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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Why Lead-Footed Car Geeks Should Actually Buy an Alt-Fuel Ride

With fresh looks at the startup brainiacs building li-ion batteries and the lab rats reinventing the engine, you might say PM's Future Car Week is a tree-hugger's delight. But the hard-throttle automotive enthusiast has to deal with these damn gas prices, too! We asked our favorite car blogger if he'd pony up for a Prius—or something better.
Yup, it's a 23-mpg clean diesel! After its initial unveiling in off-silver nearly stole the Detroit auto show from the Corvette ZR1, Audi's R8 V12 TDi showed off a red finish in Geneva. (Photograph by Jim McCraw)

DETROIT — These days while I'm sitting—and sitting, and sitting—in line waiting for the next pump at the local fill 'er up, I like to daydream. After all, when getting gas turns from nasal nuisance to an exercise in pure torture, an escape from reality can make a lot of sense for an automotive junkie. I wasn’t exactly born yesterday, but it does kind of feel like only yesterday that I could buy a gallon of fuel for less than the gallon of milk sitting steps away at the station’s minimart. Ah, the memories. Or maybe that’s just a hallucination brought on by the gas fumes I’m huffing as the reels on the pump go round and round like some insane slot machine from a new Abu Dhabi casino.
Whatever the reason for my teary-eyed reminiscing, one thing’s for sure: The days of dollar-a-gallon gas are gone—long gone. And while the real burden for booming gas prices may be borne by the porcine masses packed CAFO-like around me before the morning commute, I’m somehow a little more concerned about how the fuel crunch affects hard-core car enthusiasts like you and me. Because while the tree-huggers of the world may crave nothing more than a decent public transit system to banish their pocketbook pain, the gearheads desperately need a powerful car and a whole lot of open road. So while gas prices waver around $120 a barrel (toward $200?) and gas taxes get politicians jabbing (toward what end?), my wandering mind has been dallying over different alternatives: Could I really buy a low-emissions, fuel-efficient car as the next generation of diesels and hybrids hit the road in the next two years—and actually be happy? Can alt-fuel vehicles maintain—even enhance—automotive joie de vivre?

My first option is definitely diesel. I know what you’re thinking, so let’s just go ahead and banish from your head those memories of that early '80s Cutlass. The only thing the dirty diesel from your father’s Oldsmobile has in common with the clean diesel being developed for the road today is, well, they’re both called diesel. The fuel’s different, the mechanics are different, and the startup, sound and, thankfully, smell are all diffferent, too. You know what else is different? The performance.

At this year’s Detroit auto show, Audi revealed a stunning R8 concept—only with diesel running it. The R8 V12 TDi has all the power you’d expect from the multiringed brand’s supercar—a honkin’ 6.0-liter V12 under the hood producing 500 hp and a mind-numbing 738 lb.-ft. of torque. And with diesel coursing through those veins, it sips fuel instead of guzzling it—to the purported tune of 23 mpg on the highway. With that kind of performance-to-mpg ratio, I feel like I can start buying Styrofoam cups again just to rip them apart for fun.

But the good green news for car geeks isn’t just for those of us—and by that I mean you—with fat wallets. I recently drove a Euro-spec Honda Civic hatchback from Chicago to Detroit, hitting 70-plus mpg over a 100-mile stretch of highway on the way to the Motor City. True, we were hypermilling it, but even so, those are fuel economy levels that would send Al Gore through the roof and wipe the smug off any Prius owner’s face. But you’ll never see that grimace, because you’ll be long gone—the diesel Rabbit from the old country hits 0 to 60 in 8.6 seconds. That’s enough oomph to send Gore’s son through the roof. Compare that off-the-line time to the average Prius at 10.2 seconds (and a comparatively puny 52 mpg), and you’ll see there’s a low-end theory to the diesel puzzle.

That’s not to say that hybrids aren’t the way to go for your average joe—they’re just not necessarily the way to go for the enthusiast. That was, until we beheld the Fisker Karma. Revealed just steps from the Audi R8 V12 TDi, the $80,000 plug-in hybrid Karma sportscar came to us courtesy of Kleiner Perkins. You buffs don’t recognize the name from the annals of automotive history? Don’t sweat it—they’re actually the venture capital firm that helped make household names out of Google and Netscape. Now they’re trying to make Karma slip similarly off the tongue. And they may succeed, as we’re told to expect batteries capable of holding enough charge to power the four-door electric sled for 50 miles—and a four-banger for when that’s not enough. That dual powertrain is expected to hit 125 mph, with a 5.8-second 0-to-60 time, and still hit around 100 mpg when production starts in fall of 2009.

While the Karma’s sexier than Scarlett Johansson—to me anyway—it’s across Silicon Valley where its main competitors (and new legal foes) at Tesla let you go all-in—and all-electric—on your big oil flip-off. The two-seat Roadster carries a three-phase, four-pole electric motor capable of generating 248 hp at peak, and a torque curve far beyond this side of generous. The batteries are charged via a 3.5-hour plug-in cycle, or to some degree while driving, through regenerative braking. But the Roadster proves green isn’t just easy; it’s also fast. Like 0-to-60-in-under-4-seconds fast. Like beat-the-punks-in-Daddy’s-drop-top, midlife-crisis-Corvette, stoplight-to-stoplight-down-Woodward-Avenue fast.

As an enthusiast and a half, it’s half unbelievable that the next car I slap a down payment on might be powered by something other than regular, super or ultra unleaded. But with the gasoline-free options growing just as fast as oil prices, and our druglike addiction to oil busting through like the crude market, maybe soon enough I won’t be daydreaming after all.
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BMW updates classic M1 sports car; drool supplies skyrocket worldwide


BMW today is proudly — boastfully — showing its M1 Homage, a tribute to a legendary super-sports car that began production 30 years ago. This M1, however, is only a concept.

The M1 Homage holds remarkably firmly to the original, which had a BMW father and a Lamborghini mother (or vice versa; your call). Production of the original M1 ended in 1981 after a mediocre racing career few remember. It's better known for accelerating people to its top end of 162 mph, and doing it with a refinement rare among sports cars.

The two best features of the new version: 1) BMW created a new color, Liquid Orange, for just this concept car — never has any hue known as "orange" been this right on a car. 2) The bestial front end. The headlights are set deeply back into the grill (there is, technically no such thing on this car). They peer out in a feral squint. All the sharp lines flow together to create a look of absolute patience. It will pounce when it can take you down with the least amount of effort.

If you believe as some do that we are witnessing the final demise of extravagant, anatomy-compensating sports cars, the M1 Homage would be a beautiful end point.


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NO MORE GAS Personal Electric Vehicle


With a name like ‘No More Gas’, you can bet that this cute little personal electric vehicle is as good to the environment as it is to the user. Its size, weight and fuel make it much better for the planet, while its look and driving experience make it great fun for the driver. Looking like it’s dropped straight out of an episode of The Jetsons, this tiny car can achieve speeds of over 75mph for a cost of $0.02 per mile. All this eco-goodness earned Myers Motors’ NmG vehicle kudos at this year’s Well-Tech Awards exhibit in Milan.

Much of the NmG’s benefits stem from its size. Holding just one person, it’s much smaller than the average car. Smaller cars means more commuters can fit on the roads, getting where they need to be in a shorter time. The size also enables drastic reductions in fuel consumption, earning it the title of the most energy efficient vehicle on the road today. Its size also allows the NmG to achieve a range of 25 to 30 miles, making it suitable for the vast majority of commutes.

Plug the vehicle into a 220 volt socket to fully recharge an empty battery in 3 hours. Fuel costs are around a quarter of the price of conventional oil-powered transportation. Charged using conventional electricity, NmG’s size and power type reduces emissions by around 70% compared to a conventional fossil fuel-powered car. And, of course, emissions are eliminated completely when the car is charged using a home-based renewable energy system.

The design sits halfway between a car and a motorbike so the manufacturers prefer to call it a ‘Personal Electric Vehicle’, or PEV. And because the US Department of Transportation classifies the NmG as a motorcycle, it’s permitted to go on highways traveling to speeds around 75mph while other electric vehicles are legally limited to speeds of 35mph or less. A speedier drive is also likely because the NmG is allowed in many carpool lanes, due to being ‘fully occupied’ by the driver alone.

The retro-futuristic vehicle is available in many bright colors for the reasonable price of $36,000. So, all in all, its an affordable, cheery, environmentally-friendly car that’s supported by existing infrastructures. We’re looking forward to spotting many more NmGs on the roads very soon.


+ Myers Motors
+ Well-Tech Awards
+ MILAN 2008: Best of the Well-Tech Awards


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State moves to ban fake testicles on vehicles

By Michael Peltier

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Senate lawmakers in Florida have voted to ban the fake bull testicles that dangle from the trailer hitches of many trucks and cars throughout the state.

Republican Sen. Cary Baker, a gun shop owner from Eustis, Florida, called the adornments offensive and proposed the ban. Motorists would be fined $60 for displaying the novelty items, which are known by brand names like "Truck Nutz" and resemble the south end of a bull moving north.

The Florida Senate voted last week to add the measure to a broader transportation bill, but it is not included in the House version.

In a spirited debate laced with double entendre, Senate lawmakers questioned whether the state should curtail freedom of expression in vehicle accessories.

Critics of the ban included the Senate Rules Chairman, Sen. Jim King, a Jacksonville Republican whose truck sported a pair until his wife protested.

The bill's sponsor doubted it would succeed.

"It's probably not going to make it through the process," Baker said on Thursday. "It won't be much of story in a few days."

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Florida considers Christian license plate

MIAMI, Florida (AP) -- Florida drivers can order more than 100 specialty license plates celebrating everything from manatees to the Miami Heat, but one now under consideration would be the first in the nation to explicitly promote a specific religion.

art.licenseplate.ap.jpg

A proposed vanity plate in Florida would feature a cross and the words, "I Believe."

The Florida Legislature is considering a specialty plate with a design that includes a Christian cross, a stained-glass window and the words "I Believe."

Rep. Edward Bullard, the plate's sponsor, said people who "believe in their college or university" or "believe in their football team" already have license plates they can buy. The new design is a chance for others to put a tag on their cars with "something they believe in," he said.

If the plate is approved, Florida would become the first state to have a license plate featuring a religious symbol that's not part of a college logo. Approval would almost certainly face a court challenge.

The problem with the state manufacturing the plate is that it "sends a message that Florida is essentially a Christian state" and, second, gives the "appearance that the state is endorsing a particular religious preference," said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

The "I Believe" license plate still has a way to go before it reaches the roads. The proposal is part of a package of license plates being debated in the Senate and ready for a floor vote. In the House, the bill that would authorize the plate has passed one committee 8-2. The Legislature's annual session ends May 2.

Some lawmakers say the state should be careful. Rep. Kelly Skidmore said she is a Roman Catholic and goes to Mass on Sundays, but she believes the "I Believe" plate is inappropriate for the government to produce.

"It's not a road I want to go down. I don't want to see the Star of David next. I don't want to see a Torah next. None of that stuff is appropriate to me," said Skidmore, a Democrat who voted against the plate in committee. "I just believe that."

Florida's specialty license plates require the payment of additional fees, some of which go to causes the plates endorse.

One plate approved in 2004, displaying the motto "Family First," funds Sheridan House, which provides family programs but also sees its purpose as "sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Bible" and "information about the Christian faith."

The bill creating the "I Believe" plate would also create an "In God We Trust" plate to benefit the children of soldiers and law enforcement officers whose parents have died. It also could face opposition as a violation of the separation of church and state.

An Indiana plate with the same "In God We Trust" phrase has been challenged by the ACLU, but the courts so far have deemed it legal, arguing that it is comparable with other specialty plates.

This isn't the first time a Florida license plate design has created religious controversy. In 1999, lawmakers approved a bright yellow "Choose Life" license plate with a picture of a boy and girl. It raises money for agencies that encourage women to not have abortions.

That generated a court battle, with abortion rights groups saying the plate had religious overtones. But it was ruled legal, and about a dozen states now have similar plates.

A "Trust God" license plate was proposed in Florida in 2003. It would have given money to Christian radio stations and charities, but was never produced.

Earlier this year, a legislative committee was shown an image of a "Trinity" plate that showed a Christlike figure with his arms outstretched. It and two other plates were voted down.

The group asking for the "I Believe" plate, the Orlando-based nonprofit Faith in Teaching Inc., supports faith-based schools activities. The plate would cost drivers an extra $25 annual fee.

Approving the plate could open the state to legal challenges, according to Josie Brown, who teaches constitutional law at the University of South Carolina. And it's not certain who would win.

"It would be an interesting close call," Brown said.

Simon, of the ACLU, said approval of the plate could prompt many other groups to seek their own designs, and they could claim discrimination if their plans were rejected. That could even allow the Ku Klux Klan to get a plate, Simon said.

Bullard, the plate's sponsor, isn't sure all groups should be able to express their preference. If atheists came up with an "I Don't Believe" plate, for example, he would probably oppose it.
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Affordable Electric Cars Coming to US in 2009


While we love hearing about sweet rides like the $100K Tesla Roadster, a functional and economical electric car made for the rest of us would be even cooler.

This could be it: the Th!nk City electric car, a four-seater with 110 mile range and top speed of 65 mph, priced under $25,000, made from 95% recyclable materials, and available in the U.S. in 2009.

The Th!nk City electric car is the product of Norwegian firm Th!nk Global, an auto manufacturer backed by Silicon Valley funding who has plans to assemble the cars in Southern California. In contrast to Tesla’s limited release of 300 cars per year, the Th!nk City is designed for mass production to the tune of 30-50,000 units within a few years. Th!nk already produces about 10,000 of these cars in Europe annually.

As an interesting aside, Ford Motor Company originally developed the vehicle, but (in a move they may soon regret), sold it to Norwegian investors in 2003. Why is it so cool? Because most of us don’t drive more than 40 miles in a day, and small electric cars are optimally suited for congested city driving. The benefits are pretty obvious, but if you’re worried about getting out for the weekend with the Th!nk City, don’t. Use it for city driving and keep that gas-guzzling SUV for forays into the mountains. You’ll still come out ahead.

Safety-wise, the Th!nk City meets the strict safety requirements of both Europe and the US as a highway-safe road car. ABS brakes, airbags, side-impact bars, and an advanced frame designed to absorb energy and distribute it away from the passenger’s compartment make it another blow to the myth that bigger cars are inherently safer.

If recent sales trends toward smaller vehicles are any indication (sales of Toyota Yaris up 70%), the Th!ink city could be very popular when released in the US.

Check out a few more pictures (below), and learn more from Th!nk’s website.

Addendum: Are plug-in electric vehicles a perfect answer to our transportation problems? I think you’ll see from the comments below that no, they aren’t. As one reader pointed out, dead batteries in the Th!nk City could take up to 10 hours to charge. That’s not only inconvenient, but putting 50,000 of these on the road could cause serious power draw (see Plug-In Hybrids Could Require 160 New Power Plants By 2030 (Or None At All and Plug-In Hybrids Use Over 17 Times More Water Than Regular Cars, Researchers Say). Since such a large portion of US power generation comes from coal, the increasing use of plug-in hybrid and electric cars will require serious consideration of other energy sources (for example, see How Solar Panels Could Power 90% of US Transportation).

Related Posts on Electric Cars:


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Nova Goes Open Source for 'Car of the Future'


When Tuesday's Nova special, "Car of the Future," rolls its end credits, don't expect the story to end there. In a television first, PBS and Nova have decided to post 240 clips of interviews from the show online for anyone to use within their own projects. The clips, which include content that aired as well as some that didn't, will be released under a Creative Commons license.

"This is definitely an experiment for us," says Lauren Aguirre, executive editor of Nova Online. "But it's a great fit for public broadcasting because it's a chance for us to give the material back."

The online footage includes uninterrupted interviews with hard-to-track-down engineers such as Lee Lynd of Mascoma, who is working on cellulosic ethanol; Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, who is developing an ultralight and virtually indestructible full-size "green" car; Andy Frank of the University of California at Davis, whose lab has developed a hybrid vehicle that plugs in to an ordinary electrical outlet; and Martin Eberhard, founder of Tesla Motors, who's made a superluxe battery-powered car that can travel 250 miles on one charge.

Viewers can also download 30 scenic clips of alternative cars, hydrothermal vents and smoke stacks, but they won't be able to use footage of show hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi from NPR's Car Talk (pictured above) -- Click and Clack's union put the kibosh on that.

Nova producers ask that anyone who uses the footage for their own projects send them a link to the finished video so they can highlight the best ones on the Nova site.

"Car of the Future" is Nova's first attempt using its new "open production" formula. The entire creation of the one-hour show involved viewers who would then watch the end result. The public could preview the show's script online and then e-mail their thoughts (Nova received more than 900 missives), along with questions or topics they thought the producers had missed.

While a lot of the e-mails were far out, many had points that the producers hadn't thought about. Some of the questions people raised were then brought up to the panel of experts Nova interviewed for the show.

"The comments were very useful," says Joe Seamans, producer of "Car of the Future." "I could get a sense of what they found interesting and problematic. It was a great filter."

The open-source development of the show didn't change the producer's methodology but, "it added a dimension to it," Seamans said. "It was exciting to see that there are people who are really interested in this subject and they're not just insane bloggers."

There are no plans yet for using open production for any other shows, but if this experiment proves fruitful you can expect PBS to upload more and more for the masses to use.

Photo courtesy Joe Seamans

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Formula 1 Racing to Go Hybrid from 2009-2013


It’s not quite the same type of hybrid drive-train you’d see in street vehicles, but in an exciting announcement, Max Mosely of F1 has announced that all cars will become hybrid by 2013, along with other changes to the vehicles.

The hybrid system that will be phased in is known as KERS, which stands for Kinetic Energy Recovery System. KERS doesn’t store as much energy as a traditional hybrid system, but it only weighs 55 pounds and the limited energy storage capacity is well suited for Formula-style racing.

The biggest difference between KERS and a regular battery-electric hybrid is that KERS stores recovered waste energy in a rotating flywheel. Instead of converting waste energy into electricity and than back into useful energy again with an electric motor, KERS simply transfers the kinetic energy to a ~5kg flywheel in the F1 car’s transmission. The energy stored in the flywheel can then be used by the driver by pushing a “boost” button.

KERS is particularly exciting for us regular car drivers because the creators have claimed that it is twice as efficient as a standard hybrid system. If this system can be applied to production vehicles, it will be possible to realize huge improvements in fuel economy and pretty respectable reductions in GHG emissions.

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windmill hill graffiti

"go to work, send your kids to school
follow fashion, act normal
walk on the pavements, watch T.V.
save for your old age, obey the law
Repeat after me: I am free"

Graffiti on Philip St, Bedminster, Bristol, UK (opposite Windmill City Farm)
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What Adams Saw Through His Lens


Courtesy of the Cedric Wright Family

Ansel Adams, photographing in Yosemite National Park from atop his car in about 1942. Many come to the park to try to take the same photos he did.

WAWONA TUNNEL is a passageway from civilization to natural splendor. The tunnel, dug through a hill on the south side of Yosemite National Park in the 1930s, hides the coming view like a mile-long blindfold.

And then you’re there. Pale, curvaceous granite rocks dance in the skyline. Dozens of people stand along the edge of the pull-off, called Tunnel View, trying to capture the scene. Some snap two quick shots with disposable yellow cameras, and others set up their tripods for hours, watching the light strike Yosemite’s monoliths. On the left, El Capitan, a rock climbers’ mecca, appears the tallest. The Half Dome and Sentinel Dome arch upwards in the center. And the two Cathedral Spires sit on the right next to the sometimes gushing Bridalveil Fall.

Many people know these sights by name, but more know them by sight alone, as captured through the lens of the legendary American photographer Ansel Adams.

Adams first visited Yosemite in 1916 when he was 14 years old. On that trip, he hopped up on a tree stump to take a photo of Half Dome, then stumbled, headfirst, and accidentally pushed the shutter release. The upside-down image remained one of Adams’s favorites, he wrote in his autobiography.

The park itself also remained a favorite. Adams ended up living much of his life in Yosemite, and took many of his most well-known photographs there. Today, it is not unusual to encounter professional photographers and novices alike trying to retrace his path. They wait for the perfect minute of moonrise over Half Dome or a shadow on a fallen tree in Siesta Lake. They remember his photo of a juniper tree they saw in a museum, on a coffee cup or a monthly calendar. Ansel Adams’s work, in some ways, is the best unpaid advertising a national park could get.

The first step on an Ansel Adams-inspired trip to Yosemite is to visit the gallery run by his family. It is in the park’s central area called Yosemite Valley, and displays and sells Adams’s work as well as photos taken by several contemporary artists. Before Adams died in 1984, he spent years living in a house behind the gallery and leading workshops there. Now others teach the workshops, and the gallery is managed by Adams’s grandchildren. The gallery’s staff leads free camera walks three days a week. The gallery also shows a free film about Adams once a week, rents out cameras and tripods and sells keepsakes and guidebooks.

I ordered three books written by Adams from the gallery’s Web site before my trip: Adams’s autobiography, his collected photos of Yosemite and a step-by-step explanation of some of his works called “Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs.” By the time our plane landed in Fresno, Calif., I felt well-equipped to step inside Ansel land.

But Yosemite does not often appear as it did at the moments Adams tripped his shutter. Nor is it easy to stand where he stood and capture the same images.

“I’ve had people say they are kind of disappointed,” says Glenn Crosby, the curator of the Ansel Adams Gallery. “They only know the park through Ansel’s eyes, and he was only showing you the keepers. The park is not always as dramatic as his work.”

Back in 1986, Mr. Crosby was working at a job he didn’t like with too long a commute. So he moved to Yosemite to take photographs for a year and has stayed there ever since. He likes to say he has his own “Moonrise and Half Dome” because in 1998 he photographed the rock with an astronomer who had tracked the exact minute the moon would ascend next to Half Dome in the same way it did in front of Adams in 1960. But as talented as Mr. Crosby is, he says he doesn’t fool himself.

“Someone could be standing shoulder to shoulder with Ansel and come away with a totally different interpretation,” he says.

Once a week, Mr. Crosby takes a handful of people into a backroom at the gallery for a free show of original Adams photos (hint: pre-register). Recently, Mr. Crosby showed visitors Adams’s 1927 photo called “The Diving Board” (which includes Adams’s future wife, Virginia Best, standing on a distant rock) and his 1921 picture “Lodgepole Pines, Lyell Fork of the Merced River,” among others. He handles the photos carefully with white-gloved hands, since the prices for rare prints are as high as $40,000.

“We’re a gallery,” Mr. Crosby says. “We’re not a museum.”

The gallery has been in the family since 1902, when James Best, a local painter, won the rights to sell his work there. Ansel Adams married Virginia Best, James’s daughter, in 1928, and the family still holds the concession license. In the 1970s, Ansel’s son, Michael, renamed the gallery after his father.

Ansel Adams’s family members today say they feel a responsibility to provide education and service.

“We offer a connection to Ansel for people who love Ansel and this park,” says Matthew Adams, president of the gallery and grandson of the photographer.

By the 1950s, Adams had already taken most of his famous Yosemite images. Not unlike tourists today who visit his tripod points, Adams packed up his two teenage children, wife and a couple of burros in 1952 to recreate some of his earlier treks. For 10 days, they hiked through the backcountry of Yosemite, past Merced Lake, Vernal Fall and the peak that would be named Mount Ansel Adams in 1985. It had been decades since Ansel had been to some of those spots, but without hesitation he scrambled up on ledges and visualized new images, recalls his son, Michael Adams, who was 19 at the time.

“He loved the scenery as it was at the time,” says Michael Adams. “Whether it was dead trees or trees that were alive. Or whether the waterfall was full or down. It wasn’t always the big vistas, it could be a wonderful rock.”

Visitors to Yosemite should come with the same openness to appreciating the scenery as it is, rather than expecting to see the living version of Ansel Adams’s pictures. The Jeffrey pine that Adams photographed atop Sentinel Dome in 1940, for example, fell a few years ago, and it is now a rotting log.

Adams was often frustrated with the development of the park during his long life there. When he was young, he felt as if seeing others in the wilderness was “an intrusion or even trespass” and wrote many letters to the national park service bemoaning the commercialization of Yosemite.

But he outgrew the desire for privacy in the park. “Nature is always better when left to itself — but for what purpose?” he wrote. “Starry-eyed reaction to the splendors of nature is an invaluable experience for everyone.”

REAL LIFE

The Ansel Adams Gallery (209-372-4413; www.anseladams.com) hosts free camera walks, showings of rare Adams prints and a biographical movie. The gallery also runs private and group photography lessons for fees that range from $250 to $700. It costs $20 a car to enter Yosemite National Park (www.nps.gov/yose/) and visitors must make reservations to camp or stay in hotels there.

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Oil painting 'invented in Asia, not Europe'

Examples of the oil paintings found in caves in Afghanistan
Examples of oil paintings in the Afghanistan caves

In 2001 the Taliban destroyed two ancient colossal Buddha statues in the Afghan region of Bamiyan, around 140 miles northwest of Kabul, which were hewn out of sandstone cliffs in the sixth century and, measuring up to 55 metres, were the biggest of their kind.

Although caves decorated with precious murals from 5th to 9th century A.D. also suffered from Taliban attacks on this World Heritage Site, they have since become the focus of a major discovery, revealing Buddhist oil paintings that predate those in Renaissance Europe by hundreds of years.

Scientists have proved, thanks to experiments performed at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, that the paints used were based of oil, hundreds of years before the technique was "invented" in Europe, when artists found they could use pigments bound with a medium of drying oil, such as linseed oil.

In many European history and art books, oil painting is said to have started in the 15th century in Europe. But the team that used the ESRF, an intense source of X rays, found the Bamiyan paintings date back to the mid-7th century AD

The murals show scenes with Buddhas in vermilion robes sitting cross-legged amid palm leaves and mythical creatures. Other motifs show crouching monkeys, men facing one another or palm leaves delicately intertwined.

A dozen out of the 50 caves were painted with oil painting technique, using perhaps walnut and poppy seed oils, conclude Ms Yoko Taniguchi from the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Tokyo, working with the Centre of Research and Restoration of the French Museums-CNRS, France, the Getty Conservation Institute.

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"This is the earliest clear example of oil paintings in the world, although drying oils were already used by ancient Romans and Egyptians, but only as medicines and cosmetics", explains Ms Taniguchi, leader of the team.

"My European colleagues were shocked because they always believed oil paintings were invented in Europe. They couldn't believe such techniques could exist in some Buddhist cave deep in the countryside."

A combination of techniques to study the paintings was crucial to conclude that oils were used, says Dr Marine Cotte, one of the team. "We needed different techniques to get the full picture".

The results showed a high diversity of pigments as well as binders and the scientists identified original ingredients and alteration compounds. Apart from oil-based paint layers, some of the layers were made of natural resins, proteins, gums, and, in some cases, a resinous, varnish-like layer.

Protein-based material can indicate the use of hide glue or egg. Within the various pigments, the scientists found a high use of lead whites. These lead carbonates were often used, since antiquity up to modern times, not only in paintings but also in cosmetics as face whiteners.

The paintings are probably the work of artists who travelled on the Silk Road, the ancient trade route between China, across Central Asia's desert to the West. Other early civilisations including those in current-day Iran, China, Turkey, Pakistan and India may have used similar techniques as well but their ruins have not been subject to the same battery of studies.

The results were presented in a scientific conference in Japan last January, but are only published today in the Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry.

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Anne Frank greetings card found

Card signed Anne Frank
The card was sent from Aachen, where Anne had visited her grandmother

A greetings card signed by the Jewish diarist Anne Frank has been found in an antiques shop near Amsterdam.

The card was sent in 1937, when Frank was eight, and was addressed to one of her best friends, Sanne Ledermann.

The Anne Frank museum has authenticated the card, which shows a clover-covered bell above a snowy field, and wishes "good luck for the New Year".

Frank, who wrote her diary while in hiding from the Nazis, died in Belsen concentration camp in 1945.

Paul van den Heuvel, a school teacher, was looking through items in his father's antique shop in Naarden, near Amsterdam, when he came across the card.

"I just found it in a box, which probably came from an Amsterdam flea market," he told Dutch television.

The card had been sent from Aachen, in Germany, where Frank was visiting her grandmother.

A spokeswoman for the Anne Frank museum, Maatje Mostard, said she had seen another similar card, posted on the same day from the same town, and she was sure it was authentic.

"I don't know what he will do with it," she said. "We hope we can get it for our collection."

Frank, her family and four other Jewish friends hid from the Nazis in a small Amsterdam apartment, until their arrest in 1944.

They were sent to Auschwitz and Belsen concentration camps. Anne died in Belsen of typhus shortly before the end of the war.
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The house will be located on the brow of a pastoral hillside in Middle Tennessee. The cubic form of the main body is rotated in relation to the orthogonal geometry of the interior metal stud walls and main steel structural system. The house is entirely supported by an 18 ft. grid of columns. This dueling grid of 45-degree angles erodes with each ascending floor plan thus creating a series of descending terraces. The vehicular approach to the house is from a circular driveway paved in a herringbone pattern of brick. The driveway penetrates the house making a porte-cochere. Between the columns on the ground floor are domestic services and the garage. The main entrance is off the porte-cochere and leads one directly to the foyer. The ground floor remains a sort of public level. The third floor level contains an auxiliary living area with three bedroom suites, each with its own bathroom. At the top of the ensemble is the master bedroom suite.
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Artist Gregor Schneider wants volunteer to die as artwork

PRIZE-winning German artist Gregor Schneider has caused an uproar by launching a search for a volunteer willing to die for art.

The enfant terrible of the German cultural scene is looking for someone whose dying hours will be spent in an art gallery with the public admiring the way the light plays on the flesh of a person gasping for the last breath.

The 39-year-old artist has been concerned with death for much of his career. He gained critical acclaim for a sculpture, Hannelore Reuen, of a dead woman.

He has been hatching his latest idea since 1996, and now has a pathologist and art collector to help to find a candidate who wants to become a work of art in the final days of his or her life.

"The dying person would determine everything in advance, he would be the absolute centre of attention," said Mr Schneider.

"Everything will be done in consultation with the relatives, and the public will watch the death in an appropriately private atmosphere."

Death is commonly seen as the last taboo, although artists have been trying hard to demystify it.

Gunther von Hagens, nicknamed Doctor Death, has been travelling the world with an exhibition of plastinated corpses, showing genuine human bodies in living poses, playing chess or on horseback. The Wellcome Collection in London has an exhibition of portraits of people pictured before and after death by two German photographers.

The Schneider project, however, seems to have gone too far. It is being compared with watching executions in the US.

The influential gallery owner Beatrix Kalwa spoke for many German curators who rule out the idea of giving space to Schneider's artistic endeavour.

"Existential matters like death, birth or the act of reproduction do not belong in a museum," she said.

"There is a fundamental difference between portraying these acts in an art form, and showing them in actuality."

The head of the German hospice foundation that provides care for the terminally ill, Eugen Brysch, said: "This is pure voyeurism and makes a mockery of those who are dying."

But Schneider argues that death is already undignified and that his aim is to restore its grace.
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Adolf Hitler's Paintings

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