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

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Little Joe the gorilla is back after three years

In August 2003, Joe made his first brief escape over a wall and a 12-foot moat around the former gorilla enclosure at the zoo. Six weeks later, Little Joe climbed over the wall again, but this time he ran outside and attacked two girls, including a 2-year-old. It took two hours and an army of police to corral the gorilla, who had to be subdued with tranquilizer darts.

Since the second escape, Little Joe has been kept out of public view while officials built him and the other six gorillas a new home. The habitat unveiled today inside the zoo's Tropical Forest building includes a new mesh cap of woven steel cables over its top that is designed to stop the animals from climbing out.

The new exhibit gives the gorillas more room to play, with steel-reinforced "trees," ropes for swinging, and vertical space for climbing. The restoration was funded by private donors, state government, and leftover money from the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Today, the apes frolicked in the new space. Little Joe wrestled with Okpara, one of the zoo's other male gorillas, rolling over and over again on the ground.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Cheap, Fun And Possibly Dangerous Entertainment

Winter has arrived and you’re at home with a few of your buddies – you pool all your money together and find you only have $1.02. You want to do something but that just isn’t enough money to pay for your standard entertainment items. So what can you do…


Some of the older people here may remember a game called Carmageddon. For those that don’t it was a game where you had a souped up killer car and the goal was smashing your opponent's car to a pulp while taking out as many pedestrians as possible.

Well we took that to a level that the game designers had never intended - we turned it into a real game. The requirements for this game are simple. All you need is snow, a steep, long hill and various types of sleds including krazy karpets, GTs, toboggans and anything else that slides downhill quickly.

The game is very simple to play. You all start at the top of the hill and you all push off at the same time, side by side. The goal is to knock the other person off their sled through any means possible. The secondary objective is to hit the people who have fallen off their sled as you go down the hill. The third objective is to try to make the jump on the way down. Any battle scars received during the game always deserve special mention. The game is not over until everyone receives at least one injury. If a player seems to be avoiding injuries, he should become the prime target.

If a game ending injury occurs, the game must be stopped and the players must head home. A game ending injury is any injury which causes a player to be unable to play. To ensure people do not fake such an injury, players are allowed to test the injury by hitting it.

This is not a Co-Ed game – only should be guys vs. guys or girls vs. girls. Co-Ed causes the guys to hold back on the pain giving, while the girls do not, thus decreasing the fun of the overall game for the guys, while making the girls look too good.

Some tactics we have devised during the course of our games are as follows:

After you push off, slow yourself down and allow your opponents to get ahead of you. One is sure to be tackled off on the way down; at that point head down the hill at full speed towards them….

If you’re on a GT, use your steering ability to sideswipe anyone on a krazy karpet. They are an easy target, but do NOT let them get behind you!!!

If you are on a krazy karpet, slide in behind a GT and grab onto the back of it. Lift it up and twist it to the side. The ski should catch into the snow and cause a nice flip.

If you’re on a GT, and another player has a GT as well, keep an eye out for him. Often the fellow GTer will view you as the primary threat and come after you. Your best bet is to try to crash into him before you gain too much speed. This first strike will minimize the threat of the attack and allow you to direct your GT and the opponents GT’s into one of the krazy karpeters for maximum devastation. Warning: This may cause game ending injuries.

GTers have a high center of gravity. They are easy to tip, especially if they hit the jump or deep snow sideways. Keep this in mind if you ever find yourself in battle with a GT.

If you fall off your sled, beware of the GT. Their front steering ski is quite damaging.

Krazy karpeters often will avoid the jump as if they hit it they will be forced to land on their feet (or sustain painful back injuries) making them a non-moving and very vulnerable target. Keeping this in mind, try to force them into using the jump as this sets up anyone behind you to take them down.

Create secret war pacts while waiting for the slowpoke to climb back up the hill. Discuss plans to all hold back 1 second on the way down the hill to allow the slowpoke to get ahead slightly. Then have everyone target him for a massive sled pileup. This will not work against anyone with a fast sled, so be sure to choose your targets wisely.

If you’re a chicken and want to avoid pain at all costs, find the fastest sled you can and take the jump. Most people never make it to the jump as they are flipped halfway to it. The remaining people will have lost a lot of momentum in the fight and won’t make it over the jump. If you hit it at top speed, you’ll be quite a ways away and too far for anyone to reach you.

If you see a chicken taking this tactic too often there is a way to extract revenge. Since he is so far down the hill he will always be the last one up the hill. So you all line up and wait until he is only 10 feet away and you all head off down the hill at top speed in his general direction. The results are quite satisfying.

A dirty trick you can use if you're getting owned pretty bad is to shove snow down someone’s back on the way down. This sudden shocking cold temporary stuns them and allows you to get the upper hand. You could also throw snow in their face, although that’s a bit harsh any should only be reserved to the most evil of the bunch.

It’s a great feeling smashing into someone on a sled. It’s what you always wanted to do at school during recess that the teachers wouldn’t allow. So this is your chance. If you have a hill, sleds and friends – you are all set to have some great fun.


After many injuries we have learned quite a few safety techniques which will allow you to introduce maximum pain with minimal injury.

If you are thrown off your sled and continue to slide down the hill not allowing you to get up, try to face your head away from the top of the hill. This ensures if anyone hits you, you can use your feet to cushion the impact while inflicting damage on the incoming attacker.

After you have finished sliding down the hill, if you have not yet been hit, get up quickly and run away as fast as you can. Watch for any incoming GT’s as they are able to steer their sled right into you. If you find that you cannot escape the GT, a good tactic is to try to do a barrel role over their head. This minimizes damage to you while possible taking out their head at the same time. If you are feeling a bit braver you can tackle them head on as well.

Ensure no one else is using the hill when you start this game. Taking out a 9 year old accidentally with a GT while their parents watch on in horror has a very bad ending.

Wear lots of layers of clothing. It acts as body armor and lessons the impact. This also keeps you warm. Cold is your enemy – it slows your muscles down, and affects your ability to concentrate on the game. Lots of layers also will keep people from shoving snow down your back during an attack.

Icy hills increase speed which increases the injuries which increases the fun. The unfortunate side effect of this is the game usually does not last as long due to game ending injuries.

Scout out the area before you play. Ensure any sticks, poles, or other such dangerous items are nowhere NEAR you. The paths in this game are not strait downhill. It’s amazing where you will end up after the end of the round. Metal poles and a skull just do not mix well and will result in game ending injuries.

Ensure the jump is no higher than 3 feet. Higher jumps will result in serious injuries that should not be considered entertaining (although they usually are).

Friday, February 9, 2007

Snow keeps upstate New York shoveling

While the northern Plains and Northeast shiver in dangerously cold temperatures, the folks in upstate New York are keeping warm shoveling snow -- lots of snow.

Since Sunday, the small towns of Parish and Mexico have recorded more than 6 feet of snow, and forecasters with the National Weather Service say it isn't over yet.

The area received a short reprieve Thursday as the squalls shifted south into Syracuse, where between 4 and 8 inches fell.

The lake-effect bands moved back north in the evening and were expected to strengthen overnight.

"We're just trying to keep up. It's almost an unreal amount," said Mayor Randy Bateman of Oswego, where 70 inches of snow had fallen by Thursday morning. "We catch up when it stops, but then it just comes again, even heavier."

Gov. Eliot Spitzer declared a state disaster emergency for the county Thursday, authorizing all state agencies to help assist municipalities and residents in the storm-wracked region along eastern Lake Ontario. (Watch snowfall in upstate New York that's created both beauty and frustration Video)

Late Thursday the northern parts of Oswego County were accumulating as much as 3 inches per hour, said Dave Sage, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo. At times, the snow has fallen at a rate of as much as 5 inches an hour.

"I'm sure before morning there's going to be three or four areas that have up to 100 inches [in Oswego County]," Sage said.

Whiteout conditions forced state police to temporarily close Interstate 81 between Central Square and Pulaski, a stretch of about 15 miles.

Travel advisories against unnecessary travel were posted for Oswego and its neighboring counties. Mexico officials renewed a snow emergency declaration, and many government offices were closed.
Schools were closed for a fourth day in Oswego and Mexico.

Temperatures in the Northeast inched back up to something closer to normal for this time of year, but the upper Midwest and northern Plains still awoke to subzero temperatures Thursday -- minus-12 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and 3 below zero in Chicago, Illinois.

The bitter cold and slippery roads have contributed to at least 20 deaths -- five in Ohio, four in Illinois, four in Indiana, two in Kentucky, two in Michigan, and one each in Wisconsin, New York and Maryland, authorities said.

Japanese Snowplow Robot is Awesome

Clearing big drifts of snow sucks, if not for the fact that you're doing manual labor in freezing cold weather then because the tools just aren't cute enough. Leave it to Japan to solve both these horrible problems with one delightful robot.

Yuki-taro is an autonomous snowplow robot that is loaded with GPS and a couple of video cameras to make its way around. It doesn't just push snow around, oh no. It eats snow, turns it into compressed blocks, then poops them out so they can be used later for alternate sources of cooling and refrigeration.

Seriously, how awesome is Japan? If it's possible to have a crush on a country, I've got one.