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The HumanCar LMV Imagineâ„¢

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Fossil fuels are expensive, non-renewable in the short term, and are the root of some major geopolitical tensions. Biofuels are causing problems with the production of food for our planet. And the places we need to go are still too far to walk. Could a human-powered vehicle be the answer?

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HumanCar is the world's first human-electric hybrid automobile. It works like a cross between a handcar and a rowing machine, and it's been compared to a Flintstones car, but inventor and company CEO Chuck Greenwood insists the design was inspired by drag racing cars. The production model is street legal. The rowing motion recharges the battery, which in turn can be used to power the car (and you can also plug it in). In addition to normal auto gauges, the company offers optional biometrics to monitor your physical extertion. And yes, you can get a cup holder. As well as internet acccess in your HumanCar. Scroll down to the bottom of the preorder page for an options list. After decades of tinkering, prototypes, and testing, the HumanCar LMV Imagineâ„¢ model is set to launch on April 22nd (EarthDay) in 2008.

This video of a prototype chassis in use shows you how it goes.

Fascinating, but it raises a lot of questions. I mainly use a car to haul people and things. Neither my kids nor my elderly relatives can be counted on to pull their weight (so to speak). Greenwood was happy to address my questions in an interview by email.

How do you steer it?
Body-Steeringâ„¢ is like a ski or a board. The two front pilots steer the vehicle with angulation. It rocks. It's fun. BodySteer utilizes more degrees of freedom than leaning - like riding a motorcycle. High speed handling is critical to the safe performance of any vehicle. Why make a 200 MPH chassis/suspension system? Why not? BodySteer is at least as effective as wheel steering - some would say much more effective.

If two people are steering, does one have override control?
Either can control the vehicle, but there is an exotic sensory input when you feel the others sharing the activity. Dominant/Submissive arrangements work, and so does real-time cooperation.

Could the HumanCar carry people who don't contribute to the power (meaning children)?
Yes and cargo as well (1000 lbs.)

How many people are required for it to work properly?
111Humancar_FM4 One to Four. Three people works quite well. Of course, with one or two people you are probably going to want auxiliary power.

When does the battery assist come in?
100% Variable - So you can rock it just a little or full blast anytime.

How does the driver control the speed?
Advanced braking systems.

Have you ever parallel-parked this car?
Yes, with Cool Fuel Roadtrips as seen on YouTube and Google Video.

Is there any place to carry cargo (groceries)?
The Imagineâ„¢ LMV will have a rather large (est 6 bags of groceries) sized cargo area.

111Rod and FM4 NaturalWho is going to manufacture these?
HumanCar(R) Inc., we may also license options to manufacture globally.

Since the latest artwork is a drawing, can we assume that what will be
manufactured will look different from any of the prototypes?

Best question ever, it's a hot rod in essence and in parallel the whole project is in constant evolution. Notice the chassis on the FM4 Troublemaker and notice the integration of design from the 189mph Research Rod. Now the recent ideations that are being distributed are renderings from the actual CAD files. It's delicate to release exactly what the car will look like but we can share this: The new body style is sexy and essentially WYSIWYG.

Will there be a cover for the weather?
Yes. A T-Top pop top deal.

Can it be used in the rain?
Yes and snow.

Will there be two models available?
We make three- download the info. kit from our site and check it. We are focusing 100% on the Imagineâ„¢ LMV electric human hybrid right now. They are exotic at first - think of a Carrera GT for Low Mass Vehicles. Soon we will be able to make them from recycled plastics and the cost will come down to a near free price point with co-marketing and branding scenarios.

Greenwood also said:
111Humancar_FM4_CSG_PE We are part mad scientists, part hot rodders, part musicians and patrons, like my dad says, "Everybody says they are ready to rock, now let's see it!" We are just trying to carry some weight and show the world that a small group of independent thinkers can make it happen at the big picture level.

This concept causes us to stop and think about why we drive a car in the first place. If you are driving yourself to work and want to save gas and stay fit, then by all means, ride a bicycle. The advantage of the HumanCar is that it allows you to do those things as a group, or carry cargo and passengers. If you drive to save yourself a walk, then you would want to go with an all-power car, electric or hybrid.

The LMV Imagineâ„¢ will run you $15,000. It's the hot rod model. The first production run as a limited edition of 100 vehicles. If more demand is created, a larger production run should bring the price down. Whether it will take off depends on several things. Greenwood noted that when the first prototype was built, gas was 32 cents a gallon. Would you drive a car like this if gas were $5 a gallon instead of $3? When you figure the cost of the car vs. money saved on gasoline, throw in the money you save by not buying a fitness club membership. That brings up another point: will the product be viewed as an exercise machine more than a vehicle? It might prove to be more popular in countries where gas is precious and physical exertion is already the norm. And in the end, it comes down to usability. It if really can haul kids and groceries, travel in the rain and snow, climb hills, and keep up with traffic, it might be the wave of the future. We'll look forward to hearing how those who have preordered HumanCars feel about them after a few months of driving. And we'll look forward to checking out their biceps and triceps!

Find out more at HumanCar.

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Wireless Recording Device Captures Studio-Quality Songs on the Go
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iStock

When they aren’t near a studio, some musicians settle for recording snippets of songs on their smart phones during the writing process. Spire Studio offers a better way: Small enough to fit inside a purse, the recording device allows artists to record and mix professional-grade tracks without stepping foot inside a recording booth.

According to Fast Company, Spire Studio is a new product from iZotope, a Massachusetts-based company that’s been in the recording business for more than 15 years. The sleek, cylindrical gadget is designed to be a modern tool for making music. Using it is simple, with a button for one-touch recording and a studio-quality microphone built in. It automatically adjusts levels for a smoother sound and gives musicians the choice to layer tracks on top of one another.

Once the actual music has been captured, users can move to the Spire Studio app to edit it. The device wirelessly connects to a smartphone where mixing and polishing tracks is easy even for a beginner to do. And if a friend wants to improve upon the song further, the file can easily be shared for them to play with it.

Spire Studio is designed to be accessible to musicians of all experience levels, but that’s no reason for serious recording artists look down upon it. Some professional bands, including The Ultramods and Gorillaz, have composed entire albums using nothing but iPad apps. Songwriters looking to graduate past the Voice Memos app on their phone can purchase Spire Studio for $350 when it hits the market this fall.

[h/t Fast Company]

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Fart Gallery: A Novel History of Spencer Gifts
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Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When U.S. Army Corps bombardier Max Spencer Adler was shot down over Europe and imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II, it’s not likely he dreamed of one day becoming the czar of penis-shaped lollipops and lava lamps. But when Adler became a free man, he decided to capitalize on a booming post-war economy by doing exactly that—pursuing a career as the head of a gag gift mail-order empire that would eventually stretch across 600 retail locations and become a rite of passage for mall-trekking teens in the 1980s and 1990s.

To sneak into a Spencer Gifts store against your parents' wishes and revel in its array of tacky novelties and adult toys felt a little like getting away with something. Glowing with lasers and stuffed with Halloween masks, the layout always had something interesting within arm’s reach. But stocking the stores with such provocations sometimes carried consequences.

A row of lava lamps on display at Spencer Gifts
Dean Hochman, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Returning from the war, Adler sensed a wave of relief running through the general population. Goods no longer had to be rationed, and toy factories could return to making nonessential items. The guilt of spending time or money on frivolous items was disappearing.

With his brother Harry, Adler started Spencer Gifts as a mail-order business in 1947. Their catalog, which became an immediate success, was populated with items like do-it-yourself backyard skating rinks and cotton candy makers [PDF]—items no one really needed but were inexpensive enough to indulge in. In some ways, the Spencer catalogs resembled the mail-order comic ads promising X-ray glasses and undersea fish kingdoms. Instead of kids, Adler was targeting the deeper pockets of adults.

Bolstered by that early success, Adler moved into a curious category: live animals. He had small donkeys transported from Mexico and marketed them as the new trend in domestic pets. LIFE magazine took note of the fad in 1954, observing the $85 burros, being sold at a clip of 40 a day, “except for stubbornness, are very placid.”

Burro fever foreshadowed the direction of Spencer’s in the years to come. The Adlers opened their first physical location—minus livestock—in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in 1963, expanding on their notion to peddle unique gift items like the Reduce-Eze girdle, which promised to shave inches off the wearer’s stomach. That claim caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which chastised the company for advertising the device could reduce body weight without exercise [PDF]. The FTC also took them to task for implying their jewelry contained precious metals [PDF] when the items did not.

Offending the FTC aside, Spencer’s did a brisk enough business to garner the attention of California-based entertainment company Music Corporation of America, Inc. (MCA), which purchased the brand and proceeded to expand it in the rapidly growing number of malls across the country in the 1970s and 1980s. (The mail order business closed in 1990.)

Brick and mortar retail was ideal for their inventory, which encouraged perusal, store demonstrations, and roving bands of giggling teenagers. The company wanted its stores to capture foot traffic by stuffing its aisles with items that had a look-at-this factor—a novelty that invited someone to pick it up and show it to a friend. When executives saw specific categories taking off, they “Spencerized,” or amalgamated them. When there was a resurgence of interest in Rubik’s Cubes and merchandise from the 1983 Al Pacino film Scarface, visitors were soon greeted in stores by stacks of Scarface-themed Rubik’s Cubes.

Mike Mozart via Flickr

Apart from its busy aesthetic—“like the stage from an old Poison video,” as one journalist put it—Spencer's was also known for its inventory of risqué adult novelty items. Pole-dancing kits and sex-themed card games occupied a portion of the store’s layout. The toys captured a demographic that might have been too embarrassed to visit a dedicated adult store but felt that browsing in a mall was harmless.

Sometimes, the store’s blasé attitude toward stocking such items drew critical attention. In 2010, police in Rapid City, South Dakota seized hundreds of items because Spencer's had failed to register as an “adult-oriented business,” something the city ordinance required. As far back as the 1980s, parents in various locales had complained that suggestive material was viewable by minors. In 2008, ABC news affiliate WTVD in Durham, North Carolina dispatched two teenage girls with hidden cameras to see what they would be allowed to buy. While they were shooed away from a back-of-store display, they were able to purchase “two toy rabbits that vibrate, moan, and simulate sex” as well as a penis-shaped necklace.

As a possible consequence of the internet, there are fewer incidences of parental outrage directed at Spencer’s these days. And despite the general downturn of both malls and retail shopping, the company bolsters its bottom line with the seasonal arrival of Spirit Halloween, a pop-up store specializing in costumes. Despite only being open two months out of the year, their Spirit locations contribute to roughly half of Spencer's $250 million in annual revenue.

Today, the chain’s 650 stores remain a source for impulse shopping. They still occasionally court controversy over items that appear to stereotype the Irish as drunken oafs or other inflammatory merchandise. With traditional mall locations expected to shrink by as much as 25 percent over the next five years, it’s not quite clear whether their assortment of novelties will continue to have a large retail footprint. But so long as demand exists for fake poop, fart sprays, and penis ring toss kits, Spencer’s will probably have a home.

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