Surprise, surprise: BMWs are unreliable

The British consumer magazine “Which” has just published a report showing that two different BMW models are the most unreliable and the third most unreliable models on the road in the UK.

This isn’t really a surprise. In Germany the brand enjoys better reliability statistics, but BMW runs a fleet of “Service Cars” there (and in Austria). A BMW owner in those countries gets free roadside assistance from the silver and white striped BMW estate cars 24 hours a day, every day of the year. (Follow the link in the previous sentence to see a picture of a service car).

Of course, the BMWs serviced by BMW’s Service fleet don’t get counted in the official ADAC (automobile club) break-down statistics, so the reliability looks a lot better. Perhaps someone at BMW Germany needs to give their British colleagues a word in their ear? Of course, it don’t affect how reliable the cars really are, just the statistics.

It’s interesting, BMW has operated the Service cars for many years, so presumably it is cheaper to run a team of mechanics on 24 hour standby and fix the break-downs than to build higher quality cars in the first place.

Never trust a statistic that you haven’t manipulated yourself…

Map showing the quakes in Japan

Realtime quake map of Japan
Realtime quake map of Japan

Paul Nicholls in Christchurch, New Zealand, has produced a continuously updating map showing the location and depth of the quakes which have struck Japan since the magnitude 9.0 quake on the 11th March 2011. Today (17th March), there were 34 quakes, including one measuring over 6.0 on the Richter Scale. Bear in mind, that the Richter Scale is logarithmic, which means that a difference of 1.0 on the scale is a difference of 10 times the magnitude, and a difference of 2.0 is a factor of 100 times difference in magnitude.

(The Christchurch quake this year was 6.3 on the Richter Scale).

If you are interested in an informed view on the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors, and on background information about radiation and nuclear processes, try the well-written MIT NSE Nuclear Information Hub, which is written and maintained by the students of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT.

The Internet is pretty big too…

Interesting facts about the Internet
Interesting facts about the Internet

Not only Africa is large (see the previous post), the internet is too. If you have 3-4 minutes, take a look at the slide show above (click on the screenshot to start it).

The first internet web browser to be created was Mosaic in 1993, which is when the Internet as we know it today, though the eyes of a graphical interface, was born. Google was founded in 1998, only 12 years ago. It is amazing how quickly new technologies and tools have been accepted and used by billions of users (1.7 billion internet users were on the internet in 2009; Facebook serves over 6 million page views per minute).

Thorium could be the answer to the energy crisis

The Daily Telegraph points to thorium as a way out of the energy crisis.

Dr Rubbia says a tonne of the silvery metal – named after the Norse god of thunder, who also gave us Thor’s day or Thursday – produces as much energy as 200 tonnes of uranium, or 3,500,000 tonnes of coal. A mere fistful would light London for a week.

Thorium eats its own hazardous waste. It can even scavenge the plutonium left by uranium reactors, acting as an eco-cleaner. “It’s the Big One,” said Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA rocket engineer and now chief nuclear technologist at Teledyne Brown Engineering. “Once you start looking more closely, it blows your mind away. You can run civilisation on thorium for hundreds of thousands of years, and it’s essentially free. You don’t have to deal with uranium cartels,” he said.

Thorium is so common that miners treat it as a nuisance, a radioactive by-product if they try to dig up rare earth metals. The US and Australia are full of the stuff. So are the granite rocks of Cornwall. You do not need much: all is potentially usable as fuel, compared to just 0.7pc for uranium.

The problem seems to be that the nuclear industry isn’t really interested in investing in new technology, they have invested too much in the current ones. Nuclear plants which are on the drawing board today will be around for up to another sixty years, so why try to master a new technology when you could refine the existing one?

There are advantages, however, to thorium plants:

  • It has a higher neutron yield per neutron absorbed.
  • It does not require isotope separation, a big cost saving.
  • Thorium-fluoride reactors can operate at atmospheric temperature. (The plants would be much smaller and less expensive).
  • Thorium is so common that miners treat it as a nuisance, and it’s available all over the globe, so there’s no possibility of a cartel of thorium producers who could block its use.
  • It is almost impossible make nuclear weapons out of thorium because it is too difficult to handle. (It emits too many high gamma rays)

Maximizing the chance of surviving a plane crash

Back in 2001 the US National Transportation Safety Board published a report on the survival rates in air crashes (PDF, 800 KB). They are much better than you might think:

Nearly 96 percent of the occupants involved in a Part 121 aviation accident over the past 18 years survived the accident, and in over 46 percent of the most serious of these accidents (accidents involving fire, serious injury, and either substantial aircraft damage or complete destruction), more than 80 percent of the occupants survived.

Nonetheless, there are several things you can do to improve your chances of surviving a crash. There is an article on Wired’s “How To” Wiki, summarising the main points – it’s not long, and is worth reading if you are going to be flying in the near future.

Wired: Amazon will deliver books via the sewer

I don’t find Phillip Hermes’ idea for beating the traffic jams of the future particularly attractive:

…the Urban Mole is a capsule that travels through existing networks of underground pipes in order to transport packages as diverse as groceries, signed documents and any title that appears on Oprah’s Book Club. The Mole frees up our streets and roads for important matters, like mobilizing armies against the cyborgs that will inevitably plague our future cities.

Able to move parcels as large as a shoebox, the Mole fully encapsulates its contents from surrounding wastewater…

…We like to think of the Urban Mole as a combination of Mr. McFeeley and the Ninja Turtles, skulking through sewers only to emerge when it can be of use to human civilization. But we pity the poor guy who has to open those capsules.

There really must be a better alternative…

A mechanical precursor to e-mail

I read Molly Wright Steenson’s blog girlwonder on an irregular basis – she has lived in Italy, India and several other places – which is pretty unusual for an American, and she’s interested in modern architecture, various aspects of using the web, and design. Which are all things she blogs about.

She published a short video a few months ago of an ignite eTech talk she gave (these talks are limited to 5 minutes and the slides advance automatically every 15 seconds!), about the use of pneumatic tubes in Paris and the USA in the period from the mid 19th century until the mid 20th century. You might have seen these in use in banks, chemists and businesses delivering money and paperwork, if you are old enough. I can remember seeing them in my childhood, but they died out in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

These tubes were surprisingly widespread. In Paris in 1945 they had a 450 km network of tubes running along the walls of the sewers delivering telegrams all over the city. The screenshot in the picture above shows just how many there were in some sewers.

I didn’t know that if tube-post got stuck in the tubes, they could identify to within a couple of meters where the blockage had occurred by firing a pistol down the pipe work and measuring the sound-waves! An interesting talk, worth investing five minutes to your time to listen to.