Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Willams Advanced Engineering | Bringing F1 To The Roads

The car tuner underworld has a new overlord. And a highly respectable one at that. About as far away as you can get from backstreet outfits selling you ‘performance’ upgrades sits F1 team Williams, which has begun offering its wide-ranging expertise to outside clients.

If you were under any illusion that making other people’s cars go faster was somehow a grubby enterprise, then Williams’ gleaming new £8 million building constructed alongside the F1 operations in an upmarket corner of Oxfordshire dispels that. Especially when, last week, David Cameron opened it in person alongside Williams boss Sir Frank Williams.

The business didn’t start off so well. Jaguar had ordered Williams to build a running prototype of the breathtaking C-X75 supercar first revealed as a concept in 2010. The result was impressive: the fully functioning all-wheel-drive hybrid car combined a highly tuned 1.6-litre engine with a battery pack and electric motors to give a power output of 850bhp. The plan was that Williams would build the limited run of 250 cars each costing upwards of a million pounds. Williams Advanced Engineering was formed in March 2012 and began laying foundations for the hi-tech factory at the firm’s base at Grove, near Wantage.
But then Jaguar cancelled the car. Complicating it all was the fact that the man who ordered the original concept, former Jaguar boss Mike O’Driscoll, was now running Williams Advanced Engineering. “I believed that such a halo car would provide a great backdrop to launch the Jaguar F-type,” he told The Telegraph. But after he left in 2011 the supercar was shelved. “Technology prove-out doesn’t necessarily mean market potential,” O’Driscoll says stoically. “We always knew that it would be a finely balanced decision. We continue to work with Jaguar Land Rover very closely.”

It wasn’t all bad. Williams now uses the car as a rolling presentation of what it can offer. “What we proved is that we can build a car with the performance of a Bugatti Veyron and the fuel economy of a Toyota Prius. The C-X75 has been an enormously positive experience.”

What Williams offers to clients is over 30 years of aerodynamic, vehicle handling, and lightweight body construction experience. After developing its own in-house hybrid system for previous Formula 1 cars, it also knows about how to apply battery technology to make cars both faster and more frugal. In fact the only thing it doesn’t do is tune engines – Cosworth was responsible for the turbocharged and supercharged 1.6-litre unit in the C-X75, and the F1 team has a long history of buying in engines, currently from Mercedes.

But in an era where the combustion engine has become just one tool to both speed up cars and bring down their fuel use, that seems a very modern omission.

Customers need to be wealthy: we’re talking car-company wealthy. For example we were told that aerodynamic programs start at £50,000-100,000 rising into the millions for full use of the company’s two wind tunnels.

One example is Nissan’s GT-R Time Attack car. Williams was drafted in to create a version of Nissan’s cut-price supercar to take the production car lap record at German’s Nurburgring track, a source of great kudos among manufacturers. Nissan plumped for the cheaper aero option of computer modeling rather than wind tunnel time, but it worked. As well as modifying the suspension, Williams created all sorts of new aerodynamic body parts, including some very fiddly items such as ‘flicks’ behind the front wheelarches, all designed to increase grip by raising the downforce but without creating too much drag. Williams engineers went to the 13-mile track with the team, modifying parts on the fly until at last it managed it: 7 mins 08 seconds.

According to Nissan, it decided to employ Williams because F1 teams traditionally work fast. Just three months elapsed between getting the gig and breaking the lap record. Williams has now handed over the data on all these parts so Nissan can incorporate them into a ‘track pack’ version of its GT-R.
That’s about the only project Williams can talk about (“Carmakers are even more secretive than F1,” one engineer told me regretfully) but currently one big client has booked out the majority of the wind tunnel time for a new racing-car project, almost certainly a Le Mans car.

Le Mans is actually becoming a Williams specialty – the firm has supplied its hybrid know-how to serial race-winner Audi for its last three Le Mans cars, and it helped BMW take its sole victory in the 24-hour race in 1999 with the V12 LMR. It also dabbled in Touring cars, building the Laguna BTCC racers for its engine partner Renault (one sits in Williams’ racing car collection, looking a little odd among a fleet of F1 cars).

Not all Williams projects are car-based – the breakdown we were told was about 50/50. Of the automotive 50 percent, only half were performance projects. For example, aside from the GT-R, Williams is working with Nissan on some of its electrification projects. That’s a big endorsement when you figure what Nissan must already know about electric cars from its all-electric - Leaf.

Williams parlayed its early F1 work with so-called KERS hybrids that stored electric power in a spinning flywheel into a business that this year it sold to Britain’s largest automotive engineering company GKN, which is targeting makers of buses and other commercial vehicles to use the fuel-saving tech. According to O’Driscoll, it was sold because Williams didn’t have the capacity to build them on a commercial scale, but it retains the patents.

What it now wants to concentrate on is becoming a car fettler of global repute, comparable with other renowned British car engineering consultancies such as Lotus Engineering and Ricardo. Given how secretive car markers are about the outside help they get, we may never know how influential they become, especially given how Williams Advanced Engineering lumps its accounts in with Williams the F1 team.

But if you do happen to spot a small Williams logo in the next car you drive, you’ll know it’s taken the best of British engineering talent to make that car faster, more frugal or just plain better.

Guitar Gods

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The End Of The Hipster?

Meet Josh. 

Josh is a 30-year-old artist/chef who lives in a converted warehouse in Hackney, east London. Josh has a beard, glasses and cares about the provenance of his coffee. He pays his tax, doesn't have a 9-to-5 job and, along with his five polymathic flatmates, shuns public transport, preferring to ride a bike.

On paper, Josh is the archetypal hipster – just don't call him one: "I don't hate the word hipster, and I don't hate hipsters, but being a hipster doesn't mean anything any more. So God forbid anyone calls me one."

At some point in the last few years, the hipster changed. Or at least its definition did. What was once an umbrella term for a counter-culture tribe of young creative types in (mostly) New York's Williamsburg and London's Hackney morphed into a pejorative term for people who looked, lived and acted a certain way. The Urban Dictionary defines hipsters as "a subculture of men and women, typically in their 20s and 30s, that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics". In reality, the word is now tantamount to an insult.

So what happened? Chris Sanderson, futurologist and co-founder of trend forecasting agency The Future Laboratory, thinks it's simple: "The hipster died the minute we called him a hipster. The word no longer had the same meaning."

Fuelling this was a report last month from researchers at the University of New South Wales who discovered that the hipster look was no longer "hip". In short: the more commonplace a trend – in one instance, beards – the less attractive they are perceived to be. And in 2014 we may have reached "peak beard". Could it be that the flat-white-drinking, flat-cap-wearing hipster will soon cease to exist?

Sanderson thinks it's more a case of evolving than dying. Talking to The Observer last week, he suggested there are now two types of hipster: "Contemporary hipsters – the ones with the beards we love to hate – and proto-hipsters, the real deal." And herein lies the confusion.

"Historically, proto-hipsters have been connoisseurs – people who deviate from the norm. Like hippies. Over the years, though, they inspired a new generation of young urban types who turned the notion of a hipster into a grossly commercial parody. These new hipsters want to appear a certain way, to be seen to be doing certain things, but without doing the research. So they appropriated the lifestyle and mindset of a proto-hipster."

It's a definition neatly summarised in the song Sunday, by Los Angeles rapper Earl Sweatshirt: "You're just not passionate about half the shit that you're into."

The problem is that it is now almost impossible to differentiate between the two. "Hipsters are more interested in following; proto-hipsters are more interested in leading. Yet they look the same, so how are people to know the difference?"

This lack of visual disparity has probably led to society's fondness for hipster-bashing. As Alex Miller, UK editor-in-chief of Vice, explains: "I couldn't define a hipster. I guess it's 'The Other'. But as a general term it's blown up because people finally realised they had a word to mock something cool and young which they didn't understand."

It's an age-old scenario. In Distinction, his 1979 report on the social logic of taste, French academic Pierre Bourdieu wrote that "social identity lies in difference, and difference is asserted against what is closest, which represents the greatest threat". So our inability to define a hipster merely fuels the enigma.

"And as you can imagine, this is greatly exasperating to proto-hipsters," says Sanderson.

It hasn't always been like this. While the definition of hipster hasn't altered vastly over the years, there was a time when it was considered to be something both meaningful and specific.
The word was coined in the 1940s to define someone who rejected societal norms – such as middle-class white people who listened to jazz. Then came a reactive literary subculture, realised through the work of beatniks such as Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. It was Norman Mailer who attempted to define hipsters in his essay The White Negro as postwar American white generation of rebels, disillusioned by war, who chose to "divorce oneself from society, to exist without roots, to set out on that uncharted journey into the rebellious imperatives of the self".

A decade later, we had the counter-culture movement – hippies who carried their torch in a fairly self-explanatory fashion, divorced from the mainstream. The word mostly vanished until the 1990s, when it was redefined so as to describe middle-class youths with an interest in "the alternative".

In the "noughties", hipsters became the stuff of parody, via Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker's satire Nathan Barley, which earmarked the "twats of Shoreditch". Nowadays, though, anyone can appear to be a hipster provided they buy the right jeans. From the twee adverts featuring hipster-style couples to the cocktails served in jam jars at the trendy incomer bar the Albert in EastEnders, "the idea of the hipster has been swallowed up by the mainstream", says Sanderson.

Luke O'Neil, a Boston-based culture writer for the online magazine Slate,says it is the same in the US. "I've even noticed what I call the meta-hipster: a person who sidesteps the traditional requirements and just wants to skip ahead to the status. Like putting on glasses and getting a tattoo somehow makes you a hipster," he says.

But while Miller agrees that hipster has morphed into a negative term, it is less about the word and more about what it represents: "Growing up, we just used other words – 'scenester' at university, 'trendies' at school – and they mean the same. Hipster has simply become a word which means the opposite of authentic."

Not everyone agrees. At Hoxton Bar and Grill in east London, 24-year-old graduate Milly identifies with hipsters: "I mean, that's why we all live in east London. It just feels so real, like something creative and cool is happening."

Manny, a 28-year-old singer who has lived in Dalston for more than five years, likes the sense of community: "Young people haven't got jobs or work and they need it. It's like a tribe, like goths. I hope hipsters aren't dead, because I just signed a year lease on my flat."

Miller adds: "We've never written about hipsters as a subculture at Vice because I don't think hipsters are a subculture. However, I do appreciate that people like the idea of belonging to something, so I suppose on that level the idea exists." As O'Neil explains: "Whoever said [hipsters] wanted to be unique? I think it's more about wanting to belong."

So what next? "I think hipsters will have an overhaul. There will be a downturn in this skinny-jean, long-haired feminised look over the next few years owing to the rise of the stronger female role model," says Chris Sanderson." And in its place? "A more macho look, almost to the point of caricature, in a bid for men to reinforce their identity."

Perhaps this explains the phenomenon of "normcore", a term coined by New York trend agency K-Hole in their Youth Mode report last autumn. Though widely derided by the fashion world, this plain, super-normal style is arguably a reaction to the commodification of individuality, the idea that you can buy uniqueness off the peg in Topshop. "Normcore doesn't want the freedom to become someone," they say. "Normcore moves away from a coolness that relies on difference to a post-authenticity that opts into sameness."

It sounds like a joke but, says Sanderson, it might actually might be a thing: "It's the opposite of what people think is hip now, but it's also very masculine – which ties in to the return to blokeiness."

But for many, including Josh, the desire to categorise people is infuriating. Arvida Byström is a Swedish-born, London-based artist, photographer and model. Though sometimes identified as a hipster aesthetically speaking, her work, which focuses on sexuality, self-identity and contemporary feminism, would suggest she is much more than that. Sanderson would describe her as "someone who leads not follows".

She balks at the idea of being a hipster: "I haven't been aware of people calling me a hipster. I certainly don't identify as one. What is a hipster, anyway? It is such a general term. I don't even know if they exist any more."

But as Josh says: "I don't see why you can't just be a guy in east London liking the stuff that's around without being branded as something."

10 Signs You’re Meant For Something Bigger On Earth

Do you ever feel like you’re destined for something bigger? That you’re not making the most of your time here? That you’re stuck in a rut despite trying your damnedest to find your way out?

You’re not alone.

Most of us yearn for something bigger and better in our lives. It’s part of being human. And if the following signs describe you, there’s a good chance you have great things to look forward to in your future.

You’re never satisfied with “good enough.”

If you think you’re meant for something bigger, chances are you’re the type of person who goes above and beyond. You don’t settle for mediocrity. You don’t accept the status quo. And you definitely want to be the best in everything you do.

You’re not afraid to take risks.

Great leaders, thinkers, entrepreneurs, and game-changers embrace failure and learn from their mistakes. It’s a harsh truth, but if you don’t take risks in life, you’ll never reach great heights.

You take action when you feel inspired.

It’s okay if you tend to put things off until you’re really inspired. People who are meant for something bigger know when to make calculated decisions and when to take action. They let a combination of intuition and analysis guide their decision-making. And most of the time it results in good decisions.

You love what you do so much you’d do it for free.
People who accomplish great things in life do what they love and love what they do … so much so that they would do it for free. That’s because they know they’ll get paid to do what they love eventually, which leads to our next sign …

You’re an entrepreneur at heart.

People who are meant for something bigger find ways to work for themselves. They often feel constrained while working for someone else. Even if they work for a company they don’t love, they find ways to do work on the side that helps them get closer to their goals.

You’re a true optimist.
Are you filled with hope and optimism about the future? People who are meant for something bigger are. Choose to look on the bright side and see the glass as half full.

You’re able to focus your efforts on your best ideas.
Highly successful people have a lot of ideas but they don’t get bogged down by them. If you think you’re meant for something bigger, honestly evaluate which ideas you spend the most time on. If you find you’re wasting time on trivial tasks that aren’t getting you anywhere, ask yourself one important question: will doing this get me closer to finding my purpose?

You dream big.
Do you aspire to do great things? Do you want to change the world? If so, this is one of the biggest signs you’re meant to do great things. Harness that energy and take action every day to make it happen. You don’t have to be perfect. Focus on repetition and making small progress.
You seek new knowledge every day.
People who are destined for greatness are lifelong learners. They seek knowledge in books, on the Internet, and through conversation with intelligent people. The fact that you’re reading this article is testament to the fact that you’re a knowledge-seeker.

You go out of your way to help others, even when it’s inconvenient to you.

Want to know the surest sign you’re meant for something bigger on this planet? It’s having the courage to go out of your way to help other people … without expecting anything in return. Do good deeds and help people less fortunate than you. When you give, you get. That’s what life is all about: putting your stamp on the world by making a difference in the lives of others.