Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Hybrid Mythbusting

"Hybrids," or automobiles with both gasoline engines and electric motors designed to propel the vehicle, are the cool gadget to have now, especially here in SoCal. However, there has been a lot of debate about the true costs of a hybrid. In particular, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that a hybrid's fuel economy is not nearly as efficient as the EPA sticker would suggest. Hybrids also cause some concern with regard to durability and dangers posed to emergency workers.

Popular Mechanics has attempted to address at least the fuel economy question by conducting a real-world test of two different models of cars with hybrid gas-electric powertrains, alongside their gas-only equivalents. While some decry the growing trend of turning larger sedans or SUVs into "muscle hybrids," Popular Mechanics' test demonstrates that the most significant gains in fuel economy can be gained from larger vehicles, rather than featherweight small sedans whose overall efficiency is already nearly maximized in its gas-only form. Popular Mechanics managed to coax a Toyota Highlander, a 7-passenger SUV, to return nearly 29 miles per gallon on average over their 570-mile test loop, almost nine miles per gallon better than the gas-only Highlander. 29 MPG in an SUV is undeniably a positive result; getting more power at the same time is a welcome side effect.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Which Sports Car Are You?

Here's a fun little internet time-waster. Remarkably, this is my result (I absolutely kid you not):

You are a Porsche 911!

You have a classic style, but you're up-to-date with the latest technology. You're ambitious, competitive, and you love to win. Performance, precision, and prestige - you're one of the elite, and you know it.

Um, okay, but in a nice way.

Friday, January 20, 2006

DIY Motivational Posters

You have probably seen those motivational pictures of dramatic landscapes coupled to vague power words and motivational statements. You may have also seen the brilliant parodies by the twisted geniuses at Dispair, Inc. One of their products:

Now, through the miracle of modern technology, you can make your own. An example:

Fire up those digital cameras and have some fun!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Stardust Coming Home

In space news you might have missed, the space probe "Stardust," which flew through the tail of a comet, will be returning to earth early Sunday morning. The probe captured space dust and other particles by means of a substance called "Aerogel." This is a pretty amazing material. Described as appearing like "frozen smoke," it is 99.8 percent empty space, and is a superior insulator. This is an unretouched photo of the stuff:

I don't know how scientists draw conclusions from thousands of bits of dust, but at least they get to play with these cool toys.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Have Felt Tip, Will Scribble

Having spent a fair amount of time exiting local hardware stores during my time off over the holidays, I was again confronted with one of the most profound questions of our day:

What do those people who stand at the door with a felt tip marker accomplish? They don't check my receipt against the items in my bag, not really, so it doesn't seem to be a theft prevention scheme. They don't affix an official stamp to the receipt; if the mark is anything more elaborate than a short, straight line it is cause for concern. Will I be denied the right of return if I don't get the mark? Should I be worried if the person at the door doesn't get to me, or isn't there? If I brought my own marker and made my own mark to save them the time, would they get upset?

These things take actual minutes out of my sleep. I deserve an answer.

Great Culinary Secrets, Revealed

My microwavable burrito (hey, I happen to like phosphates) came with stupifyingly accurate cooking instructions. Why doesn't every cookbook say something like this:

"Cook until hot and soft."

Well, yeah. Why didn't I think of that?

More Car Name Nonsense

No sooner do I take Lincoln to task for burdening its new compact sedan with the Zephyr moniker than FoMoCo decides to eliminate names for its Lincoln line. In an apparent belief that the move will position the marque upmarket, Lincoln will adopt alphanumeric designations for its vehicles. For instance, the Aviator sport-ute, whose name bears a pleasantly homophonic resemblance to its big brother, Navigator, and its cousin, Explorer, while managing to evoke a more highbrow image (flight over ground-pounding), will now be dubbed the MKX.

Who wants to say that they drive an MKX? Who will even remember that?

Aha. That is the point. Lincoln is apparently pouting that customers remember names like "Town Car," "Continental" or "Navigator," without referencing the Lincoln brand. The solution is diabolically simple: render the model name so meaningless and indistinct that the auto-buying public will have no choice but to refer to "Lincoln." Too bad the best thing Lincoln's product line had going for it was its names.

Except Zephyr.

And Lincoln's keeping that one.