15 December 2007

Santa Claus

Introduction to How Santa Claus Works

When Virginia O'Hanlon, an 8-year-old girl from New York City, sent a letter addressed to the newspaper The Sun in 1897, she asked a very simple question: "Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?" In what must have been a surprise to her, the question was answered quite frankly. After calling out Virginia's "little friends" for doubting the existence of Santa Claus and being clouded by an age of skepticism, the writer of the article, Francis Pharcellus Church, gave his straightforward reply, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."

Christmas Tree Image Gallery

A sample letter to Santa Claus
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images
A sample of a letter received by the United States Postal Service is put on display at a news conference at the James A. Farley Post Office in New York. (See Christmas tree images.)
Today, children all over the world are still asking the same question as Virginia did. So who exactly is this Santa Claus guy, and why would he cause so much skepticism among boys and girls? Is he some kind of magical figure? How could one person cause so much excitement, doubt and even concern?

Ho, Ho, Ho
More Christmas-related articles
­How Christmas Works
­How Santa's Elves Work
How Santa's Sleigh Work
­Christmas Channel

This Santa Claus guy appears to be pretty secretive about his operations. Along with Mrs. Claus, elves and a certain reindeer with a glowing, red nose, Santa is reputed to live at the North Pole, an impressive feat since the temperature almost never rises above freezing.

Because the North Pole isn't the most hospitable place for people to visit, it would be difficult for most people to withstand the harsh weather and rough terrain in order to gain any serious intel on Santa. And although no one may ever know for sure just how Santa operates, we at HowStuffWorks have what we think are the most logical explanations for how the big guy accomplishes all that he does: science and technology.

To find out more about Santa, the gear he might use and his possible connection to mall Santas, read on.

Video Gallery: Year-round Santa
Watch this video about "Santa House," a place where Filipino children can visit Santa year-round.

Naughty or Nice?

Santa Claus is one of the most popular and recognizable figures on Earth. He's been depicted in dozens of holiday-themed shows, from the 1947 film "Miracle on 34th Street" to the 1964 television special "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" to more recent films like "Elf" in 2003. Many countries have different names for him -- although he's Santa Claus in North America, he goes by Father Christmas in the United Kingdom, Père Noël in France, Babbo Natale in Italy and Sinterklaas in Holland, where he's associated with the Dec. 6 St. Nicholas Day celebration.
Santa waves as he water-skis on the Potomac River in Washington, DC.
Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images
Santa waves as he water-skis on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C.
Whether you call him St. Nicholas, St. Nick or Santa Claus, though, the man represents the same thing to nearly everyone who celebrates Christmas and the holiday season -- he's known as a benevolent soul, a giver of gifts and a spreader of Christmas cheer.

According to Christmas folklore, Santa's main concern is making toys and distributing them in a timely and orderly fashion to children all over the world. This has garnered him quite a following. After all, children like toys, and Santa gives toys away -- therefore, children like Santa Claus.

Santa not only gives toys away, but he does it in style, too. He rides in his very own sleigh led by a team of reindeer, but it isn't just any old sleigh -- this one flies and rumor has it that it can make it around the world in just one night. It's also thought by some that Santa doesn't simply pass by your house and leave a few presents on your doorstep -- he lands on top of your roof, climbs down your chimney and puts presents both in your stockings and around your Christmas tree.

But where does Santa get all of these toys? Certainly one couldn't make or buy all of that merchandise by himself. That's where Santa's elves come in. It's possible that these little workers possess a drive and energy even the smallest of nanorobots couldn't match, so Santa would never have to worry too much about being behind in production.

There's a catch to Santa's good will, however. According to the classic Christmas song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," Santa's always watching: "He's making a list / he's checking it twice / he's gonna find out who's naughty or nice." A big part of his job is to keep an eye on your behavior over the course of the year -- if you've behaved well, there's a good chance you'll get what you want for Christmas. If your behavior was less than satisfactory, however, you risk getting nothing but a lump of coal in your stocking. How does he do this? Our best bet is that he's using something similar to Google Earth. Think of that, then fast-forward into the future a few hundred years.

In the next section, we'll explore what Santa might look like in person and we'll ponder some of the special gadgets and technologies he might use.

Santa's Appearance and Santa Gear

If you've ever paid attention to the floats during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, you'll notice one constant from year to year -- Santa Claus is always the big finale, the last one to pass through the streets of New York City. We'd have to assume that this is his only major official public appearance during the year, since he would be incredibly busy organizing wish lists and keeping tabs on elf productivity.

Santa Claus scales a building.
Getty Images
Santa Claus scales a building to deliver presents.

That brief glimpse, however, is enough to let us know that all those songs, poems, stories and movies about Santa Claus could be fairly accurate in their visual representations. Whether Santa is portrayed on film in live-action or in stop-motion animation, Hollywood has his image down pretty well -- he's a large, rather plump older man with white hair and a long, white beard, and most of the time he's wearing his trademark red suit and red stocking cap. His cheeks are almost always a rose-colored hue, and it may not be because he's been drinking too much eggnog. As we mentioned earlier, the weather is very cold in the North Pole, so his skin could become easily chapped.

Our best estimations are that Santa must use some serious gear to deliver presents:

  • The Sleigh - In addition to being outfitted with flying reindeer, Santa's sleigh must be a highly advanced flying machine that performs faster and more efficiently than any spaceship currently used by NASA. The vehicle would have to be equipped with a special Antimatter Propulsion Unit that allows Santa to skip from one roof to the next in less than 24 hours and make it home to the North Pole in time for a nap and Christmas dinner. The sleigh would probably be outfitted with an iPod player and a hot cocoa maker, allowing maximum comfort during Santa's trip around the Earth.

  • The Suit - The traditional red suit Santa wears would have to be a bit more complex than it looks. First, it would be made out of a protective, lead-free material that blocks any radiation from Santa's engine -- antimatter rockets produce dangerous gamma radiation, so it's important for Santa to keep safe up in the sky. Second, the suit would also be threaded with carbon nanotubes, allowing the suit to shrink with Santa if he ever changes his size.

  • The Belt - For climbing up and down chimneys, Santa would need a little support. We assume he's taken some rock climbing lessons, and his belt comes with all the necessary hooks, grapples, bells and whistles to get him in and out of your living room before you even have a chance to spot him.
In the next section, we'll examine whether there's any connection to Santa and the mall Santas you might spy while you do your holiday shopping.

What's on Santa's Playlist?
The staff at HowStuffWorks would like to think that Santa's iPod, has a pretty eclectic Christmas playlist. Here's what we like to imagine him listening to as he cruises through the sky:
  • "Santa Baby" - Eartha Kitt
  • "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" - Bruce Springsteen
  • "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" - Judy Garland
  • "Sleigh Ride" - Ella Fitzgerald
  • "Skating" - Vince Guaraldi Trio
  • "Deck the Halls" - John Denver and The Muppets
  • "Little Saint Nick" - The Beach Boys
  • "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" - Nat King Cole
  • "Get Behind Me, Santa!" - Sufjan Stevens
  • "White Christmas" - Bing Crosby
  • "Baby It's Cold Outside" - Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan
  • "Christmas Time Is Here" - Vince Guaraldi Trio
Mall Santas and Letters to Santa

If you're ever strolling through your local mall after Thanksgiving, you might notice Santa Claus in the middle of the mall. There's probably an unbearably long line of children waiting for the chance to talk to Santa and tell him what they really want this year for Christmas presents. Perhaps you smile and wave, and Santa will smile and wave right back, laughing his deep, trademark "Ho, ho, ho!" and you'll move on.

Father Christmas school
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Professional Father Christmas performers gather for an annual Santa School in London.
Shortly thereafter, you might mosey on over to the other local mall, the one that's across the street. Wandering around from store to store, you might notice yet another Santa Claus, slightly different from the one you just saw at the other mall. How could this be? Is the mall some kind of portal between parallel universes? Is one the real Santa and the other a fake? Or are they both impostors?

First things first: These Santas probably don't consider themselves to be "fake," and they may not appreciate the word "impostor." If anything, you might call them "messengers." Like Santa's elves, we believe that the most logical explanation is that they're an extension of the Santa's Helpers Alliance, aka, mall Santas.

Mall Santas are people just like you and me, but they must pass a few specifications in order to carry out their seasonal duties. They must be of similar build to Santa Claus. They must be in the appropriate age range of 50 to 60 years old, and they must sport an acceptable beard. Mall Santas must also graduate from a special Santa School, where they'll learn to laugh like Santa, eat like Santa and keep a snow-white beard like Santa [source: LA Times]. Could it be that Santa drew up the curriculum himself?

Letters addressed to Santa Clause
Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Letters addressed to Santa Claus at the post office in Lapland, Finland.
A mall Santa's job is simple -- he must ask children want they want for Christmas, make sure they've behaved this year, and then send detailed e-mail reports back to Santa Claus. A mall Santa's work accounts for about 33 percent of all gift requests, making them an important part of Santa's team -- the other 67 percent of Christmas wishes are sent directly to the North Pole by mail, of course. Nearly 100,000 letters make it out every holiday season to Santa's address at the North Pole.

Why would Santa need an alliance of Mall Santas? Even though he might make it around the world in one night, he couldn't be in lots of different places all at the same time. We'll have to assume that he's not quite there yet with the technology. For the moment, he has to settle with a complex but efficient way of collecting Christmas wish information.

Read More......

03 December 2007

Flash Memory Works

Introduction to How Flash Memory Works

Sony memory stick
A Sony memory stick. See more flash memory pictures.
Electronic memory comes in a variety of forms to serve a variety of purposes. Flash memory is used for easy and fast information storage in such devices as digital cameras and home video game consoles. It is used more as a hard drive than as RAM. In fact, Flash memory is considered a solid state storage device. Solid state means that there are no moving parts -- everything is electronic instead of mechanical.

Here are a few examples of Flash memory:

  • Your computer's BIOS chip
  • CompactFlash (most often found in digital cameras)
  • SmartMedia (most often found in digital cameras)
  • Memory Stick (most often found in digital cameras)
  • PCMCIA Type I and Type II memory cards (used as solid-state disks in laptops)
  • Memory cards for video game consoles

In this article, we'll find out how Flash memory works and look at some of the forms it takes and types of devices that use it.

Flash Memory Basics
We discussed the underlying technology of Flash memory in How ROM Works, but here's a quick review:

Flash memory is a type of EEPROM chip. It has a grid of columns and rows with a cell that has two transistors at each intersection (see image below).

The two transistors are separated from each other by a thin oxide layer. One of the transistors is known as a floating gate, and the other one is the control gate. The floating gate's only link to the row, or wordline, is through the control gate. As long as this link is in place, the cell has a value of 1. To change the value to a 0 requires a curious process called Fowler-Nordheim tunneling. Next, we'll talk about tunneling.

Flash Memory: Tunneling and Erasing

Tunneling is used to alter the placement of electrons in the floating gate. An electrical charge, usually 10 to 13 volts, is applied to the floating gate. The charge comes from the column, or bitline, enters the floating gate and drains to a ground.

This charge causes the floating-gate transistor to act like an electron gun. The excited electrons are pushed through and trapped on other side of the thin oxide layer, giving it a negative charge. These negatively charged electrons act as a barrier between the control gate and the floating gate. A special device called a cell sensor monitors the level of the charge passing through the floating gate. If the flow through the gate is greater than 50 percent of the charge, it has a value of 1. When the charge passing through drops below the 50-percent threshold, the value changes to 0. A blank EEPROM has all of the gates fully open, giving each cell a value of 1.

The electrons in the cells of a Flash-memory chip can be returned to normal ("1") by the application of an electric field, a higher-voltage charge. Flash memory uses in-circuit wiring to apply the electric field either to the entire chip or to predetermined sections known as blocks. This erases the targeted area of the chip, which can then be rewritten. Flash memory works much faster than traditional EEPROMs because instead of erasing one byte at a time, it erases a block or the entire chip, and then rewrites it.

You may think that your car radio has Flash memory, since you are able to program the presets and the radio remembers them. But it is actually using Flash RAM. The difference is that Flash RAM has to have some power to maintain its contents, while Flash memory will maintain its data without any external source of power. Even though you have turned the power off, the car radio is pulling a tiny amount of current to preserve the data in the Flash RAM. That is why the radio will lose its presets if your car battery dies or the wires are disconnected.

Removable Flash Memory Cards

While your computer's BIOS chip is the most common form of Flash memory, removable solid-state storage devices are becoming increasingly popular. SmartMedia and CompactFlash cards are both well-known, especially as "electronic film" for digital cameras. Other removable Flash memory products include Sony's Memory Stick, PCMCIA memory cards, and memory cards for video game systems such as Nintendo's N64, Sega's Dreamcast and Sony's PlayStation. We will focus on SmartMedia and CompactFlash, but the essential idea is the same for all of these products. Every one of them is simply a form of Flash memory.

There are several reasons to use Flash memory instead of a hard disk:

  • Flash memory is noiseless.
  • It allows faster access.
  • It is smaller in size.
  • It is lighter.
  • It has no moving parts.
So why don't we just use Flash memory for everything? Because the cost per megabyte for a hard disk is drastically cheaper, and the capacity is substantially more.


smart media flash card
SmartMedia card
The solid-state floppy-disk card (SSFDC), better known as SmartMedia, was originally developed by Toshiba.

SmartMedia cards are available in capacities ranging from 2 MB to 128 MB. The card itself is quite small, approximately 45 mm long, 37 mm wide and less than 1 mm thick. This is amazing when you consider what is packed into such a tiny package!

As shown below, SmartMedia cards are elegant in their simplicity. A plane electrode is connected to the Flash-memory chip by bonding wires. The Flash-memory chip, plane electrode and bonding wires are embedded in a resin using a technique called over-molded thin package (OMTP). This allows everything to be integrated into a single package without the need for soldering.

diagram of smart media card

The OMTP module is glued to a base card to create the actual card. Power and data is carried by the electrode to the Flash-memory chip when the card is inserted into a device. A notched corner indicates the power requirements of the SmartMedia card. Looking at the card with the electrode facing up, if the notch is on the left side, the card needs 5 volts. If the notch is on the right side, it requires 3.3 volts.

SmartMedia cards erase, write and read memory in small blocks (256- or 512-byte increments). This approach means that they are capable of fast, reliable performance while allowing you to specify which data you wish to keep. They are small, lightweight and easy to use. They are less rugged than other forms of removable solid-state storage, so you should be very careful when handling and storing them.

CompactFlash cards were developed by Sandisk in 1994, and they are different from SmartMedia cards in two important ways:

  • They are thicker.
  • They utilize a controller chip.
CompactFlash consists of a small circuit board with Flash-memory chips and a dedicated controller chip, all encased in a rugged shell that is several times thicker than a SmartMedia card.

As shown below, CompactFlash cards are 43 mm wide and 36 mm long, and come in two thicknesses: Type I cards are 3.3 mm thick, and Type II cards are 5.5 mm thick.

Compact Flash card
CompactFlash card

CompactFlash cards support dual voltage and will operate at either 3.3 volts or 5 volts.

The increased thickness of the card allows for greater storage capacity than SmartMedia cards. CompactFlash sizes range from 8 MB to 6GB. The onboard controller can increase performance, particularly on devices that have slow processors. The case and controller chip add size, weight and complexity to the CompactFlash card when compared to the SmartMedia card.

Memory Standards

Both SmartMedia and CompactFlash, as well as PCMCIA Type I and Type II memory cards, adhere to standards developed by the Personal Computer Memory Card International Association (PCMCIA). Because of these standards, it is easy to use CompactFlash and SmartMedia products in a variety of devices. You can also buy adapters that allow you to access these cards through a standard floppy drive, USB port or PCMCIA card slot (like the one you find on a laptop computer). Sony's Memory Stick is available in a large array of products offered by Sony, and is now showing up in products from other manufacturers as well.

Although standards are flourishing, there are many Flash-memory products that are completely proprietary in nature, such as the memory cards in video game systems. But it is good to know that as electronic components become increasingly interchangeable and learn to communicate with each other (by way of technologies such as Bluetooth), standardized removable memory will allow you to keep your world close at hand.

In September 2006, Samsung announced the development of PRAM -- Phase-change Random Access Memory. This new type of memory is supposed to combine the fast processing speed of RAM with the non-volatile features of Flash memory, leading some to nickname it "Perfect RAM." PRAM is supposed to have be 30 times faster than conventional Flash memory and have 10 times the lifespan. Samsung plans to make the first PRAM chips commercially available in 2010, with a capacity of 512 Mb. They will probably be used in cell phones and other mobile devices.

More Memory!

Read More......

02 December 2007

How Hummers Work

Introduction to How Hummers Work

In 1979, the U.S. Army issued a request for a new vehicle design that could meet demanding standards, including the ability to modify the base vehicle for different missions. Chrysler Defense, Teledyne Continental and AM General submitted design proposals, and after extensive tests and revisions, the Army awarded AM General a $1.2 billion contract to produce their High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), better known as the Humvee or Hummer.

Hummer base model
Photo courtesy AM General
The Humvee Base Model. See more hummer pictures.
The Hummer plays an integral role in the Army's vehicle fleet. The U.S. Marines, Navy and Air Force also use Hummers in various military operations. AM General first offered a civilian version of the Hummer in 1992. In 1999, GM purchased the right to produce vehicles using the Hummer name, so now there are two lines of Hummers in production -- AM General's military vehicles and GM's civilian Hummers.

Hummers have made a huge impact on both military applications and civilian lifestyles. This versatile vehicle seems to embody complex -- and sometimes contradictory -- ideals, from utilitarian workhorse to the ultimate expression of machismo. Even as the military looks to replace HMMWVs as part of its Future Tactical Truck Systems (FTTS) program, the Hummer continues to be a symbol of the U.S. military's presence in combat zones around the world.

Video Gallery: Robotic Hummers
and Special Perks
Manually driving a robotic Hummer to the gas station turns a few heads, including a police officer's. Learn how to get attention at a gas station in this NOVA segment from PBS.

Automakers often claim that their vehicles can do more than just get you from point A to point B, and drivers often wish they can push the speedometer on that shiny new sports car over a hundred, but few of them ever get the opportunity -- until now. See how automakers are offering exotic perks in this video from MediaLink.

In this article, we'll look at the basic military Hummer and its amazing configurations. We'll examine the civilian models -- officially known as Hummers -- currently on the market. We'll also explore the cultural impact of the Hummer.

In the next section, we'll look at the basic military Hummer.

Hummer Specs

By the 1970s, Army officials were convinced that they needed to upgrade their fleet of ground vehicles. The Jeep, which was the Army's previous general-purpose vehicle, had outlived its versatility and usefulness in the field. They needed a new, adaptable vehicle that could handle the demands of the evolving nature of combat environments.

The basic Hummer vehicle is 6 feet tall, 7 feet wide, 15 feet long and weighs 5,200 pounds (2,340 kilograms). AM General used a steel frame with five cross members to support the weight of a vehicle with a payload of up to 2,500 pounds (1,125 kilograms), allowing a gross vehicle weight (GVW) -- the weight of the vehicle, passengers and maximum payload -- of 7,700 pounds (3,465 kilograms). In order to keep the vehicle's total weight at a manageable level, AM General used aluminum to construct the body of the car. The aluminum is strong enough to support heavy armaments or carry troops, yet is able to flex when the Hummer travels over rough ground.

carrying troops
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Some military Humvees are used as troop transport vehicles.

A double A-arm independent suspension in the front and rear with hydraulic shock absorbers allow the Hummer to tackle unforgiving terrain. It also has torque-biasing differentials and four-wheel disc brakes, which give the Hummer the ability to continue moving even when some of the wheels lose contact with the ground.

The Hummer is a fully four-wheel drive vehicle -- the engine powers all four wheels at all times. It also has open-differential gears with Torsen differentials. When one wheel begins to slip, it loses torque. The Torsen differential system senses the loss of torque and increases torque to the other wheels. Coupled with the brake traction control system, the Humvee's Torsen differentials give the vehicle incredible off-road capabilities.

AM General outfitted the Hummer with military tires, and some Hummers included a central tire inflation system (CTIS). With this system, a driver can adjust tire pressure without leaving his seat. By lowering the pressure in the tires, the driver could increase the Hummer's grip on rough surfaces, which can be handy if you're trying to drive up a steep hill covered in rocks. Higher pressure is better when driving on even surfaces -- it helps maintain a smooth ride.

Hummers have a 25-gallon (95-liter) fuel tank and can go about 300 miles (480 kilometers) before needing to refuel -- meaning a basic Hummer gets about 12 miles to the gallon, though heavier Hummer variations are somewhat less efficient. As per the Army's request, all military Hummers run on diesel fuel and have an automatic transmission -- the Army wanted all its vehicles to run on the same fuel system and felt that automatic transmissions would be easier for new trainees to learn quickly.

When It Has To Be There Overnight
AM General designed Hummers for rapid deployment, including dropping them from low-flying aircraft. A C-130 Hercules transport aircraft can carry three Hummers. The C-5A Galaxy aircraft can carry up to 15. Helicopters can even carry them and deliver the vehicle using a Low Altitude Parachute Extraction System. In theory, the Army can rapidly deploy a fully equipped Hummer to men in the field in a matter of hours.

The Hummer has power steering and includes a 12/24-volt electrical system. Either two or four soldiers can sit inside the cab of the vehicle, depending on the variant. According to AM General, the location of the seats on either side of the drive train helps give the Hummer a low center of gravity.

The vehicles have powerful combat locks on each of the doors to help keep soldiers safe. Unfortunately, some soldiers have found it impossible to open the doors if the locks are damaged out in the field. To fix this problem, AM General now includes a D-ring on all Hummer doors. The D-ring is a loop of metal attached to the outside of the Hummer's doors and functions as a place to attach a cable or chain. A winch or similar device can pull the cable, forcing the door open and letting soldiers out of the vehicle.

That's the lowdown on the basic Hummer. Using this as a starting platform, AM General produced 15 different HMMWV variants. They designed 44 interchangeable Hummer parts, allowing the Army to modify, maintain and repair vehicles with incredible efficiency, economy and flexibility.

In the next section, we'll look at some of the variants of the military Hummer.

Hummer Models

The 15 variations on the basic Hummer model allow the Army to use the same vehicle as a troop or cargo transport, weapons carrier, shelter carrier (a vehicle designed to transport electronic equipment) or ambulance. Some variations look almost identical, while others seem to be completely unrelated. All use the same frame, drive train geometry, suspension and lower body.

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Hummer
You may recall from the previous section that the basic Hummer weighs a hefty 5,200 pounds (2,340 kilograms) -- that's almost 600 pounds more than a 2007 Ford F-150. Even so, it's a lightweight compared to the monster known as the M1151A1 with B1 armor, a Hummer designed as an armament carrier complete with armor designed to protect the vehicle from ballistic attacks and landmines. This little baby weighs in at a lean 10,300 pounds (4,635 kilograms), but when carrying its full payload, the GVW reaches an incredible 12,100 pounds (5,445 kilograms) -- more than 6 tons!

The current 15 variations fall into two different broad categories -- the A2 model series and the Expanded Capacity Vehicle (ECV) models. Nine models are in the A2 series, including the M1097A2 Cargo/Troop Carrier, the M1097A2 Shelter Carrier, the M997A2 Maxi-Ambulance with Basic Armor and the M1045A2 Armament/TOW Missile Carrier with Supplemental Armor. The TOW missile is a tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided missile designed to neutralize enemy tanks and aircraft.

helicopter carrying hummer
Photo courtesy AM General
Helicopters can airlift Humvees and transport them into the field.
The Army has lots of options when it comes to arming A2 Hummers. Some of the weapons you might find on one include:
  • A .50 caliber M2HB Machine Gun
  • The MK 19 40 mm Grenade Machine Gun
  • A 106mm Recoilless Rife
  • A Giat 30, M781 Cannon
  • TOW and TOW II Anti-Aircraft Missile Systems
  • Milan Anti-Armor Missile System

The Army also wanted some vehicles that could carry heavier payloads without a detrimental effect on the cars' mobility. AM General's response was the ECV series. The M1113 ECV is used in special operations missions and as a communications shelter carrier. The M1114 has upgraded ballistic protection and is used in military police and explosive disposal missions. The M1151 is an armament carrier and the M1152 can either be used as a troop carrier or shelter carrier. The M1165 is used as a command and control vehicle. The M1116 is the U.S. Air Force's variation on the Hummer, with a larger cargo area and turret gunner armor.

Just like a commercial vehicle, there's some optional equipment you can get on a military Hummer. The options available to both the Hummer and civilian vehicles are air conditioning, special paints, a hard top, central tire inflation system and a winch. Here are a few of the options the military can include that are definitely not available on your average set of wheels:

  • Troop seats for up to eight soldiers
  • A deep water (up to 5 feet) fording kit with snorkel
  • An Arctic kit
  • A desert filtration package
  • Pedestal weapons mount
  • Special Ops configuration

International Hummers
AM General partners with international defense contractors to develop Hummer-based vehicles like the Eagle and the Cobra for other nations. The Eagle modification is used in surveillance, reconnaissance, escort and police missions. The Cobra is a heavily armored vehicle that can carry up to 11 crewmembers depending on the variant. Both the Eagle and the Cobra can have manually or remotely operated weapons turrets.

Photo courtesy AM General
The Eagle

Photo courtesy AM General
The Cobra

In the next section, we'll look at how the Hummer invaded the civilian automobile market.

Civilian Hummers

The American public's awareness of the Hummer really blossomed in 1991 as Operation Desert Storm dominated daily headlines and newscasts. For most Americans, it was the first chance to see the Army's Hummer in action. Many were intrigued by its wide, powerful design, and before long people began to ask AM General if it planned to produce a commercial version of the Hummer. AM General's answer was "yes."

H2 hummer
Daniel T. Yara, morguefile
An H2 Hummer

In 1992, AM General began to produce a four-wheel drive vehicle based off the military Hummer. They marketed it as "the world's most serious 4x4." The Hummer shared many of its military cousin’s features, including the brake traction control system that gives the Hummer the ability to adjust torque even when a wheel is completely off the ground. Off-road enthusiasts were overjoyed at the prospect of getting behind the wheel of a car that could tackle courses that would scare a Jeep driver. The car's safety rankings were very high -- but you'd probably expect that from a car originally designed for combat missions.

Come With Me If You Want to Live
One person who was particularly interested in Hummers was future California governor and former Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger's fascination with the vehicle made the news when he first asked AM General to sell him a Hummer. AM General refused to sell a military vehicle to a civilian, but eventually conceded by designing and producing the Hummer. In 1992, Schwarzenegger became the first owner of the civilian Hummer.

Civilian Hummers use the same chassis as the military Hummer, and AM General even uses the same manufacturing facilities to build them. From 1992 to 1995, the Hummer used a diesel engine (either a 6.2 or 6.5-liter engine, depending on the year). From 1995 to 1997, AM General experimented by producing a model that used a 5.7-liter gasoline V-8 engine. Unfortunately, the Hummer just weighed too much -- early Hummers weighed in at around 7,000 pounds (3,150 kilograms) -- and AM General went back to using diesel engines after 1997.

In 1999, General Motors purchased the right to produce vehicles under the Hummer brand name. AM General would continue to produce the original Hummer, renamed as the H1, under the GM brand name. GM named later models the H2 and H3. Although GM designed the H2, AM General builds the cars in its facilities. General Motors manufactures the Hummer H3 using its own facilities.

Hummer Options

The Hummer H2 is longer than, but not as wide as the H1, and the H3 is the smallest vehicle under the brand name so far. Even so, you can't describe the H3 as dainty -- it's 85.5 inches (7.1 feet) wide and 186.7 inches (15.6 feet) long. Drivers who love the series find the size empowering, while other drivers often feel intimidated when they encounter such gargantuan vehicles.

The Hummer line is not known for its fuel efficiency. Various models of the Hummer H1 reportedly averaged at around 10 miles per gallon [source: Shortnews.com]. Peter Ternes, Hummer's director of global product communications, said that the H2 got 12 miles to the gallon [source: AOL Autos]. The H3 fares the best with 15 mpg city/19 mpg highway. There's also the experimental H2H, a hydrogen-powered Hummer, but because there's no hydrogen fuel infrastructure in the United States, it's not likely to be commercially available soon.

Holyfield's hummer
Vince Bucci/Getty Images
Evander Holyfield's Hummer
As the Hummer brand has evolved over the last few years, General Motors has introduced more options catering to customer comfort. The earliest commercial Hummer vehicles were only a little more comfortable than their military Hummer counterparts were. The appeal of the vehicle was in its off-road capabilities, not its style or amenities. The biggest concession to customer comfort was air conditioning, something many military Hummers lack.

Current Hummer vehicles have more appealing options like chrome finishing, leather seating, heated windshields, remote keyless entry, power windows and cruise control. You can buy an H3 Hummer with satellite radio and heated seats if you like. Other options cater to rugged outdoorsy types -- winches, off-road hardware, tool kits and trailer hitches are available.

As amenities have increased, the price of Hummers has actually gone down. The original Hummer's price was more than $100,000. The first H2 vehicles were also expensive, though now a 2008 H2 Hummer will cost you about $55,500. The H3 is the most affordable model -- a 2008 H3 is priced between $30,000 and $39,000.

In the next section, we'll look at how Hummers have impacted our culture.

Hummer's Cultural Impact

enhancing a hummer
Spc. L.B.Edgar, U.S. Army
A soldier makes alterations
to a Humvee to
improve safety conditions .
Images and video of Hummers appear nearly every day in reports on the United State's presence in foreign countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. Ever since Desert Storm, the Hummer has been a symbol of the U.S. military. In some cases, critics have pointed out perceived shortcomings in the Hummer's design, mainly focusing on its armor. AM General points out that the Army never demanded extensive armor for its Hummers. AM General does offer basic and supplemental armor for several Hummer models, though these packages only provided limited protection. A direct shot from a relatively powerful rifle could still pierce the armor.

Reports of the Hummer's armor limitations give rise to accusations that the equipment sent to our troops overseas isn't sufficient. Many military outfits up-armor their equipment, installing armor plating directly to the vehicle once they receive it. Adding armor to a Hummer increases its weight, which in turn can affect its performance. In some cases, a Hummer may be better armored but less maneuverable, making it a more likely target for enemy fire. Because of these limitations, critics say the Army should focus on other vehicle options like the Stryker vehicle.

On the civilian Hummer front, there are other issues. Drivers who enjoy challenging their skills and pushing a vehicle to its limits in off-road courses tend to love Hummer vehicles. A Hummer can scale hills that are insurmountable to most other cars. They can go up steep slopes, drive over objects that would obstruct other vehicles and even plow through up to 30 inches of water without a problem.

While Hummers might traverse a difficult obstacle course with relative ease, they face a much more daunting roadblock when it comes to environmentalists and other critics. The Hummers' infamous fuel efficiency -- or lack thereof -- is enough to turn a green-minded person bright red. In California, a state where environmental concerns are prominent in the minds of its citizens, Gov. Schwarzenegger faced criticism for his unabashed love of the vehicles. His involvement during the publicity tour of the H2H hybrid vehicle did little to calm his critics.

Schwarzenegger fuels up
David McNew/Getty Images
California governor and Humvee fan Arnold Schwarzenegger fuels up a hydrogen-powered Hummer.
Others see the Hummer as a symbol of American excess and gluttony. A few go so far as to place the blame of the country's foreign policy on the owners of Hummers and other SUVs, claiming that we're involved in conflicts in the Middle East due to our enormous rate of oil consumption. Some people just feel the cars are large, ugly, unwieldy and scary to encounter on the road. A few people even take action: Hundreds of people protested at Hummer dealerships on November 15, 2003 -- a day activists called "National Protest Day Against Hummers" in a fit of creative genius [source: CommonDreams.org].

It seems that growing numbers of Americans are trying to be environmentally conscious. In that environment, the Hummer line of vehicles faces its toughest road yet -- there may come a day when Hummer owners face more than just the scorn of critics. It's ironic that the same vehicle that was a symbol of American heroism, determination and unity in purpose in 1991 has become a divisive symbol both at home and overseas today.

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01 December 2007

7 Disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle

Technorati Profile

The Bermuda Triangle, also known as the Devil's Triangle, is an infamous stretch of the Atlantic Ocean bordered by Florida, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico that has been the location of strange disappearances throughout history. The Coast Guard does not recognize the Bermuda Triangle or the supernatural explanations for the mysterious disappearances in its midst. There are some probable explanations for the missing vessels, including hurricanes, undersea earthquakes, and magnetic fields that interfere with compasses and other positioning devices. But it's much more interesting to think the following vessels got sucked into another dimension, abducted by aliens, or simply vanished into thin air.

1. Flight 19

On the afternoon of December 5, 1945, five Avenger torpedo bombers left the Naval Air Station at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with Lt. Charles Taylor in command of a crew of 13 student pilots. About an hour and a half into the flight, Taylor radioed the base to say that his compasses weren't working, but he figured he was somewhere over the Florida Keys. The lieutenant who received the signal told Taylor to fly north toward Miami, as long as he was sure he was actually over the Keys. Although he was an experienced pilot, Taylor got horribly turned around, and the more he tried to get out of the Keys, the further out to sea he and his crew traveled.

Many unexplained disappearances are attributed to strange forces within the Bermuda Triangle.
The Bermuda Triangle, located off the US east coast, is the location of many unexplained disappearances.
As night fell, radio signals worsened, until, finally, there was nothing at all from Flight 19. A U.S. Navy investigation reported that Taylor's confusion caused the disaster, but his mother convinced them to change the official report to read that the planes went down for "causes unknown." The planes have never been recovered.

2. Flight 201

This Cessna left Fort Lauderdale on March 31, 1984, en route for Bimini Island in the Bahamas, but it never made it. Not quite midway to its destination, the plane slowed its airspeed significantly, but no radio signals were made from the plane to indicate distress. Suddenly, the plane dropped from the air into the water, completely vanishing from the radar. A woman on Bimini Island swore she saw a plane plunge into the sea about a mile offshore, but no wreckage has ever been found.

Airplanes flying from the US, Great Britain and Bermuda have all fallen somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle. Read on to find out more about these fateful flights.
These ill-fated flights have fallen victim to the mysterious powers of the Bermuda Triangle. Find out how these planes were never heard from again.

3. USS Cyclops

As World War I heated up, America went to battle. The Cyclops, commanded by Lt. G. W. Worley, stayed mostly on the East Coast of the United States until 1918 when it was sent to Brazil to refuel Allied ships. With 309 people onboard, the ship left Rio de Janeiro in February and reached Barbados in March. After that, the Cyclops was never heard from again. The Navy says in its official statement, "The disappearance of this ship has been one of the most baffling mysteries in the annals of the Navy, all attempts to locate her having proved unsuccessful. There were no enemy submarines in the western Atlantic at that time, and in December 1918 every effort was made to obtain from German sources information regarding the disappearance of the vessel."

4. Star Tiger

The Star Tiger, commanded by Capt. B. W. McMillan, was flying from England to Bermuda in January 1948. On January 30, McMillan said he expected to arrive in Bermuda at 5:00 a.m., but neither he nor any of the 31 people onboard the Star Tiger were ever heard from again. When the Civil Air Ministry launched a search and investigation, they learned that the S.S. Troubadour had reported seeing a low-flying aircraft halfway between Bermuda and the entrance to Delaware Bay. If that aircraft was the Star Tiger, it was drastically off course. According to the Civil Air Ministry, the fate of the Star Tiger remains an unsolved mystery.

5. Star Ariel

A Tudor IV aircraft like the Star Tiger left Bermuda on January 17, 1949, with 7 crew members and 13 passengers en route to Jamaica. That morning, Capt. J. C. McPhee reported that the flight was going smoothly. Shortly afterward, another more cryptic message came from the captain, when he reported that he was changing his frequency, and then nothing more was heard, ever. More than 60 aircraft and 13,000 men were deployed to look for the Star Ariel, but not even a hint of debris or wreckage was ever found. After the Ariel disappeared, Tudor IVs were no longer produced.

6. The Spray

Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail solo around the world, never should have been lost at sea, but it appears that's exactly what happened. In 1909, the Spray left the East Coast of the United States for Venezuela via the Caribbean Sea. Slocum was never heard from or seen again and was declared dead in 1924. The ship was solid and Slocum was a pro, so nobody knows what happened. Perhaps he was felled by a larger ship or maybe he was taken down by pirates. No one knows for sure that Slocum disappeared within Triangle waters, but Bermuda buffs claim Slocum's story as part of the legacy of the Devil's Triangle.

7. Teignmouth Electron

Who said that the Bermuda Triangle only swallows up ships and planes? Who's to say it can't make a man go mad, too? Perhaps that's what happened on the Teignmouth Electron in 1969. The Sunday Times Golden Globe Race of 1968 left England on October 31 and required each contestant to sail his ship solo. Donald Crowhurst was one of the entrants, but he never made it to the finish line. The Electron was found abandoned in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle in July 1969. Logbooks recovered from the ship reveal that Crowhurst was deceiving organizers about his position in the race and going a little nutty out there in the big blue ocean. The last entry of his log was dated June 29 -- it is believed that Crowhurst jumped overboard and drowned himself in the Triangle.

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