Thursday, 21 August 2008

X-bykes and eGovernment

In an effort to stay only about a week or two behind Boing Boing, a few days behind Wired, and probably about 6 months behind at least one disdainful and bizarrely embittered sounding commenter beneath virtually every Wired story I've ever read online, I often read The Guardian's Technology supplement. One regular feature is Newsbytes, a collection of links to disparate techie stuff that didn't really merit a proper story but about which optimistic companies and PR people must have nonetheless sent press releases that week (what industry am I in again?). This is the usual kind of thing:

'Power-assisted X-byke

Powabyke's latest battery-powered X-byke has a compact Lithium Lite 36v battery disguised as a water bottle.>>'

In other words, of limited interest and often baffling - I mean, for one thing, if the battery's disguised as a water bottle where are you supposed to put your actual water bottle? Or are you expected to ride around looking twice as thirsty as other cyclists, despite only doing half the pedalling? Worse, what if you get the two bottles confused? Imagine licking a 9v battery, only four times tinglier - it's a badly-named traffic accident waiting to happen.

And then you click on the link:

'Today more than ever, people are thinking of ways to reduce their carbon footprint'

With an electric bike? Can you imagine that ideas session?

"Yeah, well, OK, we want to, like, create a greener mode of transport, right? So, I know, yeah, why don't we, like, take, one of the most carbon-friendly modes of transport, yeah, and, like, make it electric? Cuz that'll be, like, waaaay less polluting than petrol... Oh, and lets lob an X in there somewhere."

"Yeah, an X! Perfect!!!"

And somehow this made it into production...

Also: X-byke? What was it before?

Anyway, that wasn't the best Newsbyte. This next one, I can only think to describe as the technology news equivalent of a haiku (if you think of haiku writing as being the art of expressing an awful lot in a minimum of words):

'Government guide

MyGuide is now providing online tuition in how to use government (including local council) websites.>>'

UK government websites are so badly designed and written that a website now exists to teach you how to use them... That pretty much says it all, doesn't it? If anything has received more damning criticism than that, I'd really love to see it.

Or actually possibly not, come to think of it.


Rad said...

You appear to be tearing an article apart to make a humorous point. Badly, I might add.

The idea of electrically assisted bikes is to give greater cycling range to a rider. I don't know how often (if ever) you cycle but the difference the electric assist makes is phenomenal. People buy these things so that they don't have to rely on their car so much. That's where the lower carbon footprint comes from. Trip to the shops for a few bits? Take the bike, not the car. Work a few miles from where you live. Take the bike, not the car. The carbon emissions of a petrol engine on a 5 mile journery is going to be far far higher than that of a pushbike with an electrical motor. Perhaps you should do some more research before your next badly thought out 'hilarious' rant?

Tim Warren said...

There were, indeed, only two serious points really being made or alluded to:

1) government websites really shouldn't need another site to explain them;

2) the letter x (like i and e) is too often used in product names and such like without any real thought being given to whether it's being used to actually mean (or stand for) anything, just in the hope that it might make something sound cooler/more exciting/edgier etc. than it is - in those cases, it usually has the opposite effect.

And you're right, I don't cycle, but neither am I a car driver, so I can't say I'd thought about the need for something in between. Thanks for explaining - looking again at the Powabyke press release, I can see that it had lost my attention by preaching to the converted and going on about specs long before it actually got around to clearly backing up its environmental claims.

In fact, now I come to look at the site a bit further, it seems they're missing a trick: the environmental angle is clearly a key selling point, and yet they're not really playing it up very well at all - on the homepage, for instance, you'd think they were pitching to the lazy and the thrifty; the environment's not even mentioned.

Rad said...

fair enough Tim, to be honest I wasn't having a pop about the government doublespeak explained website, just what I took to be a very ignorant view of the e-bike market. I've only gotten interested in it myself over the last six weeks or so, and believe me it's very easy to get evangelical about them. I do get your point about the x, generally it's doubled or tripled on my favourite films. But it is also overused as a prefix or suffix to make products seem sexier. Blame it on a lack of imagination on the part of the company. Then again, it could also be there to represent 'cross', though I've seen no evidence of that.

I think originally these e-bikes were aimed at the more sedentary among us, but gradually people have started to realise their potential. They're going nuts for them in Europe, the Dutch bought 200,000 of them last year, and even the yanks are starting to show an interest. Anyway, cheers for replying so considerately. I'm glad that we didn't end up in a slanging match. ;)