through this thing called life.

The Quantum Internet

Computer scientist and physicist Stephanie Wehner wants to create a new quantum internet, swapping bits for the qubits.

The internet is 31 years old and to mark the occasion earlier this month, Sir Tim Berners-Lee warned that the internet “was not working for women and girls” and aimed to tackle the “growing crisis” of online abuse. Could a new “quantum internet” be the answer?

There’s no doubt the internet has provided us with a vast array of opportunities and information. But infrastructure is inconsistent on a global scale. Data accessibility isn’t as cheap in Asian and African countries where interconnectivity is important. Computer scientist Stephanie Wehner thinks the solution is a quantum internet. Quanta Magazine’s Natalie Wolchover wrote a piece on the professor who works at QuTech, a quantum computing research centre in the Delft University of Technology.

A quantum internet is a fascinating concept. Wehner agrees, particularly with the unpredictability of networks transmitting data and how a quantum version could solve its problems:

The unpredictability of networks is something that has always fascinated me. Computers are interesting, but what I really care about is transmitting data from one point to another. This is the reason why I got into hacking, and why I got interested in the classical internet and gaining access to it in the first place.

To combat data transmission issues, the quantum internet would use quantum bits or “qubits” which can be 0 and 1 rather than the binary bits we use in current computing.

Wolchover remarked that “the ability to send qubits from one place to another over fiber-optic cables might not transform society as thoroughly as the classical internet, but it would once again revolutionize many aspects of science and culture, from security to computing to astronomy.”

Quantum physics has always been a passive wonder to me and the reason I took physics at college (I dropped it after my first year because the mechanics put me off). I also love the Internet. I look forward to finding out more about this as it develops.

Is Firefox close to extinction?

Mozilla Firefox is struggling against bigger and better browsers right now, even with a cash injection from its market competitor, Google.

I used Firefox for a good chunk of the 2000’s and for good reason. It was superior to Internet Explorer, offered the ability to type in a word and navigate to its associated website, and it was so much faster and better looking. Then Chrome arrived and I used it alongside Safari when I got a Mac. The rest is Internet history.

Firefox is still a solid browser with great web dev capabilities but I just prefer Chrome. Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols wrote about its “endangered” status for ZDNet on 14th August:

Firefox had a great run, but beginning in 2012 with Firefox 11, the once innovative browser began a sharp decline in quality. Over the years, things continued downhill.

He attributed its demise to Chrome’s growing dominance, layoffs and then more layoffs, and revenue losses (which Mozilla is papering over with Google’s money from their renegotiated search partnership worth between $400 million and $450 million per year until 2023). But there’s more, which Vaughan-Nichols shrugged off:

[…] [Mitchell] Baker assured onlookers that Mozilla would ‘ship new products faster and develop new revenue streams.’ These include its bookmarking app Pocket; its virtual rooms Hubs; and its $4.99-a-month Firefox VPN.

Excuse me if I don’t buy any of these new revenue sources. There are already many successful bookmarking programs (Evernote, Flipboard, and Instapaper), virtual meeting rooms (Zoom, Slack, and Teams); and VPNs (NordVPN, PureVPN, and Hotspot Shield). Do you see any room there for a new money-making service? I don’t. 

To be honest, I don’t either. This looks eerily similar to the browser wars of the 90s highlighted in Halt and Catch Fire, except Mozilla is Comet in this scenario. And if you watched the show, you’ll know how that ended.

It would be a great shame if Firefox died but it’s competing with Google who also happens to be giving them a significant amount of their current revenue. Who knows what the future will hold if they decide to pull the plug.

A Black Internet Timeline

Who were the Black technologists making the Internet a place for other Black people to communicate? This timeline might shed some light.

Since I started and finished Halt and Catch Fire, I’ve been thinking about the Internet and how we got here. But in all my research and reminiscing, I could only find White stories. Didn’t Black people use the Internet in the 90’s? I could have sworn I saw them using computers and modems.

Well, after some extreme Googling, I found this by William R. Murrell, III, who runs blacksoftware.com: “a timeline of event [sic] originally documented in 1999 when African Americans began their move to get aboard the information superhighway Internet.”

The Internet pioneers weren’t all White and there were some remarkable feats achieved by Black technologists such as:

Arthur McGee

He emailed lists of dial-up modem phone numbers to local BBS’s (bulletin board systems) owned by Black people as well as the addresses of HBC’s (historically Black colleges) and universities. It was the first document of its kind—a “network of interconnected system operators (sysops) in the Black Online Diaspora”.

Clarence “Skip” Ellis

The first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in Computer Science, back in 1969. His Ph.D. dissertation on “Probabilistic Languages and Automata” analysed programming languages and their translators, which, according to @bedstuyguy, suggested that Ellis “anticipated some characteristics of search engines, as well as of artificial intelligence”.

For example, he imagines a library information retrieval system that reminds us of a Google search, ranking documents by probability of relevance to the search criteria.

While at MIT, he also worked on research related to ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet and the World Wide Web.

Kamal Al Mansour

In 1990, Al Mansour introduced AfroLink, a software platform and web portal for Black people. He was inspired by something he watched on PBS in 1988:

I was sitting up late one night watching PBS, when I saw a segment on an interactive multimedia software program titled Culture, developed by a professor at Princeton University. It featured images, animation and text. What absolutely fascinated me was seeing the use of this technology, but more so that it was called Culture but did not feature anything about Kemet, or any Black people whatsoever.

It was an early success before accessibility and data costs made accessing the Web easier than installing and running Web-based software.

My only concern with the timeline is the lack of women mentioned. There was a paragraph on the importance of “Women Sysops” and the late Idette Vaughan. Still, an interesting timeline and a good place to start if you want to see the basis of Black technologism on the Internet.

You should also read Black Software: The Internet & Racial Justice, From the AfroNet, to Black Lives Matter by Professor Charlton MciIwain.

AI is White AF in pop culture says researchers

From sci-fi to stock images, Stephen Cave and Kanta Dihal argue that AI is too white in popular culture and there will be consequences.

In news that will shock no one of colour, a paper entitled “The Whiteness of AI” by Stephen Cave and Kanta Dihal published on 6th August says “AI is predominantly portrayed as white—in colour, ethnicity, or both”.

From the abstract:

We first illustrate the prevalent Whiteness of real and imagined intelligent machines in four categories: humanoid robots, chatbots and virtual assistants, stock images of AI, and portrayals of AI in film and television. We then offer three interpretations of the Whiteness of AI, drawing on critical race theory, particularly the idea of the White racial frame. First, we examine the extent to which this Whiteness might simply reflect the predominantly White milieus from which these artefacts arise. Second, we argue that to imagine machines that are intelligent, professional, or powerful is to imagine White machines because the White racial frame ascribes these attributes predominantly to White people. Third, we argue that AI racialised as White allows for a full erasure of people of colour from the White utopian imaginary. Finally, we examine potential consequences of the racialisation of AI, arguing it could exacerbate bias and misdirect concern.

My initial comment might have sounded dismissive of the effort put into this paper, and I didn’t mean it to. But as someone who works with AI and machine learning everyday via search engine optimisation, I see the whiteness of AI daily (I’ve alluded to it in my own writing) so this isn’t surprising to me.

However, privilege is a helluva drug and many White people won’t see any kind of erasure because they view AI as non-human and void of those biases. Except it isn’t, because White people use AI to specifically target people of colour and perpetuate White supremacy, which is the basis of this paper.

Headings from the paper include:

  • Machines Can Be Racialised
  • The Whiteness of Humanoid Robots
  • The Whiteness of Stock Images of AI
  • The Whiteness of AI in Film and Television

Pop culture is saturated with White robots. At best, you get Black cyborgs (shout out to Will Smith in I, Robot and Cyborg from Teen Titans) but they’re few and far between and they’re mostly men. And, going back to I, Robot, the main robot—Sonny—is White and played by a White actor. By carrying this on, we’re teaching machines to be just as racist as us but a million times quicker. Just ask Tay.

You can read “The Whiteness of AI” in full on Springer Link or download the PDF.

Apparently, Lycos is still around

A bastion of late 90s/early 00s web searches, Lycos should have died. But it’s still around somehow.

Before I started using Google as my main search engine, I used Yahoo!. And before that, it was Lycos. I think the fact it used a dog as a mascot swayed me before Yahoo!’s popularity did. But then it died. Or so I thought.

For anyone who doesn’t remember or know what Lycos is, it’s a search engine and web portal that started in 1994. Like many search engines from the 90s, it began life as a research project at Carnegie Mellon University before spinning out into the commercial realm thanks to $2m of VC cash money. By 1999, it became the most visited online destination in the world.

But it didn’t regain its position after the dot-com bubble burst and abandoned its search crawler in 2001. By 2004, Lycos was sold to a South Korean company called Daum Communications Corporation, now Kakao, for $95.4 million, a fraction of a fraction of its former owner’s initial $12.5bn investment.

Fast forward to 2020 and Lycos is still online and still a search engine. Kakao still owns it, its revenue was $250 million in 2009, as of 2017, it employed 450 people, and its Alexa ranking was 19,153 as of today.

Here are some of the sites Lycos owned at its peak:

It still owns the following:

I don’t know whether I’d call Lycos’s survival an underdog story (genuinely no pun intended, I swear) but I like the spirit of this quote from the company’s about page:

This has been Lycos’ key to survival , diversification. The integration of the various products, services and brands provided to Lycos users for the last 25 years

If by diversification, they mean “selling all their other properties and hanging onto the main ones they had that not as many people use”, then go, Lycos! I’m very tempted to set up a Lycos email address for nostalgic purposes. I doubt I’ll use its search engine though.

Here’s a Lycos commercial from the good old days, featuring Penn & Teller.