50 Years of Highway Safety - Happy Anniversary!

In September 1959 a group of insurance companies in the U.S. got together and formed the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Their mission: "to conduct, sponsor, and encourage programs designed to aid in the conservation and preservation of life and property from the hazards of highway accidents." They appointed Dr. William Haddon Jr. as their president, and he brought with him a whole passel of research and statistics that allowed the IIHS to make model-by-model damage comparisons in vehicular crashes. Cynics are likely to point out that, to the folks at AAA or State Farm, fewer traumatic personal injuries equals smaller claims paid, and that the overall reduction in deaths and catastrophic injuries thanks to safer vehicles is just so much icing on the cake. But we're not here to analyze the IIHS's motives, we just want to see the cool stuff that has resulted once automobile safety became an issue!

Crash Test Dummies Put Cadavers Out of Work

Until the Anthropomorphic Test Device "“ that's a Crash Test Dummy to you and me "“ was invented, human cadavers were routinely used for collision testing in the automotive industry. The first Dummy was invented in 1949 for use by the U.S. Air Force to test ejection seats. "Sierra Sam," as the first model was dubbed, had articulated joints but a rigid neck and spine, so he wasn't very useful in automotive crash simulations. Mark I debuted in 1952, and he not only came equipped with ball-and-socket joints to simulate the motion of a human spine, but also computerized sensors in his skull to measure acceleration and force of impact. Most of the technological updates in Dummies were left to NASA until 1966, when the Big Three started adding shoulder restraints to some models. The automotive industry plunged in and started designing all sorts of state-of-the-art Dummies, including a variety of children's models since the dolls had to be able to simulate the many positions and situations toddlers got into during family drives, including standing on the back seat and laying across mom's lap. As a youngster, I was always fascinated by the Dummies' demonstrations of what happened when you didn't buckle up for safety:

When Seat Belts Were Strictly an Option

Before the IIHS started studying car crashes and their effects on passengers, the main concern design-wise of the automobile industry was producing a stylish car that looked good. Darned good. As a result, the majority of American cars in the 1950s and 60s were three-ton behemoths with mile-long hoods and trucks, all made of solid steel. Seat belts were still strictly an option on most models, so the consequences of a head-on collision could be particularly gruesome. Cornell University took the time to break down the events that occurred in first second of a 55 mile-per-hour typical accident into tenths of seconds. In the first tenth, the front bumper and hood collapse. During the second tenth"¦.oh heck, Jack Webb can describe it much better:

Cars that Crumple

Once passenger safety started figuring into the equation, automotive engineers approached design from a different angle, and the crumple zone was born. The crumple zone actually causes the front end of the vehicle to be more malleable; that is, unlike the solid protective barriers of yesteryear, the steel surrounding the front of your car is now designed to yield when hit head-on, so that it absorbs energy upon impact and slows down the deceleration rate within the passenger compartment. To put it more simply, take a look at this IIHS video of a 1959 Chevrolet Bel-Air smashing into a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu. One vehicle far outweighs the other, but guess which Crash Test Dummy suffers less "injury" thanks to a combination of the crumple zone, seat belts, airbags and wrap-around seat design.

The Birth of Signal 30

Depending upon when (and where) you took your driver's education class, you may be familiar with the "scare" classic Signal 30. This film featured a compilation of very graphic aftermath film footage/photos of a variety of traffic accidents. How such scenes came to be captured on film can be traced back to a case of being in the right place at the unfortunate right time. In the mid-1950s an accountant, amateur photographer and police enthusiast named Richard Wayman happened to be nearby when a fatal accident involving a motorcyclist and a train occurred. He grabbed his camera, snapped some on-scene photographs, and offered them to the Mansfield (Ohio) Police Department to aid in their investigation. The Mansfield cops were so enthusiastic in their thanks that Wayman made photographing accident scenes a hobby. During his various "shoots" he met Phyllis Vaughn, another photographer with a police scanner. The two eventually joined forces, added a 16mm movie camera to their equipment and formed the Highway Safety Foundation. Until video cameras flooded the market, the HSF's movies were the only source of real-life gore for training films.

New Plant-Based Coating Can Keep Your Avocados Fresh for Twice as Long

Thanks to a food technology startup called Apeel Sciences, eating fresh avocados will soon be a lot easier. The Bill Gates–backed company has developed a coating designed to keep avocados fresh for up to twice as long as traditional fruit, Bloomberg reports, and these long-lasting avocados will soon be available at 100 grocery stores across the Midwestern U.S. Thirty or so of the grocery stores involved in the limited rollout of the Apeel avocado will be Costcos, so feel free to buy in bulk.

Getting an avocado to a U.S. grocery store is more complicated than it sounds; the majority of avocados sold in the U.S. come from California or Mexico, making it tricky to get fruit to the Midwest or New England at just the right moment in an avocado’s life cycle.

Apeel’s coating is made of plant material—lipids and glycerolipids derived from peels, seeds, and pulp—that acts as an extra layer of protective peel on the fruit, keeping water in and oxygen out, and thus reducing spoilage. (Oxidation is the reason that your sliced avocados and apples brown after they’ve been exposed to the air for a while.) The tasteless coating comes in a powder that fruit producers mix with water and then dip their fruit into.

A side-by-side comparison of a coated and uncoated avocado after 30 days, with the uncoated avocado looking spoiled and the coated one looking fresh

According to Apeel, coating a piece of produce in this way can keep it fresh for two to three times longer than normal without any sort of refrigeration of preservatives. This not only allows consumers a few more days to make use of their produce before it goes bad, reducing food waste, but can allow producers to ship their goods to farther-away markets without refrigeration.

Avocados are the first of Apeel's fruits to make it to market, but there are plans to debut other Apeel-coated produce varieties in the future. The company has tested its technology on apples, artichokes, mangos, and several other fruits and vegetables.

[h/t Bloomberg]

The Curious Origins of 16 Common Phrases

Our favorite basketball writer is ESPN's Zach Lowe. On his podcast, the conversation often takes detours into the origins of certain phrases. We compiled a list from Zach and added a few of our own, then sent them to language expert Arika Okrent. Where do these expressions come from anyway?


Bus token? Game token? What kind of token is involved here? Token is a very old word, referring to something that’s a symbol or sign of something else. It could be a pat on the back as a token, or sign, of friendship, or a marked piece of lead that could be exchanged for money. It came to mean a fact or piece of evidence that could be used as proof. “By the same token” first meant, basically “those things you used to prove that can also be used to prove this.” It was later weakened into the expression that just says “these two things are somehow associated.”


1944: A woman standing on a soapbox speaking into a mic
Express/Express/Getty Images

The soapbox that people mount when they “get on a soapbox” is actually a soap box, or rather, one of the big crates that used to hold shipments of soap in the late 1800s. Would-be motivators of crowds would use them to stand on as makeshift podiums to make proclamations, speeches, or sales pitches. The soap box then became a metaphor for spontaneous speech making or getting on a roll about a favorite topic.


The notion of Tom fool goes a long way. It was the term for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin). Much in the way the names in the expression Tom, Dick, and Harry are used to mean “some generic guys,” Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one. So the word tomfoolery suggested an incidence of foolishness that went a bit beyond mere foolery.


chimp eating banana

The expression “go bananas” is slang, and the origin is a bit harder to pin down. It became popular in the 1950s, around the same time as “go ape,” so there may have been some association between apes, bananas, and crazy behavior. Also, banana is just a funny-sounding word. In the 1920s people said “banana oil!” to mean “nonsense!”


If something is run of the mill, it’s average, ordinary, nothing special. But what does it have to do with milling? It most likely originally referred to a run from a textile mill. It’s the stuff that’s just been manufactured, before it’s been decorated or embellished. There were related phrases like “run of the mine,” for chunks of coal that hadn’t been sorted by size yet, and “run of the kiln,” for bricks as they came out without being sorted for quality yet.


The Law's Delay: Reading The Riot Act 1820
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When you read someone the riot act you give a stern warning, but what is it that you would you have been reading? The Riot Act was a British law passed in 1714 to prevent riots. It went into effect only when read aloud by an official. If too many people were gathering and looking ready for trouble, an officer would let them know that if they didn’t disperse, they would face punishment.


Hands down comes from horse racing, where, if you’re way ahead of everyone else, you can relax your grip on the reins and let your hands down. When you win hands down, you win easily.


The silver lining is the optimistic part of what might otherwise be gloomy. The expression can be traced back directly to a line from Milton about a dark cloud revealing a silver lining, or halo of bright sun behind the gloom. The idea became part of literature and part of the culture, giving us the proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” in the mid-1800s.


The expression “you’ve got your work cut out for you” comes from tailoring. To do a big sewing job, all the pieces of fabric are cut out before they get sewn together. It seems like if your work has been cut for you, it should make job easier, but we don’t use the expression that way. The image is more that your task is well defined and ready to be tackled, but all the difficult parts are yours to get to. That big pile of cut-outs isn’t going to sew itself together!


A grapevine is a system of twisty tendrils going from cluster to cluster. The communication grapevine was first mentioned in 1850s, the telegraph era. Where the telegraph was a straight line of communication from one person to another, the “grapevine telegraph” was a message passed from person to person, with some likely twists along the way.


The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.


Pushing the envelope belongs to the modern era of the airplane. The “flight envelope” is a term from aeronautics meaning the boundary or limit of performance of a flight object. The envelope can be described in terms of mathematical curves based on things like speed, thrust, and atmosphere. You push it as far as you can in order to discover what the limits are. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff brought the expression into wider use.


We say someone can’t hold a candle to someone else when their skills don’t even come close to being as good. In other words, that person isn’t even good enough to hold up a candle so that a talented person can see what they’re doing in order to work. Holding the candle to light a workspace would have been the job of an assistant, so it’s a way of saying not even fit to be the assistant, much less the artist.


Most acids dissolve other metals much more quickly than gold, so using acid on a metallic substance became a way for gold prospectors to see if it contained gold. If you pass the acid test, you didn’t dissolve—you’re the real thing.


What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the “messed up” sense of the word.


Carpet used to mean a thick cloth that could be placed in a range of places: on the floor, on the bed, on a table. The floor carpet is the one we use most now, so the image most people associate with this phrase is one where a servant or employee is called from plainer, carpetless room to the fancier, carpeted part of the house. But it actually goes back to the tablecloth meaning. When there was an issue up for discussion by some kind of official council it was “on the carpet.”


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