GM seems to have killed the ignition switch by killing people?

Photo: Jeff_Golden
Photo: Jeff_Golden

General Motors is currently finding itself up digested food creek with no adequate means of propulsion due to what, in staying with a long US media tradition of tying any- and everything with Nixon’s sneak peek at stuff that wasn’t rightfully his to look at, has been called ‘Switchgate’

Thee case itself is deadly serious, literally deadly. So far 13 deaths have been linked to problems with the company’s ignition switch.

GM is in the process of recalling more than 2.5 million cars that could potentially have faulty ignition key systems.

The case has led Bloomberg to speculate whether this is the end of turning on cars as we know it – which has basically involved using a system that has been more or less antiquated since the 60s or 70s.

Now the story is quite serious, so will try and stay away from puns involving key questions, but it is worth noting that it has taken 13 deaths for one car company to think about abandoning an antiquated model of just turning on a vehicle.

Any bets on how long it would take the big car companies to really turn towards electrical vehicles and/or autonomous vehicles?


Russia tells US astronauts to use trampoline if they want to go into space

Photo: Peter Werkman
Photo: Peter Werkman

In a case of ‘did he really say that???’ the Russia – Ukraine conflict has gone into space…or has started to involve exactly who gets into space and how.

The Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin recently lashed out against the US over its stance on Ukraine and the sanctions imposed on Russia because of the on-going conflict.

“The U.S. introduced sanctions against our space industry. God knows, we warned them: we respond to declarations w/ declarations, to actions w/ actions,” Rogozin tweeted, before adding:

“After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest the U.S. delivers its astronauts to the ISS [international space station] with a trampoline.”

While more serious media have discussed whether or not this is an actual threat or not (Russian space shuttles are the only way of reaching the ISS at the moment, but any sort of swordplay would likely send the US into the arms of SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, meaning no more money for the already cash strapped Russian aerospace industry) I have only one thing on my mind right now:

I would truly love to see a trampoline capable of sending a man into outer space (of course, the impact and speeds reached would push an astro-jumper’s leg bones up past his ears before he or she reached the stratosphere…but I still want to see the trampoline!).

Japan draws up plans for solar power stations in space


To fans of science fiction, the idea of having solar power stations in space sending down energy to Earth is far from new.

News is, however, the fact that Japan have drawn up plans for exactly such a power station.

The idea, which is still just an idea, goes as follows:

Take an island, fill it witl billions of tiny rectifying antennas able of converting microwave energy into DC electricity. Run a cable from the island, where no-one is going to want to live, because of the radiation, to the mainland. Now take a handfull (or two) of solar collectors, shoot them into space and have them set up in a geosynchronous orbit and beam down microwaves onto the island from 36 000 km above Earth.

Sounds great, and as long as the whole thing worked according to plan. If the solar collectors missed their target, or someone decided to tinker with the whole setup, things could be very, very different.

Imagine a giant microwave oven, and then stuff the population of Tokyo into it…..

Should you be scared of asteroids? Nuclear test monitoring group says yes

Foto: Howard Dickins
Foto: Howard Dickins

I’m old enough to (sort of) remember the old Asteroids computer game. Altough life on Earth is not quite as dogged by pieces of comets and interstellar debris hunting you around as was the case for the hero of the game, it turns out we have more to fear from asteroids than previously thought – or, as the BBC so charmingly put it, we ‘underappreciate’ the risk.

The news comes from the B612 foundation who usually monitor nuclear tests.

“Between 2000 and 2013, a network of sensors that monitors Earth around the clock listening for the infrasound signature of nuclear detonations detected 26 explosions on Earth ranging in energy from 1 to 600 kilotons – all caused not by nuclear explosions, but rather by asteroid impacts. These findings were recently released from the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, which operates the network,” the group says on its website, adding that:

“To put this data in perspective, the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945 exploded with an energy impact of 15 kilotons. While most of these asteroids exploded too high in the atmosphere to do serious damage on the ground, the evidence is important in estimating the frequency of a potential “city-killer-size” asteroid.”

Chinese pollution drives US freak storms?


According to the UK newspaper The Guardian, air pollution in China might be responsible for altering weather patterns over the Pacific Ocean, leading to an increase in freak weather phenomenon in the US.

The article quotes scientists from Texas, California and Washington, who have used advanced computer models to study how the tiny particles released by pollution in China and elsewhere interacts with the atmosphere.

One of effect of the particles seems to be a change to what is known as the Pacific storm track, which refers to a part of the ocean where storms that later hit the US often originate.

“Mid-latitude storms develop off Asia and they track across the Pacific, coming in to the west coast of the US,” said Ellie Highwood, a climate physicist at the University of Reading told the Guardian.

“The particles in this model are affecting how strong those storms are, how dense the clouds are, and how much rainfall comes out of those storms.”

In other words, burning coal in China can lead to freak storms in the US. Anyone need another reason for looking at man-made climate change?

Smile! FBI facial recognition database set to pass 50 million recorded pictures


The FBI’s Next-Generation Identification (NGI) scheme, is snapping up pictures left, right and centre. According to data dug up by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the scheme, which is the bureau’s giant biometric database, will include more than 50 million images of peoples’ faces by 2015.

The database will include photos like mugshots, but according to the documentation found by the EFF also contain photos of non-criminals.

“Currently, if you apply for any type of job that requires fingerprinting or a background check, your prints are sent to and stored by the FBI in its civil print database. However, the FBI has never before collected a photograph along with those prints. This is changing with NGI. Now an employer could require you to provide a “mug shot” photo along with your fingerprints. If that’s the case, then the FBI will store both your face print and your fingerprints along with your biographic data,” Jennifer Lynch, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, writes in a piece for Ars Technica.

Basically, you need to stay unemployed if you want to stay out of the database…thanks, FBI.

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