Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Nissan, Renault and Better Place team for electric cars, charging points in Israel

While there are many rational and irrational reasons for the delays we've seen in production of a mass-market and massively adopted electric car, most of the major issues seem to be addressed by this new initiative going down in Israel. One of the primary problems with electric cars is refilling, and that's going to be nicely addressed by entrepreneur Shai Agassi's Project Better Place, which will build a charging network of 500,000 plug-in points across the country. Other issues were a bit more easily addressed: since Israel is a small country, the limited range of electric cars isn't as much of an issue, and the government subsidies should make prices competitive -- with the eventual cost of ownership significantly less than gas cars to sweeten the deal even further. Nissan and Renault plan to built the cars, naturally, and hope to port the concepts into other vehicles in other countries in the near future. The plan is to launch the first cars in Israel around 2011.

Source: http://www.endagets.com

Friday, January 11, 2008

Tata Nano Isn't a Music Player or Tits, Nay, It's a $2500 Car

The words Tata Nano have nothing to do with tiny music players, but the car going by that name's price and size are still nearly small enough to dance on the head of a pin. Introduced in India for $2500, another feature of the car worthy of the word "nano" is probably going to be the amount of time until it needs to go back to the shop, and ultimately the junkyard. But what do you expect from a car with a name that sounds to our ears like a pair of tiny tittles? [gizmodo.com]

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Quintessential British Sports Car

From the site There’s a black Jensen Interceptor that’s often parked around my block. It’s an eye-catching car with a long nose and a large rear window that bulges like a glass bubble. And it oozes ’60s swinging London in the middle of Brooklyn.

Sometimes I see it across from my neighborhood coffee shop. Sometimes it’s parked on the way to the subway. Sometimes it surprises me two blocks farther than usual. But no matter where I find it, that Jensen nags me to write about a topic that’s been swirling in my mind for at least five years. But more on that in a second.

Shortly after my parents were married, they moved into a small house in Virginia, and my dad bought a used blue Triumph TR3, which my mom had painted a brilliant red. She also reupholstered the seats and took scraps of used carpet and hemmed edges to make mats for the back seats.

They loved that car. And years later, when my parents moved to North Carolina, they replaced it with a newer TR4A, the car that I grew up with.

Those were the days before baby and toddler seats. I remember standing in the back seat, with my two sisters beside me, on rides to the mall. I recall the rip in the scratched rear window, which my dad fixed with clear packing tape, and the feeling of falling asleep against the cold red steel of the windowsill.

Whenever I see that Jensen, it evokes these memories, but more than that, it resonates an emotion that’s universal in British sports cars.

You can’t say a Jensen looks much like a Triumph or that a Jaguar resembles an MGB, but they share … something, an unmistakable similarity of emotion, which could be the reason why my parents, two Chinese immigrants living in the South, fulfilled their aspirations in the Triumphs.

But what is it?

American sports cars are built like bulldogs. Italian sports cars are sexy. Japanese sports cars are manga and robotic. Describing the essence of a British sports car is more elusive. I’ve been trying to reason an answer for years. It’s a question I’ve asked often. And yesterday I decided to phone a group of Brits, who I felt would have a better perspective.

I first spoke to Peter Horbury, Ford’s executive director of design, the Americas, who once held the top design post at the Premier Automotive Group, which included Aston Martin and Jaguar, though he’s best known for sportifying Volvo’s boxy design in the ’90s.

“I think there’s a combination of things,” Mr. Horbury said. “Where American sports cars tend to rely on brute force and a macho image, British sports cars are a combination of discreet power and beautiful car. That combination, which the Jaguar E-Type and Aston Martin always represented – even Austin Healey – it wasn’t brutal. It was more beautiful.”

“But within that beauty lurked serious power,” he said, adding that the contrast was something that British drivers preferred at the time.

David Richards, the chief executive of Prodrive, a motorsport and automotive technology company and new owner of Aston Martin, echoed Mr. Horbury’s idea of understatement, offering the DB5 and Lotus Elan as examples. He also thought that a country’s sports car reflected the culture of its people.

“In America, the Ford Mustang or a Corvette reflects the V8, the big muscle cars, the style of America,” Mr. Richards said. “If you look at Italian sports cars, the fragility of them, the flamboyance of them, the slightly unreliable nature of them, it reflects the Italian temperament. I think British sports cars reflect the temperament of the country. I think it’s very much the case.

“I think it’s one of those things that happened,” he said. “It’s not by design. These things just happened. They evolve and become a sort of reflection of the culture they’re manufactured in and the heritage. They are the expression of people’s mobility and the kind of motorcar that they desire.”

On the other hand, Roger Becker, the vehicle engineering director of the Lotus Group, said he believed that the cars were more derivative of the quality of British roads.

“In England we have all of these small roads,” he said. And British sports cars were created with compact footprints to be nimble and agile enough to “thread through the narrowest of gaps and charge around the country lanes and miss the odd pheasant and rabbit that dashed out in front of you.” Power was secondary.

Mr. Becker’s design counterpart at Lotus, Russell Carr, spoke on design terms and re-emphasized the element of understatement, citing the Jaguar E-Type, a car he owns. But it was his historical perspective that proved to be the most interesting.

“I think one of the interesting things you said at the start was that it’s a difficult thing to pinpoint what it’s about,” he said. “I guess when you start with that conundrum, part of the reason is that a lot of the sports car companies were founded by very entrepreneurial inventive people, who had their own take on the best way of doing a sports car, or a car.”

Peter Stevens, who is best known as the designer of the McLaren F1, spoke more to that history, making the point that most of those quirky, personality-driven sports cars companies have disappeared.

“The awful thing that that suggests is that whatever it was, people didn’t want it. That’s the negative view there, but you do get that creepy feeling because other than tiny manufacturers, like Aston and Lotus,” he said, British sports cars are not made in numbers anymore.

Then he brightened up and added a twist on the definition. “I always thought that British sports cars were actually something that were accessible to a large number of people — kind of a democratic thing. The MG and Austin Healey, and all of those companies, made sports cars that anybody who could afford a car could afford to choose a sports car, which I thought was very nice. It was very simple and accessible for anybody.”

That’s important?

“It is to me,” he said. “That’s something we used to do so well. Because something like the Triumph TR2 would’ve been cheaper to buy than the saloon car that Triumph made.”

After I got off the phone with Mr. Stevens, I took a good look at my scorecard. The five people I spoke to overlapped on some points. Four mentioned the E-Type as the definitive British sports car. Three also cited the Elan. But there was an equal amount of variance, and three of them admitted to an inherent difficulty in nailing down a definition.

“If it was easy to define and distill as you suggest,” Mr. Richards said rather emphatically, “then the Japanese would have been doing it by now, and they’re not.”

And so perhaps my tendency to put things neatly into a box won’t be satisfied this time. But still I recall this colorful scenario presented to me two years ago by Damian Harty, who was a top engineer at Prodrive at the time. It seems to do a pretty good job:

“The quintessential English sports car experience is having gracefully bumbled through a village, we come to the sign that says the village has ended, and we want to accelerate up to speed and start enjoying the flow of the roads. And that’s rolling on in fourth gear and the exhaust note comes up a bit. That’s what it’s all about – having an English sports car.”

Friday, March 9, 2007

Dog fights shark, and wins!

You've just spent hours trying to land the catch of your life - and then your pet dog takes the glory.
Well that's what happened on this fishing trip.
Just as a shark was being pulled into the boat, a plucky pet dog jumped into the water and started sparring with fish.

Amazingly the dog wins!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

HTML Tags illustrated

Mona from Canada has sent this collection of photos illustrating visually the HTML tags. These photos are from the collection HTML jokes.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What is Stress in the Healthy Human Brain?

For the first time ever scientists have visualized the effects of everyday psychological stress in the healthy human brain.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine used fMRI – functional magnetic resonance imaging – to image brain activity in their subjects. The researchers induced stress on healthy subjects by asking them to quickly perform challenging mental tasks while being monitored for performance.

During the tasks, the subjects’ emotional responses – such as stress, anxiety, and frustration, were measured – as well as changes in stress hormones and heart rate. Many subjects described themselves as being “flustered, distracted, rushed and upset” during the task.

During the “stress test,” results showed increased blood-flow to the right prefrontal cortex of the brain – an area long associated with anxiety and depression. The increased blood-flow continued even after the task was complete. These results suggest a strong link between psychological stress and negative emotions.

Or, since the prefrontal cortex is also associated with the ability to perform executive functions, such as working memory and goal oriented behavior, this result could be highlighting that action.

“How the brain reacts under psychological stress is an untouched subject for cognitive neuroscientists, but it is certainly a critical piece of the puzzle in understanding the health effects of stress,” said study leader Jiongjiong Wang. “Our findings should help significantly advance our understanding of this process.”

This research is detailed in the Nov. 21 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Bjorn Carey