A ring tone for your car

Electric cars are quiet. Therefore, no one can hear them coming. Therefore, they are hazardous. So engineers are working to develop artificial sounds for them. Under consideration are chimes, melodies, and a whirring sound.

Once all cars are electric, can you imagine the sounds of a busy street? What if the sound is chimes? It would be Edgar Allen Poe all over again: “Oh, the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells.” And then what if all the drivers’ cell phones start ringing?

India probe finds water on the moon

A lunar probe sent off by India has found evidence that the moon has water. That may make a moon colony possible. But it might not be an American colony. I wonder if this breakthrough may signal a shift away from American scientific and technological dominance to that of Asian countries that are doing a better job of educating their children in math and science than we are.

Need help with your blog?

Some time ago, I enlisted the aid of a student, Stewart, to update my blog software. He also added all kinds of bells and whistles that you can’t see but that make my blogging much easier. Now Stewart and some of his comrades at Patrick Henry College have put together a business: Bulldog Technology. Armed with the necessary certifications, they can do everything from designing your website to fixing your hardware. They claim to offer the best service at the lowest prices. Their site, linked above, lists their services and features an easily-filled-out form for getting a price quote. The site also gives testimonials from satisfied customers and includes a remarkably lucid and non-technical blog about the latest useful online software. If you need help, as I always do, I can vouch for these guys.

President caves to the Russians

President Obama cancelled the planned missile shield that we had promised Poland and Czechoslovakia, capitulating to the demands of Vladimir Putin. See Dismay in Europe as Obama ditches missile defence – Times Online .

The decision was relayed to the governments of the Czech Republic and Poland both by Mr Obama himself, in telephone calls last night, and by US officials visiting the region. The President assured both governments that the decision would not compromise their security.

But it clearly prompted some dismay in Central and Eastern Europe, where the Bush plan had been seen as an effective guarantor of US support for the fledgling democracies of the old Soviet empire. It will also send a chill through Russia’s neighbours.

“This is not good news for the Czech state, for Czech freedom and independence,” said Mirek Topolanek, the former Czech Prime Minister. “It puts us in a position where we are not firmly anchored in terms of partnership, security and alliance, and that’s a certain threat.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that it welcomed reports of the US decision but would wait for official confirmation before making a detailed response. A spokesman said: “Such a development would be in line with the interests of our relations with the United States.”

Ironically, the President made his announcement on the 70th anniversary of the Russian invasion of Poland.

The man who saved a billion lives

The man who solved the world’s food problem, Norman Borlaug, died at 95. His applications of agricultural science launched the so-called “green revolution,” not in the sense of environmentalism but in growing an abundance of green, productive plant life.

Scientist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug rose from his childhood on an Iowa farm to develop a type of wheat that helped feed the world, fostering a movement that is credited with saving up to 1 billion people from starvation.

Borlaug, 95, died Saturday from complications of cancer at his Dallas home, said Kathleen Phillips, a spokesman for Texas A&M University where Borlaug was a distinguished professor.
“Norman E. Borlaug saved more lives than any man in human history,” said Josette Sheeran, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program. “His heart was as big as his brilliant mind, but it was his passion and compassion that moved the world.”

He was known as the father of the “green revolution,” which transformed agriculture through high-yield crop varieties and other innovations, helping to more than double world food production between 1960 and 1990. Many experts credit the green revolution with averting global famine during the second half of the 20th century and saving perhaps 1 billion lives.

Now there is a life that made a difference. Food shortages continue, of course, but the causes are nearly always political and economic, not because of limited food production. Lars Walker notes a Lutheran connection.

Bob Dylan as the voice of your navigation device

Navigation device manufacturers are talking to Bob Dylan about using his voice to give the GPS directions:

The enigmatic troubadour said on his satellite radio program that he is negotiating with two car manufacturers to be the voice of their in-car navigation systems. Insert your own Dylan-lyric pun here about “no direction home” or “there must be some way out of here” or “how many roads . . . .”

The wonder of this might not be that Dylan is selling out — he has already done that by appearing in ads for Victoria’s Secret, Pepsi, Cadillac and others, and he’ll be singing “Here Comes Santa Claus” on a forthcoming Christmas album — but that his famously raspy and mumbly voice would be suited for directions-challenged drivers.

Dylan himself wasn’t even so sure about that. On his BBC radio show he gave listeners a preview of his would-be GPS vocals: “Left at the next street. No, right. You know what? Just go straight.”

He also noted: “I probably shouldn’t do it because whichever way I go, I always end up at one place — on Lonely Avenue. Luckily, I’m not totally alone. Ray Charles beat me there.”

Can anyone explain how the voices are connected to the computerized directions? Would Bob have to read the names of every street in America, with then the computer providing the association and the intonation? Would this gig mean just reading a long list of words that don’t go together, sort of like some of his songs? (I had assumed that the voices were all computer-generated, but I have since learned that, as here, actual human beings do the talking and the back-street driving.) But I can’t imagine how that can be made to work. Somebody please explain.

Also, along the lines of this first paragraph, can you think of other Dylan lines that would fit this project?