A Kodak Moment

I recently had the good fortune (if that is the right term for it) to inherit a couple of vintage (1950's and 1960's) cameras. One is a Kodak Retina 35mm Rangefinder with a classic leather case like the one pictured above the post here. The other is an Ikoflex twin lens reflex camera (the type that you see people looking down and into to compose a picture - see http://www.zeissikonrolleirepair.com/page04.html if you'd like to see what these look like). The cameras may or may not work and the Ikoflex takes film that is no longer manufactured but they are lovely as works of precision engineering if nothing else.

The thing that most struck me though was one of the leaflets that were with the Kodak Camera. This was a leaflet that was published in 1981 and was a 'helpful hints' type instruction which explained how to take photographs of your television screen to best record memories of the British Royal Wedding that year between Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. The hints included making sure you did not use the flash as that would cause wash out of the recorded image and on best distance for focus, exposure times etc.

This was all very interesting but mainly it made me think about how much things have changed in such a short space of time. My first thought was 'Why take photos of your TV?' but then I reconsidered and back in 1981, only very very few people had VHS video machines; which had been introduced in 1978 at a cost of £799 which is equivalent to over £4,200 as we write in 2016.

Fast Forward to today (sorry for the pun) and the VHS recorder is now seen as obsolete equipment that you likely have one of in your house if you've not moved in a while, but equally likely to be gathering dust. So in 1981 very few had a VHS recorder, it then became pervasive until recently when hard drive recorders and streaming services have taken over and, now that analogue TV transmitters have been turned off in favour of digital FreeView services, your old VHS recorder would not be able to tune to any of the channels it used to. The digital age has crept up on us in the same way that you don't particularly notice a child growing day to day, but Aunty always says 'My how you've grown!' when visiting. Small steps have made for big change and sometimes it pays to step back and consider this.

It is the same everywhere; things change and continue to change and the pace of change will only increase. I was at a client's offices at a West London architectural practice a few weeks back and talking to one of the chaps there whilst looking at (and fixing) a problem on a computer.  We got on to drafting tables and the nefarious tools and rulers that go with these and how the whole process of architectural practice has changed over a similar time frame, to the use of modern CAD workstations that allow for 3D visualisations of how a building will look that can now be sent for review in a 3D PDF, for example. Have a look at http://www.pdf3d.com/gallery.php if you've not yet seen one of these; there is a certain 'Wow!' to them which mainly comes from our conditioning that a PDF should be a representation of what is on paper.

We digress though; the key is to look forward and we can see a lot of how things will change a little at a time still to make the future. One of the big 'take aways' that I got from my time at university was that we should plan not for what is possible now, but for what will be possible in the future. This is probably one of the greatest insights that I got from any of my lecturers, in a university workshop . At the time we were studying streaming media techniques in what was then the age of the modem and 56Kbps Internet connections if you had the latest tech; so the concept of streaming media seemed somewhat academic as the accessible technology of a modem would give a particularly poor experience and be far from economic. To use a modem to download a 30 minute program that we now enjoy in real time 'on demand' with bandwidth to spare would have taken about 6.5 days to download back then continuously at 56kbps and then you'd have needed a high-end computer to play the files (if you had enough hard drive space for them!). Point made here; I apologise that we are looking back again when we should be looking forward.

What will the future hold? Some we can see, some we can't. The trick is to find the gaps and fill them to be part of making the future.

Cue some insight and predictions...

Generally if you can imagine it, progress and technology dictate that it will happen and much of what is to come is not terribly hard to imagine.

In the 1960's and 1970's Science Fiction writer Arthur C Clark defined his three laws related to predictions:

Clarke's first law:
When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

Clarke's second law
The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

Clarke's third law
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

Here at Onega we like to understand first principles and the history of technology as much as the present day implementations of these and in turn this allows us to connect the dots and see some of this, some such projects we've worked on and some we continue to work on.  

Technologies that may sound fanciful like gravity power for cars (we call this Hybrid Gravity Drive) are in fact practical and possible today and is most likely to be introduced to the masses by the likes of Toyota to our everyday drives well before 2020.  

The times we live in continue to witness some of the most significant changes ever witnessed in history and this will continue unabated in rate of change in the immediate foreseeable future. How we each choose to embrace this is up to us...

Lotus Update - Combustion Conundrum

Readers with long memories will be aware that Onega is the owner of a 1969 Lotus Europa Series 2 Car, which is currently up with Banks Service Station (Europa Services) under Richard Winter.

2015 will hopefully be the year that the car returns to the road. When it went up to Banks some years ago, it was in a fairly sorry state - being original and much loved over the years, but also in less than perfect condition. Okay, in quite a poor state all-round.

The original intention was to make the repairs needed to the bodywork, renew the sub frame and to replace the engine, which was strong but thirsty with a Fiat 1.2 Diesel Turbo engine from a donor vehicle. The reasoning behind this was that it would make the car reliable (not that the original Renault engine was any trouble) and economical as well as reducing performance to a level that should be still be fun but also reasonably non life threatening.

At the time of writing, which is January 2015, I've had a good catch up chat with Richard this week and we have a joint resolution to get the project through and completed. Things have changed over the time since Onega acquired the vehicle and classic car values are on the increase which means we have to revisit the originally intended path of the diesel conversion.

The diesel engine is a transverse unit (fits across the body), whereas the original engines in the cars were longitudinal (engine at 90 degrees with the body and in line with the central shaft of the sub frame). Thus to fit the diesel engine in, a number of modifications to the frame are needed and possibly the bodywork also. These would likely need to be quite substantial changes which would inevitably detract from the originality of the car.

We are less worried about originality and purity of the vehicle, but it does seem sensible to maintain a good degree of originality if it agrees with logic; although we're committed to features like modern brakes which have improved substantially over time.

For anyone that is not familiar with them, the Lotus Europa was an early mid engine sports car (the third mid engine car design in the world after the Lamborghini Miura and the Ford GT40). Our car, UNG 135G was one of the original white UK launch cars from when these were introduced into the UK in 1969 - the Series 1 having been export only.  

So now we have to make a choice on what engine to put in the car; this is a fairly key decision as it dictates the course of the rest of the work to be done.

The main choices are:

1. Keep the original Renault engine - This would be ideal for originality and it sounded good & ran well but averaged about 20 something mpg; which was the main reason for considering the diesel option as we want to make good use of the car.

2. Go for the diesel engine as originally envisioned, with the changes to bodywork etc. that might be needed. The chances are that this would cause us to need to also swap out items like the Smith's instruments on the dash and other original features we rather like that add to the ambience and spirit of the car.

3. Consider a Vauxhall 1600 engine - This would work with the original sub frame, give performance of approx. 0-60 in 4.5 seconds and about 170Mph tops we gather, as well as 30 something MPG. The performance here is more than we need, but this could be restricted a little if needs be.

4. Think of something else - Electric, hybrid, hydrogen, a longitudinal diesel perhaps?

Choices, choices... but something important to consider.

Our criteria are:

  • Operational efficiency (MPG or equivalent)
  • Reliability - ideally this power plant will have a good long life in service.
  • Engineering compatibility with the car body (i.e. engine has to fit, made to turn the wheels and work).
  • Cost - we have to be able to afford the engine and the fitting in the first place.
  • Forthcoming changes to London ultra low emissions zone and congestion charging zone requirements and pricing.

Right now we are doing some quick research into the options. One benefit of the Europa is that it is of lightweight construction; Colin Chapman's mantra and design philosophy was to 'simplify and add lightness' and this benefits us being around 650Kg, which compares for example with the Telsa Model S at 2,108 Kg and power to weight ratios make for big performance differences (or correspondingly lower power requirements). The Tesla does have a lower drag coefficient than the Europa at 0.24 vs 0.3, but the Lotus is now 46 years old and much slippier than most modern cars still. Actually a single Tesla motor might be a nice solution if the good folks at Tesla have one to spare :-) .

We hope to have a decision as to direction within a couple of weeks in this matter and in the meantime are looking at the other elements of work needed, such as re-chroming where needed etc.

Watch this space - photos and updates will follow..