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A study has claimed that rising rates of obesity in the US have resulted in almost a billion gallons of extra fuel consumption per year:
One key finding was that almost 1 billion gallons of gasoline per year can be attributed to passenger weight gain in non-commercial vehicles between 1960 and 2002--this translates to .7 percent of the total fuel used by passenger vehicles annually. Researchers also estimated that over 39 million gallons of fuel is used annually for every pound gained in average passenger weight. It is noted that while this is relatively small considering other factors such as more people on the roads, it is still a large amount of fuel that will continue to grow as the obesity rate increases.
Here come flying cars; only a decade or so late:
The two-seater Transition can use its front-wheel drive on roads at ordinary highway speeds, with wings folded, at a respectable 30 miles per gallon. Once it has arrived at a suitable take-off spot - an airport, or adequately sized piece of flat private land - it can fold down the wings, engage its rear-facing propellor, and take off. The folding wings are electrically powered.Robot housemaids and three-course meals in pill form are still nowhere to be seen.
In other news, airships could soon be used for transporting freight, being faster than oceanic ships and cheaper than powered aircraft. While they're only talking about freight so far, I imagine that if you outfitted them with comfortable cabins, observation decks and satellite internet access, they'd be good for recreational travel as well.
The latest craze among the yobs of Amsterdam: Smart tossing.
The so-called ‘Smart tossing’ takes place mainly during the weekend, when many youths are out for a night on the town.
Alongside most canals a low guard rail helps prevent cars from taking a dip, but the Smart car is small enough to be lifted and tossed.
A photo gallery of masses of unsold cars around the world, building up in parking lots, docks and racetracks as the economic crisis bites. These images have a sort of Koyaanisqatsi-esque beauty to them.
A few weeks ago, officials in Lancaster, California allowed the Honda company to grind grooves into a stretch of road, so that the wheels of cars driving along would play the melody of the William Tell Overture, at least if the cars were similar in dimensions to the Honda Civic, as part of an advertising campaign. Now, faced with complaints from nearby residents, the officials are planning to pave over the musical grooves:
The road is tuned to a car just exactly the length, and equipped with tires the same size, as a Honda Civic, a spokesman for Honda said. But other vehicles are also successful in playing the notes, if a little off-key.
That noise is not exactly music to the ears of persons living in a nearby subdivision, who are telling the Daily News that the notes blend into a cacophony that keeps them awake at night.
"When you hear it late at night, it will wake you up from a sound sleep," said music critic Brian Robin, who lives a half mile away from the project. "It's awakened my wife three or four times a night," he told the newspaper.There's a video of the musical highway here. You can probably imagine how, with several cars traversing it at different speeds, it could sound quite cacophonous.
I wonder how feasible it would be for guerilla art pranksters, MySpace band self-promoters and/or viral marketing scumbags to surreptitiously cut their own grooves into roads without any sort of permission. I imagine a device that lays down grooves whilst driving innocuously along, and doesn't attract the attention of the local road police, would be infeasible.
The Age has a piece on the Goggomobil. The original was a microcar built in 1950s West Germany by a Bavarian company which first ventured into motor scooters (hence, presumably, the pseudo-Italianate name). It is known in Australia because a local businessman managed to obtain a licence to make them locally (as there were severe tariffs on imported cars at the time), substituting a fibreglass body for the metal one. The diminutive, independently made car, which looked like a jellybean and supposedly drove quite well, did quite well in Australia for a few years in the mid-1950s, until competition from the Morris Mini killed it. Though most Australians only have heard of it because of a television ad for the Yellow Pages phone directory mentioned it.
A new study has revealed a correlation between the number of bumper stickers on a car and the aggressiveness of the driver's behaviour, presumably as bumper stickers indicate a territorial mindset on the part of the driver. Interestingly enough, there was no correlation between the content of the bumper stickers and the driver's behaviour, so a "Visualise World Peace" sticker would be as much of a danger sign as a "Don't Mess With Texas" one.
Quelle surprise; it turns out that, after all, Boris Johnson's replacement of bendy buses with magical
flying Routemasters, a key plank in his election campaign, might not actually happen.
Kulveer Ranger, Boris Johnson's director of transport policy, said that a design competition would be launched - but if no bid was good enough they would look again at the pledge.
He added that although Mr Johnson is very keen to bring in a new-style bus in place of bendy buses, they would not press ahead with the idea for the sake of it.
Mr Johnson made phasing out bendy buses a priority, initially saying new Routemasters would cost £8million to run with conductors. However, he later admitted the figure would be nearer £100million.The magic Routemasters, it seems, were what Johnson's strategist, Lynton Crosby, would call a "non-core promise". It is not clear exactly how many Londoners voted for Johnson primarily because they wanted to see the return of those friendly red buses. As John Lydon once said, "ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"
Petrolheads and Chelsea tractor drivers can rejoice, though, as the congestion charge looks set to be "reviewed" (i.e., cut back); the western extension looks set to be scrapped altogether. Jeremy Clarkson, however, will be disappointed that a £500/day congestion charge on bicycles is not on the agenda.
Lambasted for climate change and scorned by the green set, car companies are tailoring their marketing to the asshole demographic:
First to India, where an advert for the Ford Endeavour finds this 4x4 behemoth leaving slushy tracks on a melting polar landscape. Behind the two-tonne, seven-seater vehicle, which does just 7.5 km per litre in city driving conditions (compared to 22kmpl for India's new "People's Car", the Tata Nano), stand two rather forlorn-looking polar bears, an animal that has become the symbol of climate change. Could Ford India have chosen a more inappropriate setting to sell its wares? A children's playground, perhaps?
Ford in the UK goes for a much simpler approach with its Fiesta Zetec Climate (why would you ever use the word "climate" to name a car?) ads by accompanying a picture of the car with just a short sentence: "Most people would prefer a hot climate." It wouldn't appear as if Ford's survey of people's climatic preferences extended to those living in already parched regions of the planet now fearing the kinds of sharp temperature rises predicted by climatologists.
The messaging still not blunt enough for you? Try Hyundai's "Greed is Good" adverts then. Reprising the mantra of Gordon Gekko, Michael Douglas's odious city-trader character from the film Wall Street, is exactly what the environment needs right now, isn't it? Oh, how we need a return to the devil-may-care, me-want-now consumerism of the 1980s.Aside: when the line "greed is good" was penned for the film Wall Street in 1987, it was obviously an extreme, fringe view, that of a despicable character. Is this the case now, in the age of the Blatcherite "shareholder democracy" and "enterprise culture", where we are all encouraged to be marketing characters, constantly engaged in commerce, leveraging and monetising our assets much as sharks must constantly keep moving?
Meanwhile, someone at EDF's ad agency doesn't seem to have read Jared Diamond's Collapse:
The French energy giant EDF appears not to have done its homework before deciding to use the statues of Easter Island to reinforce its message that, "We develop tomorrow's energies for future generations." EDF is one of the world's largest suppliers of nuclear energy, an irony that ClimateDenial.org is quick to point out: "The Easter Island civilization collapsed from deforestation and overpopulation. The statues are a symbol of hubris and denial in the face of an impending environmental disaster. What staggering stupidity to use them to promote nuclear power".
Momus makes a few points about car-centric urban design:
It's always seemed to me that a society's respect for humanity might be better measured by the length of its pedestrian crossing signals than by any number of abstract declarations of support for "universal human rights". Cars are the closest thing we have in our society to predators, capable of picking off the weak; they're malevolent steel sharks or pumas, cruising our cities, hogging the head of the food chain.
Car signals stay green up to ten times longer than foot traffic signals do. Pedestrians sometimes only get a cross signal when they "apply" for it by pressing a request button. It just seems that car traffic is seen as "economically rational" and "necessary", whereas foot traffic is somewhat dilettante, an afterthought, unimportant.
Often, in studies, only the motorist's convenience is taken into account. Manhattan traffic police admitted, for instance, that a barrier scheme to prevent pedestrians crossing 6th Avenue by forcing them to walk up the block to the next crossing point was deemed a success because it reduced traffic wait times. The extra time added to the pedestrian's journey wasn't even measured, though, and this despite the fact that 6 or 7 times more people were crossing town on foot at these locations than in cars.
It seems that the big thing in car design is making modern cars that look like vintage models and selling them at a premium to fashionable urbanites. Those new BMW Cooper Minis (you know, the subcompact yuppie lifestyle cars modelled on the cheap'n'cheerful British cars of the 1960s) are everywhere (at least, if everywhere includes West London); the new Volkswagen Beetles, with the integrated flower vases as an ironic appropriation of their hippie status, are so to a lesser extent. And then there are those Chryslers that look like something a 1930s Chicago gangster might ride in.
But why stop there? There are more makes of once-common cars which could be revived as iconic-ironic status symbols. Anything of which old examples, decrepit or lovingly restored, are driven by inner-city hipsters would be fair game for remaking. For example, an all-new FJ Holden, in designer-faded turquoise and avocado green, coming soon to Prahran and Darlinghurst; iPod socket optional. Perhaps there could even be rounded vintage utes, miniaturised to suit urban parking conditions, for style-conscious urbanites. Or, for that matter, more old British cars; perhaps Peugeot could revive the Humber and Hillman marques as designer lines? And boxy, angular 1970s American cars (or, in Australia, Kingswood station wagons) in baby-shit brown would go very well with today's retro-styled fashions and rock.
Only in Southern California would you see hipsters driving around in coffin-shaped hotrods. (from bOING bOING)
UPDATE: More details on RAT-U-LA, the coffin-shaped hot rod. Apparently it's modelled on DRAG-U-LA, the hot rod from The Munsters, and was built by Brett Barris, son of custom-car maker George Barris (the man responsible for the original DRAG-U-LA and the Batmobile).
Wired has a piece about the Smart car, the European microcar which is half the length of a regular car, seats 2, has plastic panels which are interchangeable like mobile-phone fascias, has a Bluetooth-enabled dashboard which cooperates with mobile phones, is apparently remarkably safe in collisions for its size and gets better mileage than the Toyota Prius hybrid car. Smarts will soon go on sale in the US, and Americans (whose love affair with huge cars is legendary) seem to be taking to them better than expected. Though even if they don't, the company is planning a miniature SUV for the US market.
The latest escalation of the really-big-vehicle arms race: the extreme passenger truck, for people who want a vehicle that can intimidate SUV drivers. It's modelled on commercial haulage trucks but with consumer comforts, and as FmH suggested, we'll probably see rappers driving chrome-rimmed, blinged-out versions of these soon enough.
From today's Odd Spot:
A survey in a German car magazine has found that male BMW drivers have sex more often than owners of any other car - 2.2 times a week. Porsche owners have sex the least - 1.4 times.
...meanwhile, low-status individuals who don't own cars have little or no sex. Or perhaps, to quote Alex Torres, "Snazzy cars. Helping losers have sex since 1895."
On a tangent, a professor of creative writing recounts evading the seductive wiles of hordes of young, flirtatious female students, either after a good grade or, allegedly, the coming-of-age ritual of "doing the prof". For some reason, this doesn't seem to happen very much in computer-science institutions.
Apparently mobile phones are replacing cars as the dominant means for young people to assert their identities/freedom. Cars are a bit unhip these days, being large, bulky and environmentally unfriendly, whereas phones, with ringtones, custom covers and those pointless bitmapped Eminem/Manchester United/No Fear/whatever logos that go for a few dollars in magazine ads, have taken over both as a fashion item and a symbol of independence and mobility.
That mobile phones are taking on many of the social functions of cars is to be welcomed. While it is a laudable goal that everyone on earth should someday have a mobile phone, cars' ubiquity produces mixed feelings. They are a horribly inefficient mode of transport--why move a ton of metal around in order to transport a few bags of groceries?--and they cause pollution, in the form of particulates and nasty gases. A chirping handset is a much greener form of self-expression than an old banger. It may irritate but it is safe. In the hands of a drunk driver, a car becomes a deadly weapon. That is not true of a phone (though terrorists recently rigged mobile phones to trigger bombs in Madrid). Despite concern that radiation from phones and masts causes health problems, there is no clear evidence of harm, and similar worries about power lines and computer screens proved unfounded. Less pollution, less traffic, fewer alcohol-related deaths and injuries: the switch from cars to phones cannot happen soon enough.
But does this mean we'll see pop songs glorifying the freedom-facilitating power of mobile phones in the near future? What would the 21st-century equivalent of, say, Prefab Sprout's Cars and Girls, be like?
What would a car designed by women for women be like? Possibly something like a new Volvo concept car, with ponytail ports in the headrests, easily removable non-shrink seat covers and no bonnet:
The project team thought women would never want to look at the engine, so the front end is designed to come off in one piece at the workshop.
Suggestions that did not make the cut included an on-board cappuccino maker and foot supports for high-heeled shoes.
Some photos from the US Microcar and Minicar Club's 2003 meet, showing a large number of very tiny cars, mostly from the 1950s and 1960s, when, for some reason, tiny cars were in vogue. There are Messerschmitts like the one in Terry Gilliam's Brazil, a Fiat 500 (as immortalised in the Lush song), the Vespa scooter company's foray into cars, a Chinese dumptruck that looks like a motorscooter, some BMW Isettas (which are rather ickle and funny-looking) and even a Goggomobil (which, until now, I thought was something made up for those Yellow Pages ads). (via bOING bOING)
Motorists in the U.S. will soon be able to buy a device that turns traffic lights green. The device will cost about US$499 and interface with the infrared receivers at intersections that allow emergency vehicles to change the lights. Think of how much quicker you'll get that pizza when the pizza guy has one of those babies on his dashboard... (via FmH)
Only in Los Angeles would you expect to find something like this: Blessing of the Cars:
The all-day and into-the-night annual affair, held at Hansen Dam (this year's on July 26), begins with a mass morning blessing by a Catholic priest, who then goes car to car, blessing each individually. Some people also ask him put holy water in their radiators.
With the Shag title art and copious numbers of scantily-clad vixens in photos, I suspect it's not an official Catholic Church-sponsored event. I wonder where exactly it falls in the ironic/sincere spectrum. (via MeFi)
Scientists at Johns Hopkins University have found that assessing a community's cancer risk could be as simple as counting the number of trucks and cars that pass through the neighborhood. Another reason to encourage the development of public transport. Not that anybody's listening here, with the government falling over itself to spend billions of dollars on new freeways and spending only the most grudging pittance on public transport (which is next to useless outside of the inner city). (thanks, Toby)
Frustrated with CityLink toll evaders speeding through their residential streets every day, some Melbourne suburbanites are fighting back, by staking out the streets with hairdryers, pretending they're radar guns. Wonder how long until the two-wheels-good-four-wheels-bad crowd take this up as a form of direct action.
Researchers at the U.S. Center for Disease Control have determined the primary cause of the U.S.'s skyrocketing rates of obesity. It's not calorie consumption (which has not increased as rapidly) or fat content in the diet (which has declined over the past 20 years); it's urban sprawl and automobile dependence. Modern American suburbs (and their Australian equivalents; have a look at Glen Waverley or Rowville sometime) are modelled around the automobile, with no high-street shops and often no footpaths; hence, those who live there have to drive to go anywhere, with exercise being a special activity strictly for the fitness enthusiasts with gym memberships.
Few suburbs now have footpaths, so pedestrians are forced on to the road. Police and private security patrols view with suspicion anyone on a suburban estate without a car: either they have run out of petrol and are in distress, or they are poor and up to no good.
An investigation into walking habits in Seattle found a direct correlation between physical activity and the year a house was built. Residents in streets built before 1947 walked or cycled at least three times every two days. Those in more modern houses used cars almost exclusively.
Which makes me feel a bit better for being one of the povo scum who rely on walking and public transport. Though one thing I have noticed is that, when I had a car, I read fewer books than when I did not (as my commute was not usable as reading time). I wonder whether a correlation can be drawn between car dependence and ignorance or mental atrophy...
Seen in the sidebar on WIRED News: According to a poll by Progressive Auto Insurance in the U.S., 45% of Americans ranked their cars as the thing they considered most important in their lives (compared to 6% for their children, and 10% for spouses). 17% of respondents claimed that they would buy their cars Valentine's Day gifts. Reminds one of that "MAN MARRIES HIS MOTORCYCLE" news story/urban legend.
The Los Angelesization of Melbourne (an ongoing series): The Federal Government is set to throw hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers' funds on a freeway in outer Melbourne, which just happens to run through several marginal seats Howard's mob need to stay in power. The benefits of the freeway are doubtful, and public transport in the outer suburbs is woeful (buses typically don't run after 7pm or on Sundays), and doesn't look likely to get any better.
Bad things are happening in Melbourne, with the Labor government having done a back-flip and having put all the former Kennett government's freeway projects back on the agenda, whilst continuing to neglect public transport. The local inner-city rag Metro News says that this is largely due to the voter demographics shifting to the outer suburbs; the ALP needs the votes of SUV-driving outer suburbanites who don't use public transport and for whom the inner city is just some place to get through as quickly as possible, and thus the more of it is paved over, the better. And what are the vegetarian bicyclists of the inner city going to do about it: vote Liberal? (Anyway, among non-dreadlocked circles, the prevailing wisdom is that public transport is a discredited ideology, much like Marxism-Leninism.)
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