The peculiar history of the Ordnance Survey

It’s midway through October, so before the days get too short to make it worthwhile, why not grab your compass and hiking boots, shrug on your waterproof and take to the hills. Chances are, if you’re a regular walker, you will stride out safe in the knowledge that an Ordnance Survey map secreted about your person means you’ll know exactly where and when you got lost.

The history of the organisation known as OS is not merely that of a group of earnest blokes with a penchant for triangulation and an ever-present soundtrack of rustling cagoules . . .

‘It was a spectacle’: the forgotten era of women’s bicycle racing

Roger Gilles tells the story of the 1890s women who fought stereotypes to become professional cyclists in his new book Women on the Move

Lissette (Amelie le Gall) in 1898
Lissette (Amélie le Gall) in 1898. Photograph: UNP

A new book tells the story of the most popular arena sport in America in the 1890s: women’s bicycle racing. Women on the Move: The Forgotten Era of Women’s Bicycle Racing by Roger Gilles covers the short-lived heyday of women’s professional bike racing, from 1895 to 1902. At a time when women were still actively discouraged from taking up sports, these women bucked norms and got in the saddle.

This part of the history of women’s cycling is relatively unknown. The perfect storm of conditions came together to create this seven-year period where the sport of women’s bicycle racing could thrive. It was largely thanks to the invention of the safety bicycle, which look much like the bikes we ride today, in contrast to the high-wheeled bikes that were dangerous for riders. “So during the mid-1890s everybody who could afford a bicycle basically bought one, and by 1897, in terms of bicycle manufacturing, the industry basically collapsed because everybody had their bicycles, so the bicycle boom itself was short-lived,” says Gilles. Bicycles are also associated with providing women a freedom they had never known before, allowing them the ability to move around the world unattended and to congregate with their friends, often without chaperones.

The bicycle boom drove the interest in racing – so men and women started to race. At the time, men’s races were around-the-clock affairs. They were six-day races, 24 hours a day, based on the model of competitive walking races and the high wheel races of the old days. “They were essentially just endurance tests, and there was drug use and other things to make the races doable, but it was a spectacle,” Gilles says. In contrast, people at the time thought women were too weak to compete in these kinds of endurance races (which is ironic, knowing that modern day science actually shows that women’s bodies are built for endurance sports and excel at them), so the races were shortened from 24-hour affairs to two or three hours a day over the course of several days. And that had the effect of creating a fun viewing experience for fans, who could go to the track for a couple of hours to watch. It also allowed women to go faster, because they only had to push for a couple of hours a day, which meant that their speed was on par with the men. As a result, the women’s races became wildly popular, even more so than the men’s races.

The opening lineup of a race in Chicago on 2 March, 1896
The opening lineup of a race in Chicago on 2 March 1896. Photograph: UNP

The athletes made good money, and most even became the breadwinners for their family, something that was virtually unheard of in the Victorian era. Women were also still expected to wear the large hoop skirts and conservative clothing, but these cyclists were athletes who took themselves seriously. They trained hard, and are probably some of the first American women to have committed themselves to a sport, even if the results of their training made them look “unfeminine”, which would have been incredibly controversial at the time. They also realized that having these costumes flapping and hats blowing had a negative effect on their speed, so they began to modify their clothing to make it more conducive to racing competitively. This would have been seen as incredibly radical, particularly at a time when even women who played baseball were expected to do so in full skirts.

“To their credit, these women said: ‘As best we can, we’re going to wear the same uniforms as the men,’” says Gilles. “They weren’t able to expose their arms and legs, so they had to wear tights or hose or long-sleeved woolen tops. So it obviously had the residual effect of attracting some of the men and boys to the races because they were able to see women’s bodies on display, which was quite rare, but again I feel proud of these women because from their perspective it was just, ‘Hey, we want to go fast, so we’re going to wear the outfit that makes us go fast.’”

The concerns and sexism that these women faced, from criticisms of their cycling attire to perceptions of them as too weak or frail for athletics to the way they were written about in the media, are not all that different from the cultural forces that female athletes are still fighting today. When the women raced, they were viewed less as competitive athletes and more like petty women, and this jealousy was played up in the newspaper coverage of the time. There were references to tears and hair pulling, and the athletic feats of the cyclists were downplayed even as the fastest women were topping 20mph on their bikes.

Gilles’s book is a window into a virtually unknown time in women’s sports, and it’s important because it adds to the history of female athletes who have overcome so many obstacles to be able to compete. It’s also more evidence that women have always been more suited to sports than they’ve been given credit for, and that when the have the opportunity to train, they’ve always been just as capable as the men. “Women of today that are interested in athletics should know that back in the 1890s, 120 years ago, there were women in America that were facing the same kinds of challenges,” says Gilles, “and they were flourishing despite those challenges.”

  • Women on the Move: The Forgotten Era of Women’s Bicycle Racing is out now

Electric cars ‘can be charged for £100 a year’

The Times, 18 June 2018

Owners of electric cars could pay just £100 a year to charge them up overnight, say researchers.

A study by WWF, the conservation charity, found that motorists would spend £170 a year to charge their vehicle at home by 2030. However, “smart charging” — at times of low demand on the grid such as overnight — could cut the cost by £70. The typical annual petrol bill is £800, the study said.

Ministers are committed to phasing out sales of new combustion engine cars by 2040. Environmental groups want a more ambitious date.

The WWF study, carried out by the consultants Vivid Economics, found that meeting the government’s target would add £2.4 billion to the annual cost of running the electricity system.

Bringing the target date forward by a decade to 2030 would increase the total bill to £3.8 billion a year, but researchers said that the use of smart charging would almost halve the bill to £2 billion.

Mayors want ban on diesels brought in a decade earlier

The Times, 18 June 2018

The leaders of 14 of the largest and most polluted cities intend to call on the government today to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2030, ten years sooner than planned.

The Labour and Conservative mayors and council leaders, who represent 20 million residents, want conventional cars and vans phased out to cut air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

They are also calling for a scrappage scheme to help drivers switch to cleaner vehicles and for a clean air act with tough limits on pollution enforced by an independent statutory body.

Pollution from cars and vans causes 10,000 early deaths a year and costs the NHS and society £6 billion a year, according to a report this month by Oxford and Bath universities.

The leaders, who are due to meet Michael Gove, the environment secretary, at a “clean air summit” in London on Wednesday, all represent cities with illegal levels of air pollution.

They include Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London; Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester; Andy Street, mayor of the West Midlands; Steve Rotheram, mayor of Liverpool city region; and the leaders of Bradford, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Leicester, Newcastle, Oxford, Peterborough, Sheffield and Southampton councils. All are Labour apart from Mr Street and John Holdich, leader of Peterborough city council, who are Conservative.

Mr Gove announced last year that the sale of new, non-hybrid diesel and petrol cars would be banned by 2040. The Netherlands, India and Republic of Ireland have pledged to ban these cars by 2030 and Norway by 2025.

The 14 leaders reckon that bringing forward the ban would reduce pollution by almost a third by 2030 and boost the economy by making the UK a global leader in low-emission technology.

The AA criticised the proposal, saying that such a rapid ban was unrealistic. Edmund King, president of the AA, said: “We believe 2040 is a realistic timetable for manufacturers to adapt and change vehicle production, for electric charging infrastructure to be developed and the capacity of the electric grid enhanced, and for drivers to be ready for the change.

“The last thing we need is for the goalposts to be constantly moving as happened in the dash and then demonisation of diesel.”

The government is preparing to publish its Road to Zero strategy, which is expected to give details of how diesel and petrol vehicles will be phased out. Environmental groups want to see targets requiring manufacturers to sell more zero-emission cars.

Delivery robots take to streets of Beijing

The Times, 21 June 2018

Robot vehicles have made their debut on the roads of Beijing, marking a breakthrough for automated deliveries in the world’s largest market for internet orders.

Dozens of the carts, each roughly the size of a motorbike and with some bearing the cartoon dog logo of, the online retail giant, have begun making deliveries for the company in the northwest Haidian district.

The robots can carry up to 300kg of goods at a top speed of 10mph and are programmed to stop at red lights. They travel in lanes alongside roads used by cyclists and electric motorbike riders. “We are using delivery robots to reduce the human costs of traditional delivery service,” Yang Jing, general manager of’s research department, said. “At the same time, it improves transportation efficiency.”

Customers claim their packages by verifying their identity with the robot’s facial recognition technology, or via’s smartphone app. The robots have previously been used for deliveries on university campuses and industrial parks. has also used drones in rural areas.

The company plans to introduce over 100 further delivery robots in over 20 cities. Liu Qiangdong, chairman of, has said that the company’s delivery systems could be completely automated within eight years.

Proof that excellent bus services are still possible

Letters from Alan Bond of west Somerset and Angus Skinner of Edinburgh
Buses in Edinburgh
Buses are the best thing about Edinburgh, say Angus Skinner’s American friends. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian

Jo Hillier’s letter (8 June) regarding bus services could apply to most of Britain these days. Those of us who were working in the bus industry before, through and beyond the 1980s, warned of the perils of deregulation and privatisation and were ignored by the Thatcher government. Everything we warned about has come to pass, due to the failings of both the Tories and the Blair government as they took no action to address the issues.

The 1930 Road Traffic Act regulated bus services so as to avoid needless competition between operators and, as a result, many non-urban bus routes were able to operate by being cross-subsidised by the operators themselves in return for freedom from “pirate” operators muscling in on the more lucrative routes.

The present government, like all its Tory predecessors, will do nothing to improve bus services. This is clearly shown by its recent bill which specifically prohibits local authorities from setting up publicly owned bus companies, despite the fact that such companies provide better, cheaper and more reliable services as shown by Reading and Nottingham among a number of others up and down the country.

Here in west Somerset we now have one bus service provided by a national operator and that ceases to operate after 8pm. Between the M5 and the north Devon coast we now have an area larger than greater London which is a bus-free zone after 8pm and little better all day on Sundays. The time has come to drop the failed system put in place by Margaret Thatcher and Nicholas Ridley and replace it with a proper regulatory system provided by publicly owned bus companies. Thatcher’s remark that anybody over 30 who travelled by bus is a failure has clearly come home to roost.
Alan Bond
Watchet, Somerset

It is possible to run excellent bus services as those of us fortunate to live in Edinburgh know well. I had some friends from the US come to visit to see the castle, the history, the hills and the poetry. They had a great time. I asked them at the end what they had enjoyed most. “You, know, Angus, you have the best bus services in the world.” I never drive my car in the city.
Professor Angus Skinner

How TransLink will supercharge E-bus batteries in 5 minutes

Battery-powered buses are coming to Metro Vancouver next year. Here’s how they work


A prototype of TransLink’s electric buses was unveiled Thursday in Vancouver. (Alex Lamic/CBC)

Some time next year, TransLink is planning to roll out four new battery-powered buses that can be recharged in five minutes.

Here’s how the new technology works.

Variable power system

Normal trolleybus lines carry a constant stream of power at a level that does not vary, according to Josipa Petrunic, executive director and CEO for the Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium, which led the development of the new buses.

The four new prototype buses, which will begin service next year on the No. 100 route connecting South Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminister, will instead rely on a variable power system to charge up their batteries.


Fast-charging buses have been on the streets of Montreal since 2017. (CBC)

“In this scenario, the buses are going to pull into the station. There is an overhead robotic arm that comes down from the charger and connects to the roof of the bus while people are loading on and off,” explained Petrunic at the preview of the buses last Thursday in Vancouver.

Petrunic says the new charging stations will allow the buses to power up in minutes by giving operators the option for ramping up the power at peak times.

“Right now you can get those charging systems at 150 kilowatts, 300 kilowatts. We are pushing it up to 450 kilowatts. We want to go to 600, maybe one megawatt in the future,” she said.

“What that allows people to do at TransLink is say, ‘Oh, the bus is running behind schedule. Throttle the charger up.’ Let it deliver power at 450 or 600 kilowatts so it can drive the charging time down to a less than a minute.”

“But if there is more time in the schedule — it is not a peak period — we want to reduce our electricity costs so we can throttle it down to 300 kilowatts or 150 kilowatts, and save the battery.”

Time, power, capacity

The reason this fast-charging system works is because in simple terms, charging a battery is basically a matter of three things: time, power and capacity.

The more power you put into the battery, the faster it charges. How long it takes to fully charge depends on the batteries’ total power capacity, measured in kilowatt hours (kWh).

To calculate charging time (in hours) you simply need to divide the battery’s capacity in kilowatt hours by the charging power in kilowatts.

Charging systems for electric cars like the Nissan Leaf (which might have a 20 kWh battery capacity) or various Tesla models (which have up 100 kWh battery capacity) range from thee kilowatts for a household system to up to 120 kilowatts for fast-charging stations.


At the fast-charging stations, a robotic arm connects to the bus while passengers are hopping off and on. (CBC)

200-kilometre range

The new buses will have a range of over 200 kilometres on a full charge, but will only need a partial charge to cover the 15 kilometres between the two charging stations at the Marpole Bus Loop and the 22nd Street SkyTrain Station.

And much like electric or hybrid vehicles, the buses will have a regenerative braking system that will help charge up the lithium batteries anytime the driver hits the brakes.

Thousands of battery-powered electric buses have been in use around the world since 2009, but one of the things that will make the charging system used by TransLink unique is that it is the first to use a standardized system shared by two different bus companies, New Flyer and Nova Bus.