Pretend engine noises make electric cars more fun


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Gearing up for happiness

Transitions sometimes start with a period of frustration. People can adapt to new ways – but the old ways are familiar, which make them feel comfortable in comparison with the new. Transmissions, too, sometimes start with a period of frustration. Tim Stevens reports in Ars Technica about how one automobile manufacturer is solving a problem some of its customers have in transitioning from a petrol-powered car to an electric vehicle (EV).

The news headline says it all: “Toyota has built an EV with a fake transmission, and we’ve driven it – Five minutes behind the wheel, and you’ll be a believer.”

This is for customers who love the ancient experience of driving with a gearstick. Toyota’s new car has a joystick and a clutch pedal. Neither is connected to the car’s actual transmission. Stevens writes: “something strange happens: An engine fires up. It’s a pretend one, exhaust humming only through the car’s sound system. Still, it sounds compelling enough. Step on the throttle pedal, and that pretend engine gains revs, screaming up to its limiter with simulated aggression. To be clear: Literally nothing is happening in the car at this point other than the sound changing pitch. Oddly, though, something was happening in me: I was smiling. For no logical reason, I suddenly was having a lot more fun.”

Feedback marvels at this new techno-twist on the old philosophical drive to answer the question “What is reality?”

A stink about beer

Beer enthusiast Bernd-Juergen Fischer of Berlin is peeved. He tells Feedback: “Your paragraph on beer foam aroma sceptics [21 October] set my head spinning: ‘if there are any’! And this in a journal out of Britain, where the greatest care is being taken by tappers to remove even the last vestige of foam off the beer before a-spilling it onto the table! When I complained to a publican about it, he responded: ‘If you want a tasty beer, you can always go to the continent.’

“My wife then explained to me what every child in the Anglo-Saxon world seems to know: ‘The Brits like only what they dislike: take broccoli. Or the EU: when they began to like it, they left it.’ This explains also why you had to leave such in-depth beer-foam research to the Japanese: There ain’t any in GB.”

Bernd-Juergen might persuade publicans by giving them copies of a Mexican study, “Productivity in the use of beer foam“. It suggests how to “make the foam more attractive to the consumer”.

Medical amusement

An old saying, iffily attributed to Voltaire, explains that “the art of medicine consists mostly of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease”.

Feedback invites any reader who is a practising, licensed physician to say whether – in your professional experience – that is substantially true. Send your note, accompanied perhaps by a few words of personal professional recollection, to “Medical Amusement”, c/o Feedback. Please, for context, identify your own branch of medicine (family doctor, surgeon, cardiologist, neurologist, otolaryngologist, whatever).

Future for ducks

The future arrives faster than one expects. Or slower, depending on one’s expectation.

Consider the recent study called “Machine learning approach for Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) semen quality assessment“. One hundred years ago, this paper, had it existed, might have been regarded as science fiction.

Desislava Abadjieva, its lead author, is based at the department of immunoneuroendocrinology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Biology and Immunology of Reproduction.

Immunoneuroendocrinology! A 1992 report spoke to the then future of a pursuit that, at the time, was little known. It said: “The numerous interactions between the immune and neuroendocrine systems are being studied in a rapidly expanding interdisciplinary field called ‘immunoneuroendocrinology’.”

During the 31 years since, the entire scientific community, worldwide, has published only about 40 papers that even mention the word immunoneuroendocrinology.

As to the future for Muscovy ducks, a new Brazilian report on its face implies bad news. It is called “Consumption of Muscovy duck eggs by brown capuchin monkeys in a peri-urban forest in the Amazon“. The details, though, give a helter-skelter view of what might happen.

What is currently bad news for the ducks could lead to catastrophically worse news, instead, for the monkeys. The report is a stark warning to any brown capuchin monkey who might find a way to read it – and a source of at least some hope for readers who are Muscovy ducks. It explains that, by preying on the ducks, the monkeys might bring on “retaliation” by the humans who traditionally raise and devour those ducks.

This is nature again displaying the give and take that Stephen Sondheim celebrated in a song in his play Sweeney Todd: The demon barber of Fleet Street. “The history of the world, my sweet,” explains the title character as they cook up how to cook up some pies made of human meat, “is who gets eaten and who gets to eat.”

Marc Abrahams created the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony and co-founded the magazine Annals of Improbable Research. Earlier, he worked on unusual ways to use computers. His website is

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