The Null Device


img_9382This month, the Vespa motorscooter is 60 years old. It was created in 1946 by the Piaggio company, looking to transition from the suddenly less lucrative military-aviation market, and hitting upon tapping a market for cheap, convenient personal transport. As austeriry ended and consumers acquired more disposable income, it became a hit in Italy and abroad, and became an icon of freedom and youth culture (becoming to European kids roughly what Dad's Cadillac was to the rising American teens, only with the attendant European je ne sais quoi), and later of retro style.

img_9285Piaggio, the Vespa's manufacturer, also made a line of miniature scooter-trucks, ideally adapted for narrow Italian town streets that had in the past been trod by donkey carts or similar; occasionally one sees one outside of Italy (I once saw one in West London; the poor thing must have gotten terribly lost), though they don't seem to have caught on in a big way there. It could be argued that post-war Italy had a two-stroke engine-led recovery.

As revolutionary as compact, stylish-looking and affordable scooters were in the post-war years, they can't help but look a bit dated. They're noisy, bulky, relatively inefficient (technology having moved on since then), and consume Saudi Arabia's Finest, which probably isn't going to get any cheaper. Though Piaggio are now testing a hybrid Vespa in Milan; the new model can run off either petrol or electricity, much like a Prius, or can be plugged into the mains if you'd prefer to give the House of Saud the finger. The "electric-only" mode is still said to be slower than the petrol-powered mode, though one presumably doesn't buy a scooter for raw power.

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The Irish city of Limerick is at risk of losing its city status, thanks to a population census coniciding with a rugby game, expected to take as many 20,000 of the city's 54,000 burghers to Dublin for the night. The threshold for a place to be considered a city is 50,000.

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