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Skeuomorphism, Apple, and Ricardo Montalbán's favorite station wagon

Lebaronnnn

Over at Apple, Jony Ive is reportedly pulling back on the skeuomorphism for iOS 7. I'm glad. I don't care for skeuomorphism except in a very few instances, like the 1982 Chrysler Town & Country seen above with Ricardo Montalbán.

This history of the car in L.A.

After living in L.A. for a year without owning a car — an experiment brought on by a lazy reaction to his car battery dying — Paleofuture's Matt Novak has written a fascinating piece about the history of Los Angeles transportation. It's a history that includes doomed monorails, oil derricks at Venice Beach, and a cameo by Roger Rabbit.

Where does "new car smell" come from?

The answer lies in another question. How can PVC — polyvinyl chloride, a commonly used type of plastic — be the stuff that makes tough, rigid sewer pipes and, simultaneously, be the stuff that makes floppy vinyl signs and cheap Goth pants?

"PVC is hard stuff. But if you put in a lot of plasticizer, you can get it to be soft," explains John Pojman, a chemistry professor at Louisiana State University. At a molecular level, PVC is a dense thing. Imagine a slinky in its stiff, compressed state. The plasticizers are chemical compounds derived from coal tar. Mix them with PVC and the small molecules of plasticizer shove their in between the densely packed PVC molecules. Imagine stretching the slinky out so that its coils are now wobbly. Same thing happens here. The more plasticizer you add, the less rigid the PVC.

And it's the plasticizers that produce that smell — the one we associate with the vinyl interior of a new car.

Image: 365:37 - Mar 29 - that new car smell, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivative-Works (2.0) image from waldengirl's photostream

1947 Cadillac with shower, kitchen appliances, bar, and hookah

Hookkaakcar

ShowercarrrrrIn 1952, LIFE published an article about Louie Matter, a gearhead who tricked out his 1947 Cadillac with a shower (seen at right), drinking fountain, tape recorder, washing machine, stove, "and a bar with spigots for whisky, water and soda." Oh yeah, and a dashboard hookah too. This, my friends, is the definition of "bow-tie classy." "Shower? Check. Washing Machine? Check. Hookah? Check. Let’s Ride"

Dubai police's Lamborghini Aventador patrol car

NewImage

In Dubai, the fuzz drive Lamborghinis. Also, BMW 5 Series, Chevy Camaros, and Dodge Chargers. (Laughing Squid)

The rise and fall of the personal car

“The replacement of the car is probably out there. We just don’t fully recognize it yet.” — a really interesting story on the historical patterns of technology adoption and decline, and how those patterns might apply to the things we think of as absolute and necessary as much as they applied to the steamship or the landline.

Lamborghini's $3.9 million Veneno

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Unfortunately, all three of the new limited edition Lamborghini Venenos produced for sale have been pre-ordered, but I'm going to keep my eyes out at CarMax. (Motor Trend)

Vintage vernacular vehicle photos

NewImage NewImageMy friend and noted vernacular photo collector Randall de Rijk turned me on to the excellent blog "Darrin's Car Photos" that consists solely of great vintage snapshots of various vehicles!

Wintertime frolics: compilation of cars sliding down icy streets and other snow-related hijinx

And here I am complaining about the rain in Los Angeles. (Via biotv)

Inventor claims legitimate use for his license plate flipper

Matt Richardson says: "I've never seen a license plate flipper before, have you? From the video's description: 'This is meant to be used off road or show room for show cars and not meant for use to avoid red light camera or avoid toll camera.'"

(Via Boing Boing G+ community)

Bizarre 70s-style "pants calendar" a 21st-century hit

A calendar of men posing with 1970s cars while wearing underpants is said to be a big hit in Germany. You may view this calendar in its entirety online. [h/t The Awl]

Adorable vintage microcars


I want to own all of the gemlike microcars of the mid-20th century seen here on Fine Car's flickrstream.

Avis bought Zipcar

Avis bought Zipcar for $500 million. Hertz, don't it? (Washington Post)

Ford 1957 concept car

This futuristic concept car from 1957, designed for kittens, was one of Ford's bolder experiments. (Via X-Ray Delta One)

Should there be a standard user interface for cars?

Jason Torchinsky of Jalopnik says: "I have a post up that I though BB people may be interested in, about if it makes sense to standardize UI for cars -- most of our car-folk readers are against it, but I think a more general audience might feel differently."

1. Common Controls

Really, we're just about at a standard for these, but not quite. It's being so close but not quite there that makes this category so annoying. Since I drive a good number of different cars as part of my work, I encounter many, many different dashboard and control layouts. It's not really a big deal to adapt to a new car's controls, but it's not entirely seamless, either.

For example, I'll sometimes drive off in an unfamiliar car, and a minute or so into my trip realize I need to defrost/defog the rear window. So I can, you know, see. This particular act is almost always confounding — the rear window defogger/defroster is by far the most randomly placed control in all of motordom. Sometimes it's snuggled up with the HVAC controls, all indistinguishable from the windshield defogger, with its magic rising snakes icon. Sometimes it's over on the left, near where the mirror controls sometimes are, sometimes it's stuck on the center console, and I've even owned a car where it was an unmarked switch under the dash. Nobody has any idea where to put the damn thing. From what I can tell, where they end up placing it seems to be dictated by wherever the guy who realized they forgot it slapped it on.

Read the rest

Google’s driver-less cars and robot morality

In the New Yorker, an essay by Gary Marcus on the ethical and legal implications of Google's driver-less cars which argues that these automated vehicles "usher in the era in which it will no longer be optional for machines to have ethical systems."

Marcus writes,

Your car is speeding along a bridge at fifty miles per hour when errant school bus carrying forty innocent children crosses its path. Should your car swerve, possibly risking the life of its owner (you), in order to save the children, or keep going, putting all forty kids at risk? If the decision must be made in milliseconds, the computer will have to make the call.

Mobile office earns man a fine

Police in Saarland, Germany, pulled over a man for speeding. In his car, they discovered an unusually extensive mobile workplace: a computer set up for use from the driver's seat, a printer, a router, a wireless networking dongle, a dash-mounted navigation system and a mountain of other junk. He was fined for having "unsecured items" in his car, according to reports. [Times Online]

2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year: Tesla S

Teslassssss

For the first time ever, the winner of the 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year is not powered by an internal combustion engine; it is the all-electric Tesla S. Not surprisingly, Motor Trend is also spinning the news as a big win for American innovation. "2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year: Tesla Model S"

George Barris, the 87-year-old king of "kar kustomizers," profiled in LA Times

For 70 years George Barris has been "taking ordinary vehicles and mutating them into hell-for-leather roadsters," many of which are now part of automotive history.

"Others have been immortalized on television and in the movies," writes W.J. Hennigan in the Los Angeles Times.

"He turned a 1955 Ford Lincoln Futura into the Batmobile. He stretched out a Model T body and, with a few tweaks, made it into the ghastly vehicle that the Munsters drove in the TV show."

There's a video, too (non-embeddable).

Hot Wheels corkscrew jump with real car

As a kid, did you do insane stunts with your Hot Wheels cars? So do the people at the Hot Wheels Test Facility, but with real cars. This 92-foot "corkscrew jump" broke the world record. "Making of" video here.

How to build a better speed limit

Sometime in November, Texas will open a stretch of toll road south of Austin where the speed limit will be 85 miles per hour.It will be the highest speed limit in America.

Read the rest

Communist Porsche turned away at Lithuanian border

Lithuania denied entry to a Belarussian man who turned up in a Porsche painted with the Soviet flag, replete with hammer and sickle: "The border guards suggested the driver leave his car behind and enter Lithuania by foot or by bus, which he refused to do." [Reuters]

Toyota's Camette concept car

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Campsite has photos of a Toyota concept car called the Camette, "developed to attract the growing younger market of drivers."
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(Via The Fox is Black)

Car heads down subway stairs


A driver tried to drive into the Chaussee d'Antin La Fayette Metro station in Paris on Tuesday, reportedly having mistaken it for a subterranean parking garage. The driver, who gave his name as Johan, told AFP: "There's a sign saying 'Haussmann Parking' right in front (of the Metro entrance), and ... I made a mistake."

Parisian drives car down Metro stairs [AFP. Photo: REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen]

Using math to get out of a traffic ticket

We've talked about arXiv here before. It's a pre-print server for scientific papers in the fields of physics, mathematics, and computer sciences. Basically, what that means is that scientists can post papers to the site without first putting that research through the process of peer review. And that's not a bad thing. ArXiv is a great way for scientists and mathematicians to critique each other's work and do a little bit of vetting before submitting the paper to peer review. That's why the faster-than-light neutrino reports were published on arXiv—the results looked so crazy that the researchers wanted their colleagues to figure out what had gone wrong before a prestigious journal got involved. It's a way of collaborating.

The other nice thing about arXiv: It's a great home for interesting data that doesn't necessarily have a place in a formal, peer-reviewed journal.

Case in point: "The Proof of Innocence", a paper in which physicist Dmitri Krioukov uses math to explain why the cop who stopped him for running a stop sign was clearly seeing things. Physics Central summarizes the first step in this defense:

When Krioukov drove toward the stop sign the police officer was approximating Krioukov's angular velocity instead of his linear velocity. This happens when we try to estimate the speed of a passing object, and the effect is more pronounced for faster objects.

Trains, for instance, appear to be moving very slowly when they are far away, but they speed past when they finally reach us. Despite these two different observations at different distances, the train maintains a roughly constant velocity throughout its trip.

In Krioukov's case, the police cruiser was situated about 100 feet away from a perpendicular intersection with a stop sign. Consequently, a car approaching the intersection with constant linear velocity will rapidly increase in angular velocity from the police officer's perspective.

Krioukov's basic argument: The officer thought he saw Krioukov speed right through the sign. But he was wrong. Instead, Krioukov stopped at the sign, but stopped very quickly and sped up quickly, both of which happened out of the cop's direct line of sight.

It's worth noting that this argument was good enough to get Krioukov out of a $400 fine.

Read Krioukov's paper.

Read the summary on Physics Central.

Image: Stop, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from misteraitch's photostream

How traffic jams are born

A couple of years ago, Cory posted a really interesting story about the mathematics behind seemingly cause-less traffic jams. It's pretty interesting. Shorter version: The researchers think jams like this are caused by one person braking, and the response to that slow down moves through dense traffic in a way that is mathematically very similar to the shock wave from an explosion. Once you have enough density of cars on a road, jams are inevitable.

Cory's post included a simulation, showing what the mathematics might look like in the real world. Basically, a computer algorithm figured out how drivers would behave if the mathematical theory were correct and turned that behavior into a little cartoon of cars moving around a track.

But here's the really cool thing. This effect has actually been demonstrated in meatspace. Yesterday, a friend sent me a video from 2008, showing real life drivers behaving in almost the exact same way as the simulation video from Cory's post. That's what you see posted above. Now, these are not exactly real-world conditions. A flat circular track may, or may not, be a good representative for what happens on the highway—I, for one, would be interested in seeing how on/off ramps, hills, and curves change the patterns. Also, the drivers in this case were other students and faculty from the Nakanihon Automotive College, and the study doesn't say whether they knew why they were driving in circles. Again, these details could affect the outcome.

I've not been able to find any studies that test this mathematical model by documenting real-world traffic flows. But if you've got links, I'd love to see them! The idea behind this theory certainly makes sense and it would be interesting to know whether it matches up with the reality you and I experience.

Video Link

Thanks, Andrew Balfour!

DeLorean buffed to mirror-finish

On the Autopia forums, AkamaiDetailing recently unveiled his brushed-steel DeLorean, polished and buffed to a mirror finish: "This took an insane amount of time, but it was so worth it. Has anyone else done this before?" They have indeed.

Electric cars suck

Joel Johnson, formerly of Kotaku and Boing Boing Gadgets, is now at Jalopnik. His first editorial: You Are Not Alone. America Hates Electric Cars.

Footage from test runs of Google driverless cars

Google has been testing out its self-driving cars on real roads. This is still a long way from being available for you to purchase, but it's clear that it's working surprisingly well on a technological level.

You can watch some footage, recorded in the driverless cars during their test runs, in the video above. IEEE Spectrum's Erico Guizzo (who, incidentally, says he's a lot less skeptical of Google's goals after seeing this video) explains what makes the system work.

Two things seem particularly interesting about Google's approach. First, it relies on very detailed maps of the roads and terrain, something that Urmson said is essential to determine accurately where the car is. Using GPS-based techniques alone, he said, the location could be off by several meters.

The second thing is that, before sending the self-driving car on a road test, Google engineers drive along the route one or more times to gather data about the environment. When it's the autonomous vehicle's turn to drive itself, it compares the data it is acquiring to the previously recorded data, an approach that is useful to differentiate pedestrians from stationary objects like poles and mailboxes.

The video above shows the results. At one point you can see the car stopping at an intersection. After the light turns green, the car starts a left turn, but there are pedestrians crossing. No problem: It yields to the pedestrians, and even to a guy who decides to cross at the last minute.

Video Link

Via Bryan Walsh

Teen driving restrictions don't have as big an impact as expected

My friend Jim captured this excellent moment in science reporting this morning. Thankfully, as I check Google News now, the headlines are drifting more towards the real story, which is fairly interesting. Turns out, deadly car accidents aren't so much a function of driver age as they are a function of driver experience.

Basically, over the past few decades, several states have placed stringent limits on teenage drivers—usually when they can drive, and who they can drive with. The idea was to separate first-time drivers from risky driving situations, and a lot of people assumed these measures were saving lives. Instead, we now know, the rules merely shifted when the deadly accidents happened. Some lives were saved. But, in general, the results were pretty much a wash.

The researchers found that states with the most restrictive graduated licensing programs — such as those that required supervised driving time as well as having night-driving restrictions and passenger limitations — saw a 26% reduction in the rate of fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers compared with states without any restrictions.

But the rate of fatal crashes among 18-year-old drivers in those states jumped 12% compared with the states without restrictions.

A similar trend was seen when comparing drivers in states with strong graduated licensing programs with those in states with weak programs: The rate of fatal crashes among 16-year-old drivers was 16% lower but was 10% higher among 18-year-old drivers.

Overall, since the first program was enacted in 1996, graduated programs were linked to 1,348 fewer fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers and 1,086 more fatal crashes involving 18-year-old drivers.

The speculative response: You can place restrictions on new drivers that limit their exposure to situations where mistakes are likely to happen. But, eventually, they'll have to navigate those situations on their own. And when they do, the mistakes creep back in. So maybe we need to look for a better way to mitigate the mistakes than simply instituting age-dependent restrictions. Personally, I wonder what the results would be if driving education included time to practice driving (either virtually or on a test course) with the distractions they're likely to encounter in real life. I know I learned how to drive and talk at the same time, and how to know when to shut everybody up, by experience. Maybe there's a way to do that in a safer environment.