Talking ‘bout a rEVolvolution?

There was (perhaps ironically) a lot of noise made about Volvo’s announcement yesterday that it was to introduce ‘electrification’ across its range. Was it justified, or even accurate?

The media went hysterical (though some later toned down their headlines). The end of the petrol engine, they said.

Really? Not quite.

 

Volvo_C30_Electric_at_the_Zero_Rally_2011,_Oslo,_Norway[1]

Voltvo…? (Picture source: Zero Emission Resource Organisation via Wikipedia)

While Volvo did indeed announce that every Volvo released from 2019 will be possessed of an electric motor as part of its latest policy, what you may have missed in all the media hysteria is that hybridity will provide the bulk of their ‘charge’ towards electrification. That’s hybrids with accompanying internal combustion engines. So, not the end of the ICE age, then. There will, though, be fully electric vehicles too.

Nonetheless, while Volvo’s current electric dreams may not be all that at the moment, and certainly not the paradigm shift to electromobility that some in the media suggest, it is a very welcome step in the right direction. Whether it represents a real move towards the amelioration of the environmental impacts of the car, or merely laboratory-test-passing- future-proofing-lip-service to such, remains to be seen. I’d like to think it’s the former…

Joined-up thinking…?

 

If you’re going to appear on a TV quiz show, you might as well tackle the trickiest on the telly first.

 

It’s been a while since my last blog post, despite promises that I’ll blog more often. However, 16 months(!) and one PhD graduation since I last blogged, this post isn’t an apology for not blogging; it’s about quizzing – not just quizzing, but quizzing on what is regarded as TVs most difficult show, namely Only Connect.

I’ve been a fan from the beginning. The challenging first-round connections; the slippery second-round sequences; the conniving connecting-wall up third; and, fourth and finally, the mysterious missing vowels. And not forgetting the vivacious Victoria Coren-Mitchell.

Quizzy conversations revealed that I wasn’t alone in the Rochdale & District Quiz League in this regard, with some like-minded quizzers agreeing that going on Only Connect might sound like a plan.

Some family and friends have been a tad bemused over the years, with exchanges going along the lines of:

“We’re applying/auditioning [delete as appropriate] to go on Only Connect!”

“What’s that?”

“You know, that really difficult quiz on BBC4/2 with Victoria Coren – connections, sequences, and all that…?”

“Oh right, I think I know it. What do you win?”

“A trophy. And quizzy kudos.”

“Not money then?”

“No.”

“Prizes?”

“No.”

“ … ”

 

I guess it’s a quiz thing.

 

Getting onto the show in the first instance wasn’t easy – not even tipping the winner of the following day’s Grand National at a previous audition worked! However, following several applications and ‘only’ our third audition, we got the nod; we were on!

 

DSC_1509

“And on my right…” (picture source: author’s photograph)

Filming for the 13th series has recently finished, and it was a brilliant experience. It’s hard to go into details about what made it all such fun without giving too much away and spoiling your future televisual enjoyment – so I won’t. Suffice to say that going behind the scenes of a TV programme and seeing exactly how it’s made is fascinating, as I first discovered sitting in the audience for recording of University Challenge: The Professionals and later during games-testing for the short-lived Britain’s Brightest. Actually taking part in Only Connect, however, somehow heightened an oddness that came with half-knowing what’s going to happen next and yet at once not exactly doing so. Or maybe that was just me.

Such oddness, however, was only fleeting. Everyone involved, production crew and rival teams alike, was so nice and helpful and friendly; it was all great craic, and I’ve even acquired some more twitter followers. Staying in a great hotel and visiting Cardiff’s CAMRA-recommended hostelries of an evening between recordings provided the icing on the Connecting cake. I like Cardiff.

How did we do? Well, that’d be telling – you’ll just have to tune in later this year and see…

2015 and all that

Doctor, doctor…

New_1_thesis

Finally on the ‘write’ lines… (picture source: author’s photograph)

 

In an earlier post many months ago, I noted how I’d passed my PhD viva, although it didn’t feel like it at the time, and was given 12 months to attend to corrections that the examiners felt my thesis needed.

It’s been a while since I posted here (I will try to post more often in future). Since my viva in January, my 2015 has mainly been about working on corrections to my thesis while working part-time in a betting shop, with a brief respite while presenting at the Royal Geographical Society annual conference at Exeter University in early September.

I’ve had a little foray into politics too this year. I stood as a ‘paper’ candidate for the Green Party in my local ward of Castleton in the Rochdale council elections in May. Admittedly, I came 5th of 5 with 166 votes, but only 174 votes behind the 4th-placed Liberal Democrat candidate – not bad, considering Castleton has never had a Green candidate before, and that I don’t have 166 relatives!

I finally submitted the corrections to my thesis on October 27th and, on December 11th, I received an email from Coventry University saying that the examiners were satisfied with my corrections, and recommending the award of PhD.

So it’s official – I’m now Dr Jonathan Kershaw. I’VE GOT MY PHD!!!!!!

It was fantastic news with which to end the year – I now correspond with my nickname ‘Doc’, which I’ve had for over 20 years! Hopefully, I’ll find a suitable position in which to make my PhD work; the future starts here. Exciting times lie ahead. It’s time to update my LinkedIn profile!

Here’s to a happy, prosperous, and sustainable new year. Here’s to 2016!

Dispatching diesel

On 26th January, an episode of Channel 4’s series of ‘Dispatches’ documentaries series claimed we’ve been ‘conned’ into automotively contributing towards local pollution. Is this really the case?

Exhausting... (Picture source: Wikipedia)

Exhausting… (Picture source: Wikipedia)

Traffic, as powered by the internal combustion engine, creates air pollution. It burns, ergo it pollutes, and yet ‘externalities’ such as the health and environmental impacts of fossil fuels seemingly go unregarded, or at least uncosted. I’ve blogged about this issue before but, last week, it made main prime-time television.

The premise of the Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ programme entitled ‘The Great Car Con’ (available to view until late February) was that the general public was ‘conned’ into buying diesel cars under the premise of their ‘greenness’ and that impending environmental legislation means that those who thought they were doing the right thing may soon be penalised, something I alluded to in a blog post for the Tyndall Centre.

The main justification for diesel’s claimed environmental benefits, and one that was repeated during the programme, was that they do more miles per gallon and, therefore, they emit less carbon dioxide (CO2).

This isn’t strictly true. Diesel contains more carbon than petrol – for example, it was noted in a 2003 paper that there was 2.7kg of embedded carbon in a litre of diesel, compared to 2.4kg in petrol. However, the greater fuel economy of diesel cars does permit lower CO2 per km figures compared to petrol cars, if not a specifically lower CO2 figure per litre, something that wasn’t made clear in the programme.

It may seem pedantic, but would diesel have been thought of as clean or ‘green’ if the specific carbon content of these fuels was initially made clear to the motoring public?

Indeed, the notion or perception of diesel as ‘clean’ is incongruous, as anyone who has stood in the vicinity of a bus as it has pulled away from a bus stop will testify. CO2 aside, all fossil fuels emit a cocktail of pollutants when burned, and their differing combustion characteristics mean that diesel vehicles emit more of such pollutants as particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – now more recognised as life-threatening – than do petrol ones, up to 3×NO2, so the programme claimed.

One thing that the programme seemed to illustrate was the efficacy of fiscal levers – in diesel’s case, CO2/km-based VED (or ‘road tax’) bands – in changing consumer patterns; indeed, new diesel car sales recently overtook new petrol car sales.

Manipulation of the EU’s soon-to-be-replaced NEDC (New European Driving Cycle) laboratory test – something noted by European NGO Transport and Environment (T&E) – was also highlighted in the programme, and brought an interesting quote from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), who claimed that car makers ‘can only meet the regulations’.

However, as we now know more about the health and environmental impacts of fossil-fuelled transport, and if the internal combustion engine is to remain with us for some time yet, here’s a radical idea – how about car makers meeting the science? If being seen to be green is important (and, apparently, it is), imagine what a PR coup beating legislation – rather than merely meeting legislation – would be, and not with some of the spurious manufacturers claims noted by T&E.

So were we conned into buying diesels? I think ‘conned’ is a bit strong – perhaps ‘misled’ is nearer the mark, largely because the fact that there’s more to car emissions than CO2 (a key greenhouse gas, don’t forget) was somehow overlooked. However, if ‘meeting regulations’ is really all car makers can do, then perhaps it’s time that governments, whether at national or supranational level, addressed NO2 and PM emissions as they have previously done CO2 emissions – measure it, levy it (at least in the nearer term) until it is sufficiently reduced.

One thing that is clear is that whether as a consequence of petrol’s CO2/km emissions compared to diesel, or of diesel’s NO2 and PM emissions compared to petrol, it seems we can’t have it all ways with the internal combustion engine.

Viva survivor

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve passed my PhD viva voce exam. Go me!

No, not that kind of Viva... (Picture source: Wikimedia Commons)

No, not that kind of Viva… (Picture source: Wikimedia Commons)

Doctor Jeckythump, I presume?

Er, not quite (at least, I don’t think so). My PhD has been awarded a pass, albeit with ‘major corrections’. This means that while my thesis was deemed original enough to warrant a PhD, there’s still some work to do on it. So I’ve passed, but somehow it doesn’t feel like it.

I noted earlier this week that I was nervous about my viva. I couldn’t help thinking that despite positive comments and feedback I’d received over the last four years or so – from the quality of my writing, to faculty- and university-prizewinning posters, to presentations at conferences held under the auspices of the Tyndall Centre and the Royal Geographical Society (both Postgrad and Annual RGS conferences), to other ‘impacts’ outside of academia such as a post for The Green Car Website and an interview for Road & Track magazine – it could go wrong here.

It was a gruelling experience, and I did rather tie myself up in knots on a couple of occasions. My Director of Studies was present (at my request) though wasn’t permitted to say anything throughout and, as we left the room for the examiners to begin their deliberations, all I could think was “Crap”. Speaking with him after the final verdict, he said I’d had quite a grilling and was pleased with how I’d handled it.

The upshot was that the examiners felt that while my thesis was an engaging read, I could have made more of my data and some aspects of my epistemology needed polishing, though more details about the exact corrections needed will follow in due course.

So my thesis is still a work in progress – at least I won’t have to do the viva again!

It’s been a while…

My PhD was duly submitted – now it’s crunch time.

On the 'write' lines? My PhD thesis manuscript (Picture source: author's photograph).

On the ‘write’ lines? My PhD thesis manuscript (Picture source: author’s photograph).

It’s been some time since I last blogged – in May last year, in fact. Back then, as I embarked upon finalising draft(s) of my PhD, I blogged about ‘geographical inspiration’, about the practical, philosophical and analytical walls and subsequent doubts pertaining to my PhD and how, despite this, I might actually know what I’m on about after all.

Much of my blogging silence was due to finalising my PhD manuscript, which was submitted in September, with other various bits and bobs, such as my part-time job in a bookies, also providing a distraction from blogging since then. Now it’s crunch time as I head down to Coventry later this week for my viva voce, the formal ‘defence’ of my thesis.

Preparation for my viva has included reading – and re-reading – my thesis, and gleaning tips from websites like Medium.com and also from other viva survivors (thanks Mark Horton & Sue Challis); reading about the viva in Patrick Dunleavey’s ‘Authoring a PhD’ has assuaged some viva worries (for now, at least). Even so, I’m nervous about the questions I’ll be facing.

What is the PhD about? How was it done? Why was it done? Why was it not done another way? What was the point? What is it’s contribution to knowledge? Where next? Another question to ponder is whether or not I’ll be a gibbering wreck at the end of it.

I’ve no idea if my viva be a forensic, in-depth grilling or a huge expansion of the presentations of I’ve given at various conferences during my academic ‘career’ so far. Either way, I’ve been assured by several people – my PhD supervisors, family, colleagues (both PhD and in the bookies) – that I’ll be okay. We’ll see.

Wish me luck – I’ll no doubt be posting the outcome on here later this week.

Oh, and a belated Happy New Year!

A geographical inspiration

A PhD is very much a marathon and, no matter how interesting or ground-breaking your research may be, maintaining momentum over three, or even four, years can be difficult.

Geographical inspiration - a Santorini sunset (Picture source: author's photograph).

Geographical inspiration – a Santorini sunset (Picture source: author’s photograph).

I began my university ‘career’ as a mature student, only embarking upon a BSc geography degree in my early/mid thirties, going straight onto an MSc in Environmental Management and Sustainable Development and, after a slight hiatus, embarking upon my PhD.

I recall one lecturer imploring us callow 1st–year Bachelors during one of those group lectures attended by the entire year’s intake – BSc physical geographers, BA human geographers, BSc geographers, BSc environmental scientists, BSc GIS-ers – that, during the course of our degrees, ‘you’ve got to do what you’re interested in, otherwise you’re wasting everybody’s time, especially yours’. Or something along those lines, anyway.

So I did. I managed to pursue several interests during the course of my geography degree, covering everything from cultural geography to post-socialism to vulcanology to quaternary environmental change. My dissertation was about the semiotics of the car.

It was during my MSc that I became further interested in, and pursued subjects on, the environment, climate change and low carbon mobility, with my thesis concerning the environmental impacts of football supporter transport.

I am currently in the final throes of writing up my PhD on socio-cultural regard for the car and the potential impacts of this upon an uptake of low carbon vehicles. Writing about cars and the environment, washed down with a large slug of philosophy – marvellous. At least, in theory.

Actually, it is marvellous – I wouldn’t swap it at all. I’ve spent the last three-and-a-bit years thinking, reading, writing on and around subjects I’m passionate about and, looking back, it’s been brilliant; throw in all the conferences and the contacts with other academics and postgraduates – in person and via the twittersphere – and it’s been a cracking experience. It hasn’t all been plain sailing though.

All postgraduate researchers struggle at some point, hitting practical, philosophical and analytical walls. These walls can take some climbing, and no matter how capable we are, or how immersed or interested in our research we may be, doubts can rise, morale can flag and confidence can wane.

I’ve suffered bouts of that recently, feeling a bit thick at times. I’m sure I’m not the only one. When you live 120 miles away from uni, it can all feel a bit solitary too.

Anyway, a week or so back, a picture appeared in my twitter timeline. It was a retweet by Bangor University’s geography department (@BUGeography) of a tweet posted by the geography department at St. Edmund’s School in Salisbury (@Stedsgeography).

And repeat... (Picture source: @BUGeography @Stedsgeography)

And repeat… (Picture source: @BUGeography; @Stedsgeography)

I retweeted it too. I don’t know where St. Edmund’s got the picture from, whether it was sourced or created, but thanks anyway guys. For some reason, @BUGeography’s retweeting of it woke me up a bit. Just in time for a run of colloquia and conferences, I’m adopting it as a mantra during my writing up – ‘this is my new jam’, as some would say.

So begone, doubt! I am a geographer. I am encouraging others to think a bit differently. I do know my stuff.

And, despite what you may feel sometimes, so do you.

I’m getting on with it – first full draft here we come!