Sales of manual-transmission cars on the rise... For now

Sales of manual-transmission cars tick up -- is it temporary?,0,5444149.story

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Bansky on the Olympics

Most street art is not good.

However - Bansky is pretty amazing...

Banksy Goes to the Olympics street art olympics London graffiti

Photo of the Day: Amazing Sunken Ship

From gCaptain, a great nautical blog:
"In this haunting image by Ruslan Eliseev, we see the sunken remains of the 76-ft Mar Sem Fin, a Brazilian boat that was used for scientific and educational expeditions. The boat, which sunk on April 7, 2012, lies at a depth of about 9 meters (30 ft) in Ardley Bay, Antarctica. Thankfully the crew was completely evacuated and nobody was hurt."

One of the more amazing pictures I have seen in a while - partly because of the clarity of the water, partly the perspective, but mostly because of the "holy shit" factor.

Pebble Watch Going Big, Not Coming Home

Pebble, the adorable e-ink watch that could (might?) has announced it wont be coming home for the holidays. Actually, they just said it will miss its September 1st ship date - so there is still a (slim) chance it will be showing up this year.

Pebble smartwatch will miss September shipping date, blames darn popularity
No hello for you

The reason why it is behind? According to the company, it is because orders have skyrocketed: while they were originally planning on making only 1,000 total they now say they are working on making 15,000.... per week.

That's a big ramp up. Hopefully unlike Yugomania which swept this nation before anyone actually drove the little shitbox, the pebble actually comes through on its promise.

Yugomania was, sadly, a real thing

Gunther, Christine and Otto: The Greatest Road Trip of All Time

This is a great story - Gunther and his wife Christine set out in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin wall to do a tour of Africa. 500,000 miles later that journey is still going.

Gunther Holtorf's 23-Year Road Trip from srterbas on Vimeo.

End of Human Aging Can Be Achieved in 20 Years

Interesting article. I want to agree, but I think that aging will be a more difficult nut to crack than optimists think.

End of Human Aging Can Be Achieved in 20 years, experts say

Want Some Weird Hipster In Your Car?

It turns out that cars spend most of their time parked. This should come as no surprise, because unless your job somehow requires that you be in the car to do it - we spend about 1/3rd of our time working and 1/3rd of our time sleeping - and we drive to get between those two (and lots of other good times).

So along comes a great idea: you have this big cost sitting there in a parking lot - why not rent it out?

These p2p car sharing services are now all the rage - install a remote unlock system on your car and whoosh money starts flying in... supposedly.

But here is the thing: the people who are renting your car clearly don't have a car of their own. In fact your car is being rented by this guy:

Pink Socks FTW

Or really - if someone does already have a car and they are renting yours it means they are going to a) drive a long way, b) trash it, c) all of the above.

So... why would you rent your car out? I mean yes, you get some incremental revenue. But honestly - is that worth having a random ass stranger driving your car around? If you wanted to have that Fung Wah bus smell, you would never have bought the car in the first place.

The other problem for me is that just like ZipCar this gives urban scavenging shampoo deprived color blind hipsters another way to sit in front of me in a freaking Prius in the left lane.


GM Announces Saturn Pricing

Back in the day, there was a tiny little division of GM called Saturn. It's goal? Compete in the small car market with the imports which were wiping the floor with bow ties.
So, Saturn came along, and before it became a laughing stock, it actually made some really good cars for their time. It also had an interesting theory - a lot of car buyers, especially women, but mostly just because most men want to believe that a) they know about cars, b) they know how to negotiate a deal, and c) that paying $6,995 for the "Exclusive" package was a good deal and they didn't get talked into it by the sales guy, hate buying cars. 

Guess what Saturn was right. People flocked to the new brand, and they loved it. Saturn rallies were held, and even without topless tattooed women and excessive amounts of facial hair, they were more popular than Harley rallies. 

What killed Saturn? Oh yeah - the UAW. Because Saturn had this special agreement with the union that Saturn could do CRAZZZZY things like pay competitive wages and fire incompetent workers, the UAW made GM treat Saturn as a completely separate company more or less. Unable to ever build up the capital to really re-design its models, we got a decade and a half of the S-series. Regardless of GM's attempts to revive it (way too late), Saturn is now dead and gone. 

But it seems their pricing isn't. GM has had a revolutionary new idea: people don't like haggling over car prices. What was a major innovation in retail about 150 years ago is now coming back (for the second time...) to GM cars. 

Chevrolet Volt Ad - dynamic front three-quarter shot

From Autoblog:
"General Motors has good news for you if you're in the market to pick up a new Chevrolet. The automaker is now officially offering consumers its new "Chevy Confidence" program that allows buyers to return any model they've purchased within 30 or 60 days with less than 4,000 miles on the clock and no damage. GM calls it the "Love It Or Return It" program. In addition, GM has applied special pricing on all of its 2012 models on top of all current incentives under the banner of "Total Confidence Pricing." Each model carries a clearly-marked no-haggle price."

Dunno where they ever came up with that one... 

And finally, a moment of silence for the Sky Roadster - one of the prettiest cars which only briefly was:

The 2012 Apocalypse

Recent polls show that 22% of Americans believe that the apocalypse will come in their lifetime.  That's a startlingly high number... at first....

Then, you stop to think that only 1 in 3 Americans believe in evolution and you realize that 22% is actually doing quite well. And other than an irrational love of canned meat, holes in the ground, and guns, I would hazard that believing in the apocalypse is probably a lot less damaging than teaching children a bearded white guy (how did an Arabic Jewish guy become a Scandinavian hard rocker? I have no idea) created them by sticking his skinny ass on an all powerful Xerox machine.

So go ahead, buy your rations, solar panels, rifles, seeds, generators and most importantly, SPAM. 80% of your neighbors won't know what hit them (sometime in the next 65 million years).

US Army Shooting Lightning Bolts Using Laser Beams

Yes - you read that correctly. The US Army is building a weapon which uses laser beams to guide lightning bolts at the target. If you thought this sounds like something from Unreal Tournament or Quake... you would be pretty much right.

Why they decided to use a Ford Taurus as their apocalypse death car 2012 - no one knows

From PopSci:

Over at Picatinny Arsenal, the research and development facility and proving ground for the U.S. Army’s weaponry, engineers are developing a device that shoots lighting bolts along a laser beam to annihilate its target. That’s right: lighting bolts shot down laser beams. This story could easily end right here and still be the coolest thing we’ve written today, but for the scientifically curious we’ll continue.
The Laser-Induced Plasma Channel (LIPC) can be used to destroy anything that conducts electricity better than the air or ground surrounding it (unexploded ordnance seems a good candidate here). It works off of some pretty basic principles of physics, using a laser to carve an electromagnetic path through the air that accommodates a high-voltage beam. Create that path, crank up the voltage, and your target is toast.
It works like this: a high intensity, super-short duration (maybe two-trillionths of a second) laser pulse will actually use air like lens--surrounding air focuses the beam, keeping the laser pulse nice and tight rather than scattering it. If the pulse is strong enough, it actually creates an electromagnetic field around itself that’s so powerful it strips electrons from air molecules, essentially creating a channel of plasma through the air. Since air is composed of neutral particles (that act as insulators) and the plasma channel is a good conductor (relative to the un-ionized air around it) the path of the laser beam becomes a kind of filament.
In other words, just as lightning arcs from cloud to ground via the path of least resistance, a high-voltage current will find its way down this filament rather than arcing unpredictably through the air. In other words, the laser just creates the path of least resistance between the power source and the target. Laser, lightning, destruction of target--in that order.
Of course, the LIPC requires a lot of hardware, like a laser capable of really short pulses and a power source to provide both laser and lightning. In other words, it’s not very practical (as with most laser weapons, it suffers comparatively from the fact that bullets fly straight, have a long shelf life, are easy to carry, and are really cheap). But a laser-guided lightning weapon? It doesn’t have to be practical to be amazing.

Or - the short version:

This more or less sums up the research

The Ultimate Camp Stove: Wood Burning, USB Powering, Light and durable

This is one cool stove.

When you are out camping a good stove is your best friend. Somehow, I usually seem to end up camping when it is cold out, at least at night. There is pretty much nothing better than hot instant oatmeal in the morning (something I don't ever eat not camping) or a big bowl of mac-and-cheese at night after a long hike.

There are a lot of good stoves out there. For short trips, I am actually a big fan of the super cheap and light solid fuel stoves. I also have a MSR Whisperlight which is pretty much the gold standard of non-pressurized stoves.

But... this new stove? Freaking awesome.

It runs on basically kindling - so you just need to find some nice dry fallen branches. It not only boils your water, but it also powers a USB port at the same time. Want to charge your phone or listen to some music while you set up dinner? No problem.

Weighing in at 2lbs - this is not what I would take for an overnight for 1-2 people, and also not what I would take on the AT. But when you are really heading out into the middle of nowhere, especially canoeing or kayaking - this is exactly what I would want.


Campers pack a small handful of sticks into the bottom of the stove’s dual-walled steel combustion chamber and light the fire. One batch of kindling can boil a liter of water in five minutes.


A one-inch blower fan pushes fresh air into an angled vent near the bottom of the stove and circulates it counterclockwise through a half-inch gap between the combustion-chamber walls. The inner wall is perforated with 34 holes near the top and 11 more near the bottom. As air heats up, it expands and enters the combustion chamber to feed the fire.


A custom thermoelectric generator (TEG) converts heat into voltage. On one side of the TEG, a 1.5-inch copper-and-aluminum heat probe extends into the fire. On the other side, the fan cools a set of heat-sink vanes. As electrons move between the hot and cold sides of the TEG, they are directed into a set of wires.


Electrons pass through the set of wires and into a printed circuit board, which contains a processor. The processor evens the current and sends power to the blower fan, a battery that holds reserve power for the fan, and a USB-connected device. The CampStove produces a steady two watts of power, enough to provide an iPhone with 60 minutes of talk time on a 20-minute charge.


Dimensions: 8.25 inches by 5 inches
Weight: 2 pounds, 1 ounce
Price: $129
Product Details:
  • Fast to boil: 4.5 minutes to boil 1 liter of water
  • Fire power output (peak): 3.4 kw (lo) 5.5 kw (hi)
  • USB power output: Max continuous: 2W @5V, Peak: 4W @5V
  • Compatible Devices: Powers most USB-chargeable devices including smartphones
  • Fuel: Burns sticks, pine cones, pellets and other biomass
  • Packed size: Height 8.25 inches, Width 5 inches
  • Weight: 2 lbs 1 oz / 935 grams
  • Pot weight limit: 8 lbs or 1 gallon of liquid
  • Materials: Stainless steel, aluminum, plastic

The Airships Are Coming. Maybe? Finally?

I love airships

And it looks like maybe, just maybe, they might be finally getting off the ground. 

Right now, the focus is logistics and transport. However, what I really want is a airship luxury liner, so that I can cruise over the Grand Canyon, Pyramids or Savannah in complete comfort. 

Great PopSci article on where things stand now:

Sky Captain and the World of Today

Skeleton Crew Worldwide Aeros Corp.
"Some kids wanted to be firefighters,” Igor Pasternak says. “I always thought about blimps.” Pasternak grew up in Lviv, Ukraine, near a weather station. When he was six, he convinced the Soviet meteorologists there to let him launch one of their balloons. “I was hooked,” he says. “I wanted to build airships.”
We are standing in the vast wood-beamed hangar where one such vessel, a 400-foot-long “variable buoyancy functional cargo airship” called the Aeroscraft, is being assembled. The looming aluminum and carbon-fiber skeleton, not entirely unlike a half-completed Death Star, is the prototype for what Pasternak says will be a new and better kind of flying machine: one that can carry substantial cargo to any place on Earth. The reason there are so few blimps flying today, he says, is that “no one has improved the concept. I am solving a problem more than a century old.”

Aeroscraft's Airship:  Worldwide Aeros Corp.
Pasternak is wearing a T-shirt that says Ballast Control Matters, which pretty much sums up that problem. “Blimps fly with buoyancy,” Pasternak says. “But when the blimp is empty, if you don’t hold it down, the ship flies into space. I realized we could compress the helium inside special chambers and give the ship more or less lift.”
Hot-air balloons are completely at the mercy of the winds, and even dirigibles (a general term for all steerable airships) still require ground crews—guys with ropes and ballast. If Pasternak’s variable-buoyancy system works, the pilot will be able to maneuver in all directions, vertically and horizontally, with no external assistance. He will be able to go anywhere and land anywhere, and take a very big cargo along with him. “Then you have progress,” Pasternak says.
Revolutionizing transportation with airships is an old idea but a persistent one, and it’s usually the military that brings it closer to reality. More than a century after George Griffith described armed conflict fought with “war balloons” in his popular novel The Angel of the Revolution, the U.S. military was considering the merits of transporting materiel with airships. In 2005 Darpa, the Pentagon’s experimental branch, initiated Project Walrus and set about finding a contractor to build a “hybrid ultra-large aircraft” that could transport 500 tons of cargo at least 12,000 nautical miles. Pasternak’s Aeros got the biggest contract of the project. (“There is only one solution,” Pasternak had explained to the Los Angeles Times, “and we have that one solution.”) But in 2010, the Pentagon chose not to renew Project Walrus, a fate not uncommon to airship schemes.

Continental Drift:  Worldwide Aeros Corp.
Builders around the world nonetheless continue to investigate various ways to get airships off the ground. Northrop Grumman, Lockheed and other major aviation companies, alongside such smaller entrepreneurs as Cargolifter and Aeros have all at various times participated in the race to build a commercially viable airship.
Bill Crowder, a logistics expert who is inspecting the Aeros prototype with us today, has been following Pasternak’s efforts for years. Logistics is the industry term for the business of getting the world’s freight and equipment where it needs to go. Imagining the sky filled with Titanic-size dirigibles induces “the giggle factor,” Crowder now says, craning his neck up toward the frame, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. And in fact, a ship like this could stay in the air for a week and then deliver a substantial payload—a 50-ton crane, say, that’s needed in the Arctic.
Pasternak launched Worldwide Aeros Corp. in Ukraine in 1987 and at first made just unmanned “aerostats,” small tethered blimps. He moved the company to the U.S. shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union and, in a moment of d├ętente, became the lead Pentagon contractor for the development of lighter-than-air vehicles. Aeros is the biggest seller on Earth both of aerostats and manned blimps—its customers include the U.S. Department of Defense and authorities in several foreign governments—but all of that, Pasternak says, is a means to an end. “I always wanted to build the Aeroscraft,” he says. “I put all the profit of my company into this new ship. Everything.”

Flying Hotels: The first customers for Aeroscraft airships will be cargo companies, but the vehicles could eventually be developed into flying hotels that silently transport guests from New York to Los Angeles overnight.  Worldwide Aeros Corp.
For the moment, his ship is leading the race. Cargolifter went out of business, as did Advanced Technologies Group, the U.K.’s main firm attempting to revive airship innovation. Lockheed and Northrop have fixed their sights on a type of airship that still requires a runway. “None of them have the capability of the Aeroscraft,” Pasternak says.
The widely used C-17 cargo plane can carry 75 tons. The one-off Soviet AN-225 can carry a record-breaking 275 tons. But if the Aeroscraft prototype works and Pasternak completes plans to build an 800-foot model, he will advance the capacity of airborne transportation to 500 tons, delivered anywhere. “This is a lovely sight to a logistics guy,” Crowder says. “I’ve been waiting for something like this for a long time.

Doggerland: The Lost British Atlantis Uncovered

Ok, not really Atlantis. Actually more cool than Atlantis in a way.

The UK was not an island until quite recently: it was actually just part of Doggerland.

How different history would have been if Doggerland had stuck around, and instead of 1000 years of invasion-proof living the Brits would have had to fight land wars with all the other tribes (not that "Brits" were ever a "tribe" - I'm taking some liberties here).

Hidden Doggerland underworld uncovered in North Sea

A map of the UK with Doggerland marked as redA map of the UK with areas of the Doggerland landmass marked as red

Related Stories

A huge area of land which was swallowed up into the North Sea thousands of years ago has been recreated and put on display by scientists.
Doggerland was an area between Northern Scotland, Denmark and the Channel Islands.
It was believed to have been home to tens of thousands of people before it disappeared underwater.
Now its history has been pieced together by artefacts recovered from the seabed and displayed in London.
The 15-year-project has involved St Andrews, Dundee and Aberdeen universities.
The fossilised remains of a mammoth uncovered from the areaThe fossilised remains of a mammoth uncovered from the area
The results are on display at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in London until 8 July.
The story behind Doggerland, a land that was slowly submerged by water between 18,000 BC and 5,500 BC, has been organised by Dr Richard Bates at St Andrews University.
Dr Bates, a geophysicist, said "Doggerland was the real heartland of Europe until sea levels rose to give us the UK coastline of today.
"We have speculated for years on the lost land's existence from bones dredged by fishermen all over the North Sea, but it's only since working with oil companies in the last few years that we have been able to re-create what this lost land looked like.
"When the data was first being processed, I thought it unlikely to give us any useful information, however as more area was covered it revealed a vast and complex landscape.
"We have now been able to model its flora and fauna, build up a picture of the ancient people that lived there and begin to understand some of the dramatic events that subsequently changed the land, including the sea rising and a devastating tsunami."
Dr Richard Bates at workDr Richard Bates at work building up a picture of the ancient landmass
The scientists have made an interactive video where visitors can view how the land might have looked.
Ancient tree stumps, flint used by humans and the fossilised remains of a mammoth helped form a picture of how the landscape may have looked.
Researchers also used geophysical modelling of data from oil and gas companies.
Findings suggest a picture of a land with hills and valleys, large swamps and lakes with major rivers dissecting a convoluted coastline.
As the sea rose the hills would have become an isolated archipelago of low islands.
By examining the fossil record (such as pollen grains, microfauna and macrofauna) the researchers could tell what kind of vegetation grew in Doggerland and what animals roamed there.
Using this information, they were able to build up a model of the "carrying capacity" of the land and work out roughly how many humans could have lived there.
The research team is currently investigating more evidence of human behaviour, including possible human burial sites, intriguing standing stones and a mass mammoth grave.

The Supreme Court - What Do We Have Left?

I have not yet written about the ObamaCare decision. I can't really bring myself to do it.

I fully believed there was no way the supreme court could uphold something so incredibly antithetical to the constitution. And yet, they did.

I don't want to discuss it here. I don't want to discuss it at all. I want to close my eyes and imagine it never happened. But it did happen. And even worse, we are guaranteed to elect the architect of the whole stupid mess... seeing as both of them are more or less responsible. But seriously, looking at Obamacare and everything it will cost this nation and how little it will deliver in terms of benefit - how could anyone re-elect the idiot in chief? At least the other guy is on the right side (now...)

Yes, we needed affordable health care for the about 5 million uncovered Americans (yes, 5 million, not 50 million - that number is a complete fallacy - see about 75,000 articles on the subject by the Atlantic and others), but ObamaCare is such a freaking fiasco how the hell can you support it?

The US needs massive healthcare reform - not just a massive increase in the current spending plan. ObamaCare only addresses the problem in the same way that sub-prime loans backed by the government "addressed" the problem of poverty.

So, what now? With the Supreme Court ruling that the government can arbitrarily force a tax onto the citizens and force them to take action against their will in a private and economic environment, what protection do we as citizens have? Not a whole hell of a lot. Beyond that, what are the constitutional limits of power placed on Congress? Clearly - they don't have to justify anything they do, because it is all either a tax or falls under the commerce clause (if they are making you pay something, it's a tax, if they are telling you what to do, they are regulating interstate commerce).

If you want to protect you freedom - there is only one clear answer: move to Canada.

Where Solar Makes Sense

I have long argued that solar power makes absolutely no sense for us baseline loving energy consuming grid using developed countries.

But I love it for my boat. Or for camping. Or for my planned off-the-grid-zombie-apocalypse-ready-ski-chalet.

You see - where solar makes sense is where the grid ends but electricity is still needed. Other than solar the typical answer is a diesel generator - which are relatively efficient, but loud, require a lot of fuel (which is pretty expensive these days) and are not cost effective compared to solar over the long run (cheaper up front, more $ over time).

So where are the (smart) solar companies going now? To the edges of the grid:

SunEdison Turns to Big New Markets for Solar Power

The solar-panel installer is replacing diesel engines in villages in India and other Asian countries.
Last week SunEdison, one of the largest installers and financers of solar power, announced a new project that will deliver solar power to 30 villages in India. It’s already equipped one of these villages with solar panels, a small distribution grid carrying electricity to more than 70 houses, and battery backup system to provide electricity around the clock.
The first village is a pilot project that’s not expected to be profitable, says Pashupathy Gopalan, SunEdison’s managing director for South Asian and sub-Saharan operations. But he expects that economies of scale and refinements to the design and installation process will bring costs down, and the company could be making money within the next couple of years. “By 2014, we want to be able to scale up to thousands of villages,” he says.
The reason for SunEdison’s optimism is that plummeting prices for solar panels are making this type of electricity cheaper than power from diesel generators. “If the industry went after diesel displacement in a very big way, I think there is money to be had,” he says. “That’s where the money is if the industry wants to transition and not be dependent on subsidies.”
Diesel is a major source of power in south Asia and Africa, where many areas lack access to the grid and frequent blackouts prompt those who can afford it to install backup generators. These markets could help a solar industry that’s struggling with low profit margins due to an oversupply of panels. In turn, the lower prices for solar power could speed up deployment in poor countries by providing a more economical alternative to diesel-powered pumps and generators, and a much faster path to electrification than waiting for grid infrastructure.
One of the first economical applications for solar is replacing diesel-powered irrigation pumps, Gopalan says. These pumps don’t have to run at night, so batteries aren’t needed, keeping costs down. “The total available market in India alone is 15 to 20 gigawatts, and irrigation pumping is a massive application in all of Asia and Africa,” he says. For perspective, the current total installed capacity for solar power is 65 gigawatts, according to the management consulting firm McKinsey.
Solar panels could also augment existing diesel systems, such as those that run island communities or provide backup power for apartment blocks and businesses in blackout-prone India. According to McKinsey, diesel generators can produce power at prices ranging from just under 30 cents per kilowatt-hour to 65 cents per kilowatt-hour, depending on their size. Solar-panel systems can produce power for 12 to 35 cents per kilowatt-hour. In some areas in Cambodia, power from diesel engines is used to charge batteries, which are rented out at rates exceeding $1 per kilowatt-hour, Gopalan says. In these applications, solar would serve to displace diesel generation on sunny days, not to completely replace it.
Many governments are starting to find that it’s cheaper to install solar panels and batteries than it is to connect villages to conventional power plants or install diesel generators, says Stephen Phillips, the managing director of Optimal Power Systems, an Australian company that installs solar power plants and microgrids in remote areas. In some areas, diesel power can cost two to three times as much in the city because of transportation costs and problems with theft, he says. That means batteries that cost 55 cents per kilowatt-hour of storage capacity can still undercut diesel power by 60 percent.
OPS typically installs systems that have diesel generators for backup in case of prolonged cloudy weather. But Phillips says that new technologies could lower the cost of batteries by more than half, making it possible to introduce larger battery systems that further reduce the use of diesel. “Two to four years ago, these systems would only use solar power for 25 percent of the electricity. That’s going up to 50 percent, and soon diesel could be used only rarely,” he says. “Solar with batteries can compete directly with diesel-powered village electrification.”

The $6,000 SUV

There is something to be said for trucks which work as trucks.

In the US, we have moved beyond that. Our pickup trucks drive nicely, have great interiors, and are massively overqualified for what they typically do on a daily basis.

Life in Africa is not so easy on the automobile. That is why a small company is working on releasing a $6,000 SUV designed specifically for the African market. Forgoing most of what has been added to SUVs in the last 5 decades (it seems to be more on par with a 60's Land Rover), this looks like one tough nut.

Mobius Motors Mobius Two - front three-quarter view

Nairobi-based Mobius Motors says it will be capable of handling the inhospitable roads of the continent's interior for just $6,000 – a price it says is similar to the auto rickshaw.

It has 14 inches of ground clearance and beefy skid plates underneath, and will likely be powered by something small and Toyota in nature (remember - the Willys Jeep only had 45hp - gear it down, get some torque, and never drive faster than 60mph).