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When the US Government Built Ultra-Safe Cars 520

Jalopnik has a piece on a mostly forgotten piece of automotive history: the US government built a fleet of ultra-safe cars in the 1970s. The "RSV" cars were designed to keep four passengers safe in a front or side collision at 50 mph (80 kph) — without seat belts — and they got 32 miles to the gallon. They had front and side airbags, anti-lock brakes, and gull-wing doors. Lorne Greene was hired to flack for the program. All this was quickly dismantled in the Reagan years, and in 1990 the mothballed cars were all destroyed, though two prototypes survived in private hands. "Then-NHTSA chief Jerry Curry [in 1990] contended the vehicles were obsolete, and that anyone who could have learned something from them had done so by then. Claybrook, the NHTSA chief who'd overseen the RSV cars through 1980, told Congress the destruction compared to the Nazis burning books. ... 'I thought they were intentionally destroying the evidence that you could do much better,' said [the manager of one of the vehicles' manufacturers]."

Submission + - Would pirates really buy if it were any easier? 4

An anonymous reader writes: Systems like iTunes make it easier to pay for content, but still the torrent networks chug onwards driven by the pirates' unstoppable urge to grab. Wolfie Games recently tried to be cool and let people pay whatever they want through any of the major payment systems. Still the piracy continues and the company is resigning itself to asking the pirates to use the torrent networks to lower the company's bandwidth bill. Is it time to retire the old arguments that people will buy when companies bend over backwards enough to make it simple to buy?

Submission + - Ball Lightning Caused By Magnetic Hallucinations ( 3

KentuckyFC writes: Transcranial magnetic stimulation involves placing a human in a rapidly changing magnetic field that is powerful enough to induce eddy currents in the brain. Focus the field in the visual cortex, for example, and the induced eddys cause the subject to 'see' lights that appear as discs and lines. Move the the field within the cortex and the subject sees the lights move too. But if this happens in the lab, then why not in the real world too, say physicists who have calculated that the fields associated with certain kinds of multiple lightning strikes are powerful enough to induce the same kind of visual hallucinations in anybody unlucky enough to be within 200 metres or so. These fields ought to induce hallucinations similar to those experienced in the lab. These would take the form of luminous lines and balls that float in front of the subject's eyes, an effect that would explain observations otherwise classed as ball lightning, say the scientists.

Submission + - Breakthrough in Hydrogen Energy? (

destinyland writes: MIT researchers have developed a way to split a hydrogen/oxygen water molecule by emulating the way blue-green algae separates oxygen from hydrogen. One chemistry professor called it "an extremely clever piece of work" that addresses "the nanoscale organization of the components", and they're currently developing a cheap way to split off the hydrogen atoms. Using sunlight rather than electricity to make hydrogen from water could greatly improve the efficiency of the process, and then the hydrogen can be stored for generating electricity or burning as fuel for cars. The project is being led by the winner of a 2004 MacArthur Foundation genius grant, who uses genetically-engineered viruses as templates for nanoscale electronic components. "Suddenly, I wondered, what if we could assemble materials like the abalone does — but not be limited to one element?"

Submission + - Oil leak could be stopped with a nuke (

An anonymous reader writes: Oil leak in the Gulf of Mexican could be stopped with an underground nuclear blast, a Russian newspaper reports:

Komsomoloskaya Pravda, the best-selling Russian daily, reports that in Soviet times such leaks were plugged with controlled nuclear blasts underground. The idea is simple, KP writes: "the underground explosion moves the rock, presses on it, and, in essence, squeezes the well's channel." Yes! It’s so simple, in fact, that the Soviet Union, a major oil exporter, used this method five times to deal with petrocalamities. ...

These kinds of surgical strikes to shut off underground leaks, however, were carried out only five times, with the last one occuring in 1979. And there was only one misfire, near Kharkov, Ukraine, where a nuclear blast was unable to stanch a gas leak.

Happily, with a track record like that, "the chances of failure in the Gulf of Mexico are 20%", KP writes. "The Americans could certainly risk it."


Submission + - NASA Mars rover Sprit sleeps with the Martians (

coondoggie writes: With the Mars Winter solstice officially upon it, NASA's Mars Rover Spirit has disconnected itself with the outside world and is no longer communicating and the space agency says it's not sure when the rover will wake up. No communication has been received from the rover since March 22. As expected, it is likely that Spirit has experienced a low-power fault will use the available solar array energy to recharge her batteries, NASA said. When the batteries gain enough charge, Spirit will wake up and communicate over X-band. When that does happen, Spirit will also trip an up-loss timer fault. This fault response will let the rover communicate over Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) as well,

Comment Re:Are we the ancients? (Score 1) 648

The Miller–Urey experiment showed that amino acids are easily formed in the primordial earth atmosphere.

It does not have to be fantastically complicated to be a precursor to actual life. A self-replicating protein is a nice start, and not exceedingly difficult to form when given enough time to develop.

The problem is that the time required for intelligent life to arise falls in the same magnitude as cosmic events. Life arose quickly after the formation of the solar system, but look at the billions of years it needed for humans to evolve and how simple it could all be wiped out by a single impact event, GRB or magnetar burst.

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