Monday, December 13, 2010

Paris by Wing

Just touched down at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, and having secured an over-priced coffee and croissant your intrepid reporter goes in search of transport to the city.

There, framed in the doorway from the arrivals lounge, a suave local proffers his card: "motorcycle taxi". In halting English, the raffish blade echoes the cards dangerous message: "motorcycle taxi?".

I think I was in, from the part about the motorcycle.

Right outside the door to the terminal, in the dedicated motorcycle parking are not one, but four Honda Goldwings. The presence of the 'wing - the flagship of japanese motorcycle touring and a princely investment for most motorcyclists - in these numbers indicates not just some lone wild entrepreneur in the niche market of one-up travelling light passenger transport.

Turns out its a local custom.

I was interested to see how this could possibly work, with my roll-aboard and laptop bag, but now I started to see that all the issues had been worked out.

Next to me a gallic-looking gentleman off the same flight was loading his considerably larger suitcase on to the luggage rack of an already running 'wing. I had always thought those things were just for decoration - but with some webbing (ocky straps to you Aussies) and a few deft twists the top-heavy looking load was secured and they were off.

While my driver - errr rider - was at the handle-bar mounted GPS punching in the address of my hotel I donned the thick jacket, gloves and helmet. My laptop bag fitted easily in one of the capacious panniers.

Hmm - what was I thinking, part of me said, thinking now of how the pilot on the plane had announced -1 degree celsius temperatures on the ground in Paris as we landed.

No problem - not only did the 'wing turn out to have a heated rear seat, but it was also fitted with a nifty windbarrier for the rear-passenger. Secured to the bike down the frame where the passengers legs go, and then over the seat, this heavy-duty gore-tex style piece of kit effectively covered the whole lower half of my body once on the bike. Nice and toasty!

In a minute or two we were off. I soon saw what the attraction of the bike taxi was for the locals - dealing with the congestion on the motorways, in classic European driving style.

If you've ever been a rider, you'll know what lane splitting is. Also called filtering, or sharing, the practise is a bit hair-raising when you first try it, in the relatively safe slowness of stop-go traffic. There's a little thrill of the slightly illicit, when you cruise between stopped cars to take up a position on the front of the grid at traffic lights. Narrow waisted sport bikes, and scooters are ideal at this sort of thing.

Now take that, and multiply it by 1000.

You have a Honda Goldwing - six cylinder highway beast, at least a meter wide, plus mirrors, travelling along at 100 kpm (that's about 60 miles per hour) between cars and trucks with an inch to spare.

Strangely I was not scared. Dumb-founded. Amazed. Didn't have time for scared.

How the hell was he doing it? Without us dying?

At one point we passed a large Fiat van on one side, and on the other a Citroen was backed over as far as it could toward the barrier and as the 'wing passed thru a gap that I didn't think was there a "clack!" annouced that we'd tipped something against the van on the way through.

I think in engineering circles they call that an interference fit.

It was a feat that was being accomplished in equal parts by skill and split-second judgement, by some sort of Nietzsche-esque nihilism, and by a lot of co-operation with other Parisian road-users.

After we'd been on the choked up highway for some time, I noticed that my rider had both blinkers going, and was using his headlight to flash traffic in the fast lane. I say "fast lane" tho' the traffic was doing around 50 kph in the congestion - but we were doing twice that. Occasionally he would use his horn when the expected gap didn't open up.

Most motorists were completely aware of what the light show coming up behind meant - in the fast lane (the left most lane in Europe) cars would hop to the left, and the next lane over they'd squeeze a little to the right.

The pilot of the 'wing would gun the big six and surge thru just as the gap opened up.

The fact that I'm typing this is a testament to the fact that I survived.

I'm still not sure how.

But I want to do it again anyway.

Vive la différence!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

LCA just got even better

LCA2011 venue - the QUT Z-Block complex
In January 2011 free & open source rockets - like, you know, space rockets - free & open source software, and more free and open source good will than you can shake a stick at all come together for, in QUT's flash facilities (photo left) at Brisbane's beautiful Gardens Point.

And there's another reason why LCA is going to be even better this year.

LCA has long been the most vibrant and enjoyable grass roots technical conference on this side of the equator, but it has - like many other technical conferences - had its share of incidents that pretty sorely detract from that inclusive and productive community spirit.

Yuk. Harassment.

Its not pretty, and we'd all rather we didn't hear about it. But its been pooping on our doorstep for sometime now.

And its time to clean house.

Our broom is the new LCA2011 anti-harassment policy.

It went live on the LCA 2011 site last night and already we're getting a lot of great buzz.

Several of us on the LCA2011 organizing committee, led by yours truly, have been working really hard with the community both in Australia and abroad to pull together this policy - something that can stand against the awful trend; that can help to make LCA more welcoming to a whole range of people who maybe have been put off technical conferences because of that atmosphere.

We hope this will clear the air. It will show that we stand behind the fine print in our T&C which also gives a mention to harassment.

We're also hoping it will provide the courage for other future technical conferences to do their own policy as well.

A lot of the success of our effort has come from standing on the shoulders of the Conference Anti-Harassment Project, championed by Val Aurora and friends. And it has been helped by discussions and input from a whole range of people - you know who you are: thank you!

Got questions? Got thoughts?

Please, leave them here - but can I encourage an approach of first please - most graciously - read the Conference Anti-Harassment resources. If the issue is already answered there its probably just going to attract a "Read the Fine Manual" sort of response. :-)

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to seeing you all at 2011.

Why are you still here - go and register!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

iMiev for Christmas

iMiev in city published with permission of MMAL
Well, I may have to take it all back - it just might be that Mitsubishi can deliver me an iMiev in 2010!

Today I spoke with Mark Whyte of Mitsubishi Motors Australia (MMAL), about the MMAL lease program and about the iMiev roll-out in Australia. True to his word, shortly after getting off the phone an MMAL lease agreement arrived in my inbox. Now I just have to see if we can put together the legals to make all this come together.

You have to hand it to Mitsubishi - they have consistently been delivering on the detail of their undertakings in the production roll-out of EV's in Australia, and on the phone I can see why - Whyte is pragmatic and straight-forward about the iMiev, for example talking about issues of range in Australian conditions.

Under that professionalism you can hear how pleased he (and MMAL) is about the success of the iMiev program so far. All of the cars that MMAL have been able to persuade their parent company in Japan to ship to our shores have been snapped up, even tho' this number was considerably more - 110 units now - than they had originally been earmarked for.

Now it will be up to the reaction of the early-adopting corporates that have signed up to lease the iMiev, to see how the program goes in 2011. Electric vehicles require a radical rethink - and for traditional fleet owners having EV's on the lot is a whole new ball game.

What do we do with that petrol card now? How will drivers of the fleet-owned vehicles handle plugging in?

For my part having been writing about EV's since 2007, the chance to finally have one will be a pretty big deal, and I can't see any problems at all with getting along with the iMiev.

Watch this space and I'll keep you updated on this development!