The Myth of Disruptive Technologies

I keep posting about emerging new technologies.  In fact, that’s kinda the point of this site.  I’ll lay out a massive disclaimer, though: reality is not so easily swayed by writers, or even engineers.

Simple observations:

-The Internet has not killed television, which did not kill radio, which did not kill newspapers.

-MP3s are doing well (both free and paid), yet CDs still sell, and vinyl numbers have actually increased.

-Not only do I see plenty of people on motorcycles and bicycles (which both predate cars), but I know a few people who still own horses in the 21st century.

Yet, every so often you’ll see headlines billing some new innovation as “the _____ killer.”  In terms of market competition and business models, sure, one entrant can force another out of the field.  However, technologies which are legitimately new rarely kill their market competition.  Instead, they carve a new niche for themselves.  Two or more niches not only coexist, but hey, I’ve used a bit of a tautology.

Common example: sodas did not kill milk, juices and ades, beer, wine, and liquor, etc.  Instead, the introduction of Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, etc. in the 19th century created the soda market that didn’t really exist.  Sure, we complain that kids are drinking too much soda and too little milk.  But really, store shelves are full of milk as we speak.  What sodas really impacted was lemonade, iced teas, etc.  Conversely, Coke was only pitched by its company as a refreshing beverage years after its founding.  That drink, as well as Dr. Pepper, were originally sold as a medicinal, but wasn’t particularly successful.  “Real” treatments did to Coke what Coke then did to lemonade: not kill it, but squeeze its market to the side.

In the near term, technology moves forward linearly, with a clear older/newer spectrum.  But in the medium term, most new technologies are more lateral jumps.  This is why most futurists are accurate in the near term, but inaccurate in the long term.

I’ll go on in later posts:

-The new crop of mirrorless/CSC/ILC cameras will not kill SLRs.  You’ll still see SLRs on stadium sidelines, in front of wildlife pros, etc.  But you’ll also see fewer SLRs and more mirrorless in the rest of the photo world.

-Electrics will not force gas stations from the map, and I don’t mean electric stations either.  Land surface EVs will, in time, dominate certain markets: offroading, scooters and e-assist bikes, and a number of commercial applications.  But some form of chemical, combustible fuel will survive for decades, even if it’s in the form of hybrids.

-Cheapening solar power will not sweep away all, most, or even some competing power sources.  Even if  breakthroughs in cell physics and manufacturing happened tomorrow, electricity works in an “ecosystem” that doesn’t respawn like a video game character type, or even a video game expansion pack.

. . .

Sorry to burst your bubble.  But I, personally, feel challenged by this future, not discouraged.  The lack of silver bullets then means marksmen are still in demand.  Our failure to bring flying cars to market simply means I go to Amazon, not a mall zone.  Heck, I’ve wondered whether horse-riding ability is a useful skill I should pick up, just to be thorough.

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Mariners Win, Place, Show (but actually lose)

Sorry to beat a horse that was never alive in the first place, but…

If the public needs a big show (i.e., astronauts who might die horrible deaths) to get interested in space, then plenty of people can then dupe… err, cater to that public:

 
Space cadets taken in by TV hoax

“Three contestants have spoken of their disbelief after being fooled into thinking they went into space for the UK reality show Space Cadets.”

Astronaut reality TV show hoax revealed

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the participants were in on the hoax too and that the real marks were the people who tuned in to the show.”

Australian Astronaut Reality TV Show One Big Scam

“an Aussie scam-artist who fooled the world with plans for an astronaut reality TV show (even hiring Professor Stephen Hawking as a judge, supposedly) has unsurprisingly vanished.”

. . .

Meanwhile, Planetary Resources is perfectly willing to do real space exploration without a single drop of blood to spill.  Folks, if you don’t consider this endeavor to be space exploration, then I would claim you have no right to criticize those of us who know better.

Mariners in last place…

A significant anniversary just passed, and chances are you heard nothing.  A monumental, and hard-fought achievement in space history.  And yet, zip.

I’ve been posting about the new Mars rover a lot, without putting that much in context.  The MSL rover is a greatly-improved version of JPL’s prior MER (Mars Exploration Rover) mission, which itself was a huge progression from the prior Mars Pathfinder mission.  And that was from JPL’s prior “Rocky” series of ground prototypes.

How’s this for context: the very first successful interplanetary probe, Mariner 2, launched fifty years ago.  August 27, 1962, the rocket was lit, and we then got the first scientific experiments accomplished at another planet, Venus.  A complete craft, Mariner 2 had multiple instruments, 2-way telemetry, sustained power, and needless to say, thermal and structural systems that met requirements over the months of the mission.

Oh, you never heard?  If it bleeds, it leads, and broadly, the public doesn’t cares about a probe.  No one might blow up, get maimed or fried, get run through by equipment, or at the minimum, get cancer.  And thus, no one gets news coverage.

And that’s the problem.  People don’t want results, they want thrills and scares (at someone else’s expense, literally and figuratively).  Spacecraft are working steadily over your head as we speak; ATMs won’t work without checking satellites first, let alone your cable TV… YES, cable TV too.  But these technologies don’t bleed, and chances are you don’t give a **** unless you work in the business, and I’m telling you stuff you already know.  People want to use that cable TV to watch “reality shows,” and actual reality can crash and burn (uncovered by those same networks).

If you’re reading this blog, you’re at least somewhat interested in tech.  And this blog, then, doesn’t compete with TV.

Lightning in the Distance…

Lightning Motorcycles (remember them?) appears to be a step closer to actually getting bikes under buyers.

Image

Lightning Motorcycles Announces Street-Legal Electric Bike for Sale- We Have Reservations

(courtesy Asphalt and Rubber)

If the news (thanks yet again, Jensen) works out, real people may soon have real fast Lightning bikes on real streets.  Of course, the company is promising order fulfilment within 90 days.  Gee, where have I heard that before?

Again, I hope it works out- any competitor’s success moves the whole market along when you’re in an emerging field.  Too bad I can only offer moral and digital support, not $38,000.

Nothing But Zero, Pt. I

I’ve hinted, then stated that I had gotten a Zero electric motorcycle.  Had it for a while now.  Finally, my thoughts:

1.  Ergonomics

Really, if the bike doesn’t work for you, then it doesn’t work, period.

If there’s one word that sums up the ergos of my 2012 Zero S, it’s “motocross.”  It’s narrow and tall, with wide, flat bars.  This makes perfect sense.  As I’ve noted, motocross bikes are shoo-ins for electrification, due to the extreme maintenance a piston engine needs when running in the dirt, exposed.  Thus, Zero started off in 2006 making what would arguably be called playbikes.  For 2012, the Zero DS dual-sport is basically my Zero S, with the suspension jacked up.  That’s because the S is practically a motocrosser already.

You can just tell by looking that the S/DS seat is a motocross shape.  It’s long and flat, so you can trim your weight forward or backward.  It’s also narrow.  Thinness helps you slide back and forth, of course, but it also marks a ‘crosser versus a tourer, or even a streetbike.  Tourers need comfy seats of course, but so do street bikes to a lesser extent.  Unlike a car, you can’t really shift weight to your thighs, so if the seat’s uncomfortable you’ll know it.  In motocross, though, no one give’s a rider’s a**.  You’re standing on the footpegs a lot, because the ground is pounding you back as hard as you’re pounding it.  Between rising and shifting, you give your butt lots of breaks that make seat comfort completely secondary.

Seat height isn’t much of an issue, either.  It sounds moderately tall at over 33 inches (841 mm).  But again, it’s narrow- both the actual seat, and the framing and hard parts underneath.  It certainly isn’t a transverse four, plus runners/headers.  There isn’t even a traditional transmission to splay your legs out, either.  So that 33 inches feels a lot lower than it is.  My legs are disproportionately short, and yet I felt no need to get the optional low seat (31.1 in, 790mm).  The seat itself is narrow enough that you’ll be pressing against the frame rails in a lot of cases.

The bars are close, again like a motocrosser.  This leads to a pretty upright position.  Between that and the shiftable seat, I found myself sitting way back, particularly when tucking down at speed.  Bad news for any passengers.  The bars are also wide, with little sweep.  Not being used to motocross, this plus the closeness made my elbows stick out a bit uncomfortably for sustained riding.  It likely makes sense in the dirt, where you want a lot of leverage.

(Speaking of elbows sticking out, I was pleasantly surprised by the mirrors.  No one expects great mirrors, stock.  In this case, other riders had warned that the Zero S mirrors were pretty useless.  However, my stance somehow manages to keep me from seeing nothing but elbows.  Maybe I just happen to lean low enough to stay out of the mirror fields.  Taller or less-flexible people might want to buy aftermarket glass, though.)

Overall, the bars are replaceable at 1″ dia.  If you put clip-ons on this skinny thing, you’ll be lane-splitting like, well, Tron.  If you just swap the stock bars for something flatter, it’ll feel more street-standard.

Note that the stock bike has neither pegs nor grip rails for a passenger.  Being fairly lightweight, it’s not what people in this market would buy for 2-up riding.  The company has since come out with optional pegs.

In sum, the bike feels great if you’re coming onto the street from dirt bikes, or coming up from scooters or step-overs.  When combined with a light 300 lbs (ZF6 battery pack) to 340 lbs (ZF9 pack), it’s easy to deal with at low speeds.  I’ve been told the steering lock is a bit narrow for city use, but it hasn’t been a problem so far.  There will always be a situation where you want a bit more turn; it’s more a matter of you seeing the space and planning your moves ahead of time.  Too bad this electric model doesn’t unlock reverse.

This bike doesn’t feel great if you want an Interstate Lazy Boy, but if so then you weren’t considering this bike anyway.

A quick note: no exhaust roasting, no earplug ache!  No petro-stained clothes, either, but modern gassers with belt or shaft drive have pretty much taken care of that already.

2.  Ear-gonomics

Speaking of ear ache, aren’t electrics supposed to be silent, and is that a problem?

No, and no.  At the lowest parking-lot speeds, the bike might be close enough to silent.  At high parking lot or street speeds, there’s noise, just not that much.

The first day, I worried that people might pull out in front of me, and I was ready with the flasher or horn.  They didn’t, and I got over it.  Thing is, modern cars have weather sealing, stiff bodies, and damping and insulation.  (And mega-amps driving bazooka woofers, but aside from that…)  You just can’t assume other motorists go by sound any more.  Fire trucks now have absolutely ridiculous lightshows, in case Mr. Lexus is too into his tunes.  This is not just a problem for us electrics.

Oh, and I did encounter a blind person once.  Nothing happened, though of course one person, one time is hardly a scientific study.

So, what does it sound like?  Hybrid cars have tire scrub.  Here, I guess the contact patches are too narrow for audible scrub.  If you get the optional chain final drive, then that would be all you’d hear- a chain chorus of ticking links.  I stuck with the standard belt drive, and the remaining sounds are gear mesh and bearing/axle friction.

No gear is made with perfect teeth, all around.  No axle turns perfectly, even with bearings and lube.  Combined, these generate minor noises, which sum to a buzzing or humming sound.  If you don’t like these newfangled electrics, you’d describe it as a blender or sewing machine.  If you think electrics are the future, you’d describe it as a somewhat-quiet power tool, or possibly like some high-end AV equipment.  In the middle are RC cars, which are, well, battery-powered electric vehicles too.

Need a better example?  I instantly recognized the Batpod from The Dark Knight/Rises by ear.  Though of course, that vehicle only used two power levels: none, and wide open.  In real life, street vehicles are in traffic a lot and wouldn’t pin it all the time like that.  Oh, and the cannons and grappling hooks and stuff.  Yeah.

Tron? Not on, nor rotn

Oh, I had to go mention Tron.

The new series Tron: Uprising is okay.  The visuals are great, of course.  Good action sequences and fights, with good animation (very clean, no obvious corners cut).  Good design work, too.  But why wouldn’t they be?  The whole Tron world and style was made to animate well, and if you can create a whole cosmos from scratch, then how do you mess that up?

The writing, though, is pretty predictable, which is the problem with lots of these impressive graphics jobs.  It’s got most of your action-movie clichés, except in cartoon form.  Basically, it’s a great music video, like a lot of graphics jobs.  As long as no one’s speaking anything longer than a one-liner, it’s a good watch.

And plenty of bikes, of course.  Lightbikes galore.  Reeeeeee…