Category Archives: Energy

The 1947 Electric Car That Even Today Looks Modern: Nissan Tama

I’ve mentioned on this blog before the 1947 Nissan Tama.

It has several important historical characteristics that make it look like something very modern even today.

  • Designed for the switch to a peacetime economy
  • Designed by 200 Tachikawa Aircraft employees
  • Extreme shortage of gasoline
  • Top speed of 35 km/h (22 mph) and a cruising range of 65 km (40 miles) on a single charge
  • Passenger car and truck models
  • Battery compartment in the cabin floor, with two doors on either side
  • Battery cases on rollers so used batteries could be quickly exchanged with fresh ones

I bring it up again as people lately have been saying they wish they had a quick way to replace their electric car batteries instead of using a gasoline-pump like attachment for slow (complicated and dangerous) charging.

That is what Tama offered in its “bomb bay” like doors and energy swap cases:

Tama power swap used cases of batteries on rollers

Well I guess that means look at 1947 for the answers from war-time aircraft engineers who understood the significance of rapid replacement, refuel turnaround and similar efficiencies.

Of course it wouldn’t happen today for cars without someone involving robots.

The Chinese refer to the 1940s Japanese model of drive-through battery-swapping as “killed by Tesla years ago” and thus a re-emergence trend:

It’s similarly tempting to get very excited by a Taiwanese company GoGoro as they have slick marketing calling their products “reimagined”. It’s basically the most distributed and modern take yet on what came so long before the ill-conceived “plug-in” market that’s slow, dangerous and bad for batteries.

Source: GoGoro

We’re essentially going back to the beginning, which is good for modern electric vehicles.

The most exciting thing about this stop-and-swap transit model is that any home anywhere could be a supplier. It’s much more attractive to have someone grab a power pack to go than to hook up to your house charger.

And even that model goes back centuries.

Imagine hanging a small sign outside your home that says “power cell available”, like the hanging red lamp of the Japanese Izakaya. That’s in fact a hint at the universal thinking about services and sharing that led everyone towards a modern hotel, the modern restaurant…

Interesting to historians may be how battery replacement goes back even further to an ancient system of canvasarais spaced 20 miles apart on Persian highways, where a tired horse or camel could be quickly refueled or exchanged with a fresh one.

…Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa would have been much more difficult if not for the caravanserais… centers for the exchange of goods and culture…

Thinking of transit problems as new just because some aspect of it is new, prevents us from seeing the millennia of knowledge right in front of our eyes.

New Special Forces e-Bikes are Really Just Motorcycles

Special Forces are orienting around the amazing performance characteristics of light bicycles with electric motors — motorcycles.

One of the curious problems with gasoline motorcycles is they grew too big and unwieldy at several hundred pounds, not to mention they ran on gasoline (not ideal for a military running on diesel). And since light-weight diesel motorcycles never really seemed to take off, electric makes perfect sense.

A new story in iNews claims an exclusive in reporting that Colorado is supplying the new commercial-sector mountain bicycles with electric motors to the military for testing.

In a reverse of the convention of defence technology finding its way to the civilian market, the vogue for military bicycles follows the global boom in e-bikes used by commuters and leisure cyclists. The value of the this market is predicted to reach £34bn by 2026.

But the new breed of special forces bike is a different beast.

With five-inch-wide tyres more likely to be found on a motorbike, a range of nearly 60 miles and silent 1,000w motors, the Jeep/QuietKat bike, made in Colorado, has been tailored for the needs of cycling special forces.

There are multiple problems with this story, although I have to commend it for making history front and center to the narrative.

First, it’s not a one-way convention. The civilian market also has a convention of making its way into defense technology. Special Forces often pull civilian companies like Patagonia, North Face, and Arcteryx into their equipment kits (as I’ve written about here before).

Second, the boom in e-bikes has been very pronounced in mountain bike racing, where training now is pedal-assist power to improve range in order to improve handling. In other words if you ride a technical pump track 50 times on an electric motor for training, then you likely get 40 times more experience in a session to prepare for non-electric racing than if you didn’t have the motor.

In other words, the “new breed of special forces bike” is NOT different from civilian bikes. A range of 60 miles on silent 1,000w motors is par for course, as well as extra fat tires commonly used for snow and sand trails.

Here’s a typical tweet from me in 2015.

Source: Twitter

Third, the history in this story has a GIANT gaping omission. This is not fair retelling.

Ever since the advent of the mass-produced bicycle in the late 1800s, armies have looked to harness the potential of soldiers on two wheels.

By the end of the 19th century most European militaries had formed bicycle units to replace horses for the delivery of messages and scouting and surveillance missions.

During the First World War, the British Army had two Cyclist Divisions, largely devoted to home guard duties. Prior to the war becoming bogged down in trenches, all sides sought to use fast-moving cyclist units, with the Belgian military using early folding bikes.

However, it was the Japanese who became most closely identified with the mass deployment of cycling soldiers. When Tokyo invaded China in 1937, it did so with a 50,000-strong “bicycle infantry”.

The ability to rapidly move large numbers of troops through jungle terrain without motorised transport proved vital to Japan’s early victories in the Second World War. During the invasion of Malaya in 1941, Japan was able to repeatedly outflank and overrun a retreating British Army by using bicycles along minor routes, ultimately resulting in the humiliating loss of Singapore.

During the Vietnam War the Viet Cong used bicycles to ferry supplies along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

The Swiss Army maintained its Bicycle Regiment until 2001.

That covers a few bases, obviously (no pun intended).

What is missing? It was Black Americans who invented mountain biking in 1896. The Buffalo Soldiers deserve credit, as I’ve written about here before, for riding bikes from the Rocky Mountains all the way to Missouri.

A story about mountain bikes being developed in the Rocky Mountains for military use, which makes no mention of 1896 bikes in the Rocky Mountains for military use… begs the question why leave out the most obvious comparison of all.

Also, as I suggested at the start, a bicycle with a motor is in fact a motorcycle so this history really should include motorcycles when considering usage and modifications to carry heavy loads.

As Legged Mobility Improves Efficiency, Automobiles Look Toxic to Environment

An oft-cited reason to stop riding horses in cities was their prodigious output of excrement as a by-product, not to mention disposal of dead and rotting horse carcasses.

Source: Project MUSE

Both of these could have been easily solved problems (Golden Gate Park owes its lush environment to train carloads of manure being dumped on sandy dunes — fertilizer being in high demand for urban better quality of life).

Though no reliable estimate of the amount of horse-excrement collected for park fertilizer exists, the total undoubtedly ran into tens, even hundreds of thousands of tons.

Instead the legged mobility of horses was scrapped in favor of augmentation (legs pushing wheels) with bicycles. A cost model being so much better meant it was more equitable transit, and this opened up markets to more people working in more places… bicycles were en route to a greater future.

Then the “wheelmen” got a bright idea of putting paved roads everywhere to ease legwork (again a problem to be better solved, probably by improving bicycle technology instead) and suddenly giant automated carriages (cars) started taking over and demanding both legged and augmented legs get off the roads.

But instead of composting natural manure and carcasses, automobiles spread toxic disease-inducing chemicals and piles of dangerous waste.

Today we’re back to asking if legs can perform long distance travel, perhaps making the obvious point that cars were a bad idea from the start.

Instead of dumping manure after eating loads of grass, however, these legs drain an unbelievable amount of robotic electricity (which could end up as emissions if we’re not careful).

As energy cost comes down through engineering (like how manure could have been engineered into fertilizer, from a cost to a profit) legs may return as the obvious better way of transit by removing any requirements for nasty roads.

Running 60 miles to work on beaches, through a forest and over mountains sounds a LOT better than sitting in a boring stuffed cage on a boring flat road full of other boring boxes. Here’s a video showing some progress towards that augmented future.

Why a Cyber Pearl Harbor Will Never Happen

The easy answer is really a semantic one: nothing that can be done in cyber (information technology) is directly comparable to widespread kinetic destruction of military forces.

Once something approaches that level of destructive force, it’s no longer really the domain of cyber. In other words we don’t really call it a voice attack if someone speaks into a microphone instead of turning keys to launch nuclear weapons. As the 1941 book “War on the Short Wave” put it on page 69:

Gunpowder it it is said, was first used as a holiday crackers. Radio in the early days operated to give men pleasure. Both have been turned to use in wars and nations have used broadcasting as an ally of the bomb.

Source: War On The Short Wave, 1941

Ally of the bomb. Not the bomb.

More seriously, the problem lies in the psychological power of the narrative. Despite basic early indicators, the attack on Pearl Harbor came as a “bolt out of the blue” on a major military target.

Their duty done, George, who was new to the unit, took over the oscilloscope for a few minutes of time-killing practice. […] Their device could not tell its operators precisely how many planes the antenna was sensing, or if they were American or military or civilian. But the height of a spike gave a rough indication of the number of aircraft. And this spike did not suggest two or three, but an astonishing number—50 maybe, or even more. “It was the largest group I had ever seen on the oscilloscope,” said Joe.

It was just past 7 in the morning on December 7, 1941 when the US failed to recognize over 300 Japanese planes about to unleash massive devastation on the Navy.

Take now for example a modern nuclear weapon that delivers in less than half an hour a surprise attack using an intercontinental missile.

Such a surprise on the right targets might prevent any kind of counter-strike. That is an apt framing for lightning dropping out of a clear blue sky and zapping capabilities.

As I’ve documented here before, however, it’s been a VERY long road since at least the 1970s telling us that a normative situation of information technology is more like continuous grinding attacks everywhere all the time.

Andrew Freedman writes about this phenomenon as “more like a hill we’re sliding down at ever-increasing speed”.

We can choose to alter course at any time by hitting the brakes…. But the longer we wait, the faster we’ll be traveling, and the more effort it will take to slow down and achieve the cuts that are needed. And we’ve already waited a long time to start pumping the brakes.

Please note, this is NOT to be confused with a slippery slope, which implies there are no brakes and thus is a fallacy.

It’s pretty much the opposite of Pearl Harbor as a narrative — a never-ending thunderous grey downpour leading to increasing rate and scope of failures. There is no bolt from blue, no sudden wake-up event without warning.

Imagine Pearl Harbor being told to you as a story about constant rust forming on ships that also have a problem with petty theft and the occasional targeted adversary. Sound different? THAT is cyber.

Otherwise wouldn’t any event such as this one rise to became a Pearl Harbor?

Eighty percent of email accounts used in the four New York-based US Attorney offices were compromised [by Russian military intelligence].

We’d be talking about tens of thousands of Pearl Harbor events each year (when in reality who even remembers the Code Spaces cloud breach of 2014 instantly putting them out of business). Or let me put it this way: for nearly half the years since Pearl Harbor the US has talked about a Cyber Pearl Harbor.

If anything, 2016 was it and even that was more like a poorly done coup than a destructive bombing preventing counterattack.

My main quibble with my own argument here is the poor quality practices of companies like Uber and Tesla. Nobody needs to be sending intercontinental missiles to America when they can remotely automate widespread carjacking instead.

Take that kind of bad engineering and maliciously route 40,000 cars in an urban center and you’ve got a surprise mass casualty event via information technology vulnerabilities… which sounds an AWFUL lot like a bolt out of the blue when you look at tens of thousands of highly-explosive Teslas being adversarial dive-bombers loitering about stealthily just waiting to happen.

The counterargument to my counterargument is that Tesla has been killing a LOT of people, being less safe after installing fraudulent “autopilot”, and at least 3X more likely than comparable cars to kill its driver. We won’t see a Pearl Harbor even in driverless when Tesla is allowed to continue normalizing devastating crashes and ignore its mounting death tolls.

Anyway, all this debate about the relevance of Pearl Harbor has come up again in another article, which bizarrely claims a negative: that we didn’t see the lack of a cyber Pearl Harbor coming.

Over the past decade, cyber warfare has changed in ways the experts didn’t see coming.

Let me say that again. They’re suggesting we didn’t see a lack of Pearl Harbor attack, when that is exactly what we saw (those predicting a bolt of blue always faced opposition).

I mean their point is just flatly false.

As an expert (at least to some, hi mom!) in both cyber and military history I absolutely saw today’s situation coming and gave numerous very public talks and comments about it.

Hell, (to paraphrase military icons in movies) I even gave a presentation in 2012 dedicated to cyber warfare that predicted a lot of what mass media just started talking about now.


The article goes on to say experts didn’t predict that laying networks into repressive regimes would increase repression, yet again that is false. Early reports said exactly that. It wasn’t rocket science.

You deliver into a power vacuum shiny new tools (let’s say a pitchfork, for example) and want to believe optimists that it won’t be used as a weapon or lead to oppression. Because why?

History and political science as a guide told us the opposite would come and that’s exactly what we’ve seen.

“Quitting” When Unready: A Curious Case of Sleep Loss

The Air Force is having a moment regarding a decision to abort an exercise due to sleep loss.

“If it was a real world sortie, I can guarantee that those crews would get their energy drinks of choice, roll out to the plane, and fly to defend our nation,” he said. “I don’t know of any E3 member that would deny a flight if the Russians were coming no matter their state of rest. So in wartime, our asses would be flying and we would gladly do it. But this wasn’t real world. It was an exercise. You can’t replace the lives that would be lost if a plane went down.”

Smart move to cancel the exercise, I have no doubt from the details revealed so far… and this reminded me of two things.

First, recent neuroscience studies of mental and physical well-being showing clear degradation from sleep loss.

Three consecutive nights of sleep loss can have a negative impact on both mental and physical health. Sleep deprivation can lead to an increase in anger, frustration, and anxiety. Additionally, those who experienced sleep loss reported a change in physical wellbeing, including gastrointestinal and respiratory problems.

Second, I keep seeing leaders who accommodate rest and recuperation get criticized as “quitting”, which seems totally counter-intuitive.

If you don’t “quit” to eat and drink, the body risks even bigger shutdown. If you don’t “quit” to heal from injury you may fail to heal and cause wider injury. If you don’t “quit” to sleep… disaster.

Knowing when to not do something could be as important as knowing when to do it.

Somehow a blind and unthinking version of “don’t quit” (urging people to damage themselves in ways they can not continue anyway) is growing out of control to a point where people are using social media platforms to push others off cliffs instead of stopping/quitting to consider obvious consequences of such a predictable failure.

Even more complicated than sleep loss are the “twisties” as noted recently in Olympic gymnastics:

“We also do a lot of work to teach them how to listen to their bodies’ warning signs that they are heading down the wrong path,” he continued. Andrews noted that Biles had more stressors than most, being forced to represent USA Gymnastics, the institution that enabled her sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, because it’s the only pathway to the Games. …getting past the twisties can take time, sometimes days, weeks or even months to resolve. “This isn’t as easy to fix as just sleeping it off and hoping for a better day tomorrow,” one former gymnast and diver pointed out on Twitter. […] The worst case scenario isn’t a lost competition or even a serious injury, like a ruptured Achilles. In gymnastics, it can result in paralysis, or even death.

Getting well to avoid death is a form of “quitting” only in the sense it’s taking a very wise step to ensure survival and thus continuation. The case of Biles is especially telling because it is about a black woman who had been forced into sexual abuse.

Biles clearly has declared self-control over her own body in a multitude of ways. This latest demonstration is surely inspiring others to think about mental as well as physical success. Her stepping aside allows her also to be in a better place to help/support her team to succeed than if she experienced catastrophic failure. It’s a very wise choice demonstrating excellent leadership qualities, and something I expect any special operations team would recognize.

From that a number of white men seem to be upset and hyperventilating publicly about her “quitting”; issuing completely tone-deaf comments that a black woman be forced to do what they want instead.

So I encourage people to read about the USAF and then the Olympics to think about the parallels. Did they quit, or did they refuse to quit by taking a safety break?

Simon Sinek says we should start calling it “falling” instead of “failing” (let alone quitting) because it implies we get up again: