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Calculating the crash risk

" 'You would die if you crashed right now.' Would such a warning make you take your foot off the accelerator?" asks the New Scientist. "That's the idea behind a scheme to warn drivers of the consequences of speeding, developed by engineers at Japan's Fukuoka Institute of Technology and heavy-goods vehicle maker UD Trucks, also in Japan. They are developing what they call a 'safe driving promotion system' that warns drivers what kind of crash could ensue if they don't slow down. Their patent-pending system uses the battery of radar, ultrasound sonar and laser sensors found in modern cars and trucks to work out the current kinetic energy of a vehicle. It also checks the distance to the vehicle in front and keeps watch on its brake lights, too. An onboard app that has learned the driver's reaction time over all their previous trips then computes the likelihood of collision – and if the driver's speed is risky, it displays the scale of damage that could result."

You might surprise yourself

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"It's a classic exercise at the start of a new year: We reflect back on just how much we have changed," writes Carolyn Johnson in The Boston Globe. "We are more mature, more patient, less impulsive, we may tell ourselves. But when it comes to projecting forward, to imagining our future selves, most of us find it hard to believe we will change much. We'll always have the same personality traits, values, best friends and favourite things. Not so, according to a study by psychologists at Harvard and the University of Virginia. People, young and old, routinely underestimate the amount they will change over the next 10 years. They seem to suffer from the delusion that the person they've become is the real and final version. Researchers call it the 'end of history illusion.' "

Shining for the New Year

"India has long had a love affair with gold," says the Los Angeles Times. "But one businessman there is so infatuated with the precious metal, he dropped about $230,000 (U.S.) on a solid gold shirt. More than two dozen goldsmiths toiled for 15 days for lender Datta Phuge, who custom-ordered the seven-pound top to wear for New Year's festivities, according to the Pune Mirror. The shirt is crafted from 14,000 22-karat gold rings linked together and comes with six Swarovski crystal buttons and a belt also made of gold. Phuge said he considers the shirt 'an investment which will keep on appreciating.'"

The days are getting longer

"Like a slowing top, Earth spins slower and slower with each passing moment, making days longer now than in the past," writes Neil Shubin, author of The Universe Within. "As the planet rotates, the water in the oceans moves about and serves to brake the spin of the planet. That is why today is two milliseconds longer than yesterday."

Living snow?

"There is evidence that despite high levels of ultraviolet radiation that would kill most bacteria, some [microbes] metabolize and perhaps even reproduce inside clouds," writes microbiologist Nathan Wolfe in National Geographic magazine. "In fact they may play a part in the formation of snowflakes that require a nucleator, or small particle, to crystallize around. In 2008, Brent Christner of Louisiana State University and his colleagues showed that microorganisms were the most efficient ice nucleators present in snow. That's right – snow is literally alive."

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Thought du jour

"Our opinion of others is not so variable as our opinion of ourselves."

Marquis de Vauvenargues

French writer (1717-47)

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