Project Runningblade will attempt 100+ MPH lawnmower land speed record

Project Runningblade – Click the image for the high-res image gallery

by Jeremy Korzeniewski

There are some people who would tell you that Formula 1 is the pinnacle of four-wheeled motorsports. Those of us in the know, however, have other ideas. Clearly, F1 ain’t got nothin’ on a well-tuned John Deer. That’s right, we’re talking about the competitive world of lawnmower racing.

For those who don’t know, American Bob Cleveland currently holds the record for the World’s Fastest Lawnmower, which was set at 80.7929 miles per hour at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2006. If Don Wales of the UK has anything to say about it, though, that record will fall by May 23rd as Project Runningblade takes a crack at 100 mph.

In case you were wondering, Runningblade is powered by a Kawasaki V-twin engine that is in fact designed for lawnmower duty and can indeed cut grass… at 100 miles per hour. If I had had that at my disposal when living as a teenager in Ohio, perhaps cutting the back 40 wouldn’t have been so bad after all.

See our high-res image gallery below and check out the video pasted after the break. There, you’ll also find a press release from Toyota touting the use of its diesel-powered Hilux pickup as the transportation and support vehicle for the project.

Follow link for Video ->


California’s ‘happy cow’ ads will be filmed in New Zealand

Sarah Gilbert

The “happy cows” advertisements sponsored by the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) always have me wondering if the state’s agriculture department isn’t colluding with the tourism department (those ads where California’s famous residents complain about how hard they’re working, as they surf and be glamorous and, you know, play governor on TV). Cows are happier in California? I’m sure Vermont’s cows would beg to differ!

The New Zealand cows, soon, will have a say in the matter because the CMAB is bringing its production crews to Auckland, New Zealand, to shoot a new series of 10 commercials claiming that California cows are happier. That’s right. New Zealand will stand in for California in a series of TV ads arguing that the Golden State’s milk is superior.

At issue is, of course, cost. Film production is pricey in California, and that’s why many movies, TV shows and commercials have fled to far-away locales from New Zealand and Australia to Canada and Portland, Ore. In response, the state recently began a film tax credit program, giving back approximately $100 million annually between 2009 and 2014. The credits, however, are reserved only for TV and movie production, not ads.


So the CMAB — which is funded by dairy farmers throughout the state, but supervised by the California Department of Food and Agriculture — is, as VP of advertising Michael Freeman told the LA Times, exercising its “fiduciary responsibility to spend [the dairy farmers’] hard-earned dollars as efficiently as we can” and taking the cameras to New Zealand. The board argues that the filming is a “minor portion of production” and that all the cows that are identified as Californian in the ads will be actual California cows. The board says all its post-production work, about 80% of the total job, will be done in California.

To throw a little stinky fuel on the fire, PETA is renewing its 2002 argument that these commercials are part of a campaign of false advertising. PETA claims that dairy cows in California are anything but happy and don’t live in such lovely lush fields, but in fact are cooped up in manure-filled barns. The organization is filing a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

And by all accounts, New Zealand cows are quite happy. The country is known for its lush climate with plenty of meadowland perfect for feeding dairy cows. PETA, I’m guessing, would approve.

The Truth About 2012 Doomsday Hype

091105-mayan-temple-01By Benjamin Radford

2012 is coming very soon. The movie, that is — the disaster film directed by Roland Emmerich depicting global catastrophe of Biblical proportions. The year itself is of course a few dozen months away, and there is growing interest, excitement, and concern for both events.

The film “2012,” which opens Nov. 13, takes place, rather obviously, in the year 2012, though it could have been set in 1995 or 2013. The movie’s disasters have no particular link to that year, it’s just when the Earth happens to start burping earthquakes and farting fire. 2012 made a perfect promotional hook for the film, because the ancient Mayans predicted that the world would end that year, if not specifically on December 21, 2012.

That’s one story, anyway.

Whether or not 2012 will bring cataclysmic volcanism or a great flood, it has undeniably brought a flood of books. New Age and doomsday authors have been cranking out 2012-themed books at an amazing pace over the past few years; there are literally thousands of such titles in print, with more on the way.

While many authors and 2012 “experts” are playing up the doomsday scenario, others believe that the year will bring not disaster but a new era of global harmony (as in what did not happen with the so-called Harmonic Convergence in 1987). It seems that anyone with access to a keyboard and an opinion on 2012 (or prophecy in general) is trying to cash in. (It will be interesting to see how many of those books will be for sale on for one cent on Jan. 1, 2013.)

Mayan myth

In fact, the link between global catastrophe and Mayan calendar-based prophecy is largely fiction. Ads for “2012” begin with the phrase, “The Mayans warned us,” though of course the Mayans did not “warn” anyone — they simply had a calendar system that happens to “end” in 2012, much as the way the Gregorian calendar on my office wall “ends” on Dec. 31.

The Mayans never said the world would end that year, and modern Mayans have shown irritation with how their culture has been co-opted into pop culture notions and Hollywood blockbuster film promotions.

John Major Jenkins, a Maya scholar and author of “The 2012 Story,” notes that “when the 2012 bug started to bite the mainstream press and many more books started to appear, authors and the media were pulling the 2012 topic in predictably weird directions.”

The 2012 link to the Maya is not a hoax; their calendar does in fact conclude in that year. Just what that means — if anything — is the question.

Of course, the Mayans were only one of dozens of major civilizations, and there is no particular reason to assume that the Mayan calendar is any more cosmically significant or valid than any of hundreds of other calendar systems used throughout history.

Appealing mysticism

So why this focus on the Mayans?

Part of the reason the New Age crowd has embraced the Mayan calendar (instead of, say, the Hindu calendar) is that the Mayans fit perfectly into their ideas about the ancient wisdom of the “noble savage.” Belief that ancient civilizations (such as the Mayans and Egyptians) were far more advanced than often claimed permeates New Age thought, and the idea that Mayan mystics somehow knew of the world’s end millennia ago is very appealing.

There have also been several outright hoaxes connected to 2012, most notably the claim that Nibiru, a non-existent planet supposedly discovered by the ancient Sumerians, will encounter Earth in 2012 and cause havoc, including a reversal of the geomagnetic poles.

NASA has been accused of covering up the existence of Nibiru, presumably to prevent mass panic (a theme that also appears in the film). Doomsdays come and go, but conspiracy theories are forever.

Benjamin Radford is managing editor of the Skeptical Inquirer science magazine. His books, films, and other projects can be found on his website. His Bad Science column appears regularly on LiveScience.

Plants Recognize Siblings: ID System In Roots

091014144734-largeHarsh Bais, University of Delaware assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, and doctoral student Meredith Bierdrzycki with Arabidopsis plants in the laboratory at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Delaware)

Plants may not have eyes and ears, but they can recognize their siblings, and researchers at the University of Delaware have discovered how.

The ID system lies in the roots and the chemical cues they secrete.

The finding not only sheds light on the intriguing sensing system in plants, but also may have implications for agriculture and even home gardening.

The study, which is reported in the scientific journal Communicative & Integrative Biology, was led by Harsh Bais, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences at the University of Delaware.

Canadian researchers published in 2007 that sea rocket, a common seashore plant, can recognize its siblings — plants grown from seeds from the same mother.

Susan Dudley, an evolutionary plant ecologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and her colleagues observed that when siblings are grown next to each other in the soil, they “play nice” and don’t send out more roots to compete with one another.

However, the moment one of the plants is thrown in with strangers, it begins competing with them by rapidly growing more roots to take up the water and mineral nutrients in the soil.

Bais, who has conducted a variety of research on plant signaling systems, read Dudley’s study and wanted to find the mechanism behind the sibling recognition.

“Plants have no visible sensory markers, and they can’t run away from where they are planted,” Bais says. “It then becomes a search for more complex patterns of recognition.”

Working in his laboratory at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute, a major center for life sciences research at UD, Bais and doctoral student Meredith Biedrzycki set up a study with wild populations of Arabidopsis thaliana.

They utilized wild populations to avoid issues with this common laboratory-bred species, which “always has cousins floating around in the lab,” Bais says.

In a series of experiments, young seedlings were exposed to liquid media containing the root secretions or “exudates” from siblings, from strangers (non-siblings), or only their own exudates.

The length of the longest lateral root and of the hypocotyl, the first leaf-like structure that forms on the plant, were measured.

Additionally, in one experiment, the root exudates were inhibited by sodium orthovanadate, which specifically blocks root secretions without imparting adverse growth effects on roots.

The exposure of plants to the root exudates of strangers induced greater lateral root formation than exposure of plants to sibling exudates. Stranger recognition was abolished upon treatment with the secretion inhibitor.

Biedrzycki did the painstaking laboratory research, rotating more than 3,000 plants involved in the study every day for seven consecutive days and documenting the root patterns.

“The research was very painstaking because Arabidopsis roots are nearly translucent when they are young and were also tangled when I removed them from plates, so measuring the roots took a great amount of patience,” Biedrzycki notes.

“This manuscript is very important for my research since the focus of my thesis project is understanding the biochemical mechanism behind root secretions,” she says. “This research has allowed me to probe the natural mechanism of kin recognition and root secretion.”

The study was replicated by Dudley’s lab in Canada, with similar results.

Strangers planted next to each other are often shorter, Bais notes, because so much of their energy is directed at root growth.

Because siblings aren’t competing against each other, their roots are often much shallower.

Bais says he and his colleagues also have noticed that as sibling plants grow next to each other, their leaves often will touch and intertwine compared to strangers that grow rigidly upright and avoid touching.

The study leaves a lot of unanswered questions that Bais hopes to explore further. How might sibling plants grown in large “monocultures,” such as corn or other major crop plants, be affected? Are they more susceptible to pathogens? And how do they survive without competing?

“It’s possible that when kin are grown together, they may balance their nutrient uptake and not be greedy,” Bais speculates.

The research also may have implications for the home gardener.

“Often we’ll put plants in the ground next to each other and when they don’t do well, we blame the local garden center where we bought them or we attribute their failure to a pathogen,” Bais says. “But maybe there’s more to it than that.”

Bais’s research was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and by the NSF-Delaware Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). The Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada provided research funding to Dudley.

Journal reference:

  1. Meredith L. Biedrzycki, Tafari A. Jilany, Susan A. Dudley and Harsh P. Bais. Root exudates mediate kin recognition in plants. Communicative & Integrative Biology, Volume 3, Issue 1 (January/February 2010) [link]
Adapted from materials provided by University of Delaware. Original article written by Tracey Bryant.

World’s First Drive-Through Museum Coming to China

drive-through-museum-nanjing-chinaFrom the Just What We Needed Dept.
Combining China’s growing enthusiasm for private museums with its increasing appetite for driving, the new Nanjing Automobile Museum is set to be the world’s first drive-through museum.

Visitors drive their cars around the building’s angular origami-like spiral to the roof, where they park and continue by descending through the building’s exhibits on foot. When they get to the bottom, an elevator shuttles them back up to their waiting cars.

Why didn’t someone think of this sooner?

As Architectural Record reported in June,

Visitors to an Automobile Museum planned for Nanjing will drive their cars into the building and up an undulating, uneven ramp to the roof. As designed by Architecture Studio, which has offices in Shanghai and Rome, the 15,000-square-meter museum will offer a drive-through experience, as well as exhibitions, restaurants, shops, a special events space, an automobile sales office, a design center, and laboratories to be visited on foot.”We designed a building geared to the automobile, where the car is the point of reference,” says Francesco Gatti, the principal of 3Gatti. Gatti’s design is “dedicated to the car as an object of desire, a world to explore, a technology to study and an article to display,” explains the architect. He imagines “a dynamic building with surfaces that are continuous and fluid, without interruptions,” so it recalls the sensation of moving along a road, explains Gatti.

The design strikes a different chord from another prominent Italian-Chinese collaboration: a continuing partnership for environmental protection. One proud result has been the Sino-Italian Tsinghua Environment and Energy Efficient Building, a research center plastered in solar panels (though most of the high-tech materials came from Italy, and it’s said to be weak at passive cooling and heating).

Technically, the Nanjing museum may not be the world’s first drive-through museum. In 2004, the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor opened, paying homage to the first coast-to-coast road across America — from Times Square to San Francisco — which was completed in 1925. But that museum is actually a 200-mile long road with stops along the way, not a parking lot-as-museum.

Frank Lloyd Wright Was Here
If the design of the Nanjing museum looks familiar, that’s because Frank Lloyd Wright designed something like it eighty years ago. His un-built (and wonderfully-named) 1925 Gordon Strong Automobile Objective for Frederick, MD, also relied on a similar rotunda for cars. Wright, who detested density and loved the automobile, would of course borrow the idea for his crowning achievement, New York’s Guggenheim Museum.

Though the Guggenheim’s rotunda is for people, not cars, it was a Chinese artist, Cai Guo-Qiang, who introduced a few automobiles into the space last year.

But not as Shanghai Automotive might have envisioned: Cai’s cars were tumbling through the middle of the rotunda, action-movie style.

A Monument to China’s Growing Car Love
The exhibits in Nanjing probably won’t feature any blown-up cars. They are intended to showcase instead Nanjing’s role as an important automobile manufacturing center.

For all of the hype surrounding China’s green revolution, the museum is a reminder of the special place the car has achieved in the Bicycle Kingdom, both for consumers and the largely state-run industry that manufactures them. (There is a bicycle museum, in Bazhou, Hebei, where the exhibits, report People’s Daily, “will make you long for the good old days.“)

But how cool would it have been if the Nanjing government, one of the clients, had demanded the building be designed with energy-efficiency and natural ventilation in mind, something like what Coop-Himmelblau did with the BMW Welt in Munich?

In any case, it will be interesting to see to what place the country’s much-hyped electric cars will have in the museum when it opens, likely next year.


More Cars in China at TreeHugger
My Car: Italian Designed, Chinese Built
To Chinese, Cars First, then Sustainable Consumption
Why China Loves Transformers (And Why We Should All Be A Little Worried
China’s Cars Come in Green: the Shanghai Auto Show
Chang’an Rolls Out Its First Hybrid
China Cars: Public Enemy No. 1
The Race to Build a Car for Less than $3000

(Just Dumb) – Marathon winner disqualified for wearing iPod

I am labeling this just dumb, since t marathon is run on a protected course, there shouldn’t be a problem with listening to an iPod as long as it isn’t turned up so you can’t hear anything else (I am sure the volume level can be tested).

(The Article)

So why should they be prevented from humming along to a little Jo Jo Gunne or being soothed by a lecture from Dr. Sanjay Gupta along the way?

I only ask because in the recent and extremely celebrated Lakefront Marathon in Milwaukee, Jennifer Goebel was disqualified from her rightful position of winner.

According to the Journal-Sentinel, Goebel was garlanded with victory only after Cassie Peller, who actually ran the fastest, was erased from the podium because she accepted liquid from someone who was not manning an official watering station. Which does seem to be on the wrong side of fastidious.

Goebel was then declared to have won. But her afterglow of superiority only lasted a couple of days.

Some no doubt anally mean-spirited individual examined a photo of Goebel taken during the race and noticed an iPod discreetly tucked into her shorts.

Goebel, a massage therapist in real life, was competing in the elite part of the marathon and these highly tuned women are subject to the whims of the USA Track and Field bureaucracy.

These waxy eared folks frown on the use of iPods while sweating. Well, at least I think they do. It appears that the rule was changed not so long ago to allow race directors the discretion to ignore the rule if they so choose.

Goebel is, understandably, somewhat miffed.

“I wasn’t listening to it earlier in the race,” she told the Journal-Sentinel. “I wasn’t going to put the music on unless I thought I needed it.”

And of course she needed it. Running a marathon is the athletic equivalent of knitting a wedding marquee.

As Goebel herself so eloquently put it: “If you’re bored, it pumps you up a little bit. Sometimes, on a long training run, I’ll bring it along for the last half hour. When I run marathons sometimes I carry it and never put it on.”

She only listened between miles 19 and 21, which–if you ask most runners–is the time that you are ready to eat raw elk and physically assault a mail box.

Anyone who believes it will improve their life to don a pair of New Balance and run until their knees squeak like wounded varmints should not be subjected to silly little rules. They should be allowed to eat, drink and listen to whatever gets them to the other end of the experience.

Although perhaps there should be a no Kenny G rule? For safety’s sake, you understand.

Roof tiles change color based on the temperature, your house’s mood

mit-tileSomething to probably make you laugh.

Ideally your entire roof would be comprised of solar tiles that would meet your entire house’s energy demands and would also water your lawn and clean your gutters while they were up there. But, despite pledges of “affordability” something tells us it’ll be awhile before your roof starts juicing your gadgets. This solution from MIT looks a little more practical — and affordable. They’re simply tiles that change color based on the temperature, Hypercolor style. In the cold they turn jet black, absorbing the sun’s warmth and channeling that into the house. In heat they turn white, reflecting that same light and cutting down on cooling bills. Simple and smart. The MIT team calls the tech Thermeleon, and while early prototypes do change color as designed, it remains to be seen how durable the tech will be, and a leaky roof is no good regardless of how efficient. Asphalt shingles reign supreme for yet another year.