Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Death of a Spaceman

Neil Armstrong died today from complications resulting from an operation to open up some blocked coronary arteries. He was 82 years old. Armstrong is arguably the best known member of the Apollo 11 team and was the first man to walk on the moon, on a mission that had only a 50% probability of success.

Armstrong was a determinedly private man who disliked the celebrity status that was thrust upon him after returning to Earth. He refused to sign autographs and declined interviews, with one notable exception being an interview he gave in May, 2012, to the chief executive of the Certified Practicing Accountants of Australia. Reportedly he broke his silence due to his fondness for the accountancy profession, as his father had been an auditor.

The full legacy of Armstrong's achievement can never be known, but it stands among the discovery of fire and the invention of the printing press as one of civilization's finest moments. His famous speech (often misinterpreted as " small step for man" rather than "for a man" due to a glitch in the original broadcast) has exemplified the potential for a single individual to change the course of history. The bold spirit of optimism and discovery that Armstrong and Apollo 11 came to represent is sorely missed.

One hopes we can bring it back.

Would you like to know more?
-Read his most recent interview
-Read this statement from NASA administrator Charles Bolden

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Latest Dance Craze is...Death!

The next time you get that spontaneous urge to tap your feet and bust out some moves...beware. It could be a sign that you're not well. In fact, it might mean that you're stricken by an illness that once swept through medieval Europe.

I speak, of course, of the Dancing Plague.

In July of 1518, in the city of Strasbourg, France, a woman stepped out of her home and walked through an alley. Her name was Frau Troffea, and she was patient zero. She began a frantic dance in the middle of the street and continued to dance into the night. Five days later, Troffea was delirious from exhaustion, but still dancing. Soon the crowds of onlookers were compelled to join in the dance, and they too were unable to stop. More and more people were absorbed into the vortex of stomping feet and flailing arms. By August, four hundred people were dancing in the streets of Strasbourg, and they were dropping like proverbial flies thanks to heart attacks, strokes, and dehydration. 

The authorities were bewildered, and issued an order for halls to be opened and musicians to play, in hopes that the dance would subside if properly facilitated. Their plan failed, and in the end the dancers were forcibly rounded up and deported to a shrine in hopes that the power of prayer could cure them. It took another month before the Plague started to clear up. Those who survived could offer no insight into what prompted their non-stop boogie.

Remarkably, this incident is only one of ten accounts of infectious dance-a-thons. It's the best documented, but there are records of other outbreaks going as far back as the 1300's. This was not some apocryphal medieval folktale, like the Flying Saint of Cupertino. This was the real deal. So, the question that immediately springs to mind is: why did these ordinary people start dancing themselves to death?

Scientists have found no conclusive origin for the Plague but various theories have been forth. One commonly held notion is that the people of Strasbourg had eaten wheat contaminated by Ergot mold, which produces spectacularly unpleasant hallucinations and convulsions. This idea has a major problem, however, as all accounts very clearly describe rhythmic dancing and not the violent spasms associated with Ergot. 

The other possible answer is mass hysteria. Medieval France was a rough place to live, and perhaps after a lifetime of storms, famines, and genuine diseases, these superstitious people just snapped. There are other noted examples of contagious, compulsive behavior, so perhaps the Dancing Plague was just one big freak-out.

As this mysterious ailment still has no known cure, I think that we ought to prepare for worse in case there's a modern outbreak. I suggest rigorous regulation of all extended club mixes of pop songs and a ban on stylish discotheques. No one wants a public health emergency, even if it means destroying dubstep.

Would you like to know more?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Cat's Eye

Born in 1860 with a cleft lip, Louis Wain did not receive an education until age ten, thanks to the dubious advice of a family doctor who felt it wouldn't be suitable for young Wain to be around other children. After finally enrolling in school, Wain usually cut classes and spent his time exploring London.

Given this background, it is surprising that Wain developed into a talented artist. As a young man he supported his family through freelance illustration work, focusing on pastoral scenes. However, the field of freelancers was crowded, and Wain struggled to find prominence.

In 1883, he married Emily Richardson, but their happiness turned to tragedy when she became ill with cancer three years later. They found some comfort in the companionship of their much-loved pet cat, and Wain was inspired to make some cat drawings.

While his earliest illustrations were entirely naturalistic, Wain transitioned to amusing cartoons of anthropomorphised cats in order to boost his wife's spirits. Before she died, Emily Wain made her husband promise to continue drawing cats. Despite his grief, he devoted himself to his work. Gradually, the cats became even more human and were shown playing soccer, planning parties, and other merry activities. Wain submitted these illustrations to various newspapers, and eventually a Christmas-themed piece was bought by the London Illustrated News. There followed a flurry of production, in which Wain's illustrations were featured in several newspapers, magazines, and countless greeting cards. Unfortunately, Wain was credulous and naive when it came to the sale his artwork, and as a result he frequently received inadequate compensation. Often he lost the rights altogether.

After a stint in New York City doing a cat-themed comic-strip for the loathsome William Randolph Heart, Wain found himself broke and unable to sustain the whimsy of his previous work. He returned to London, where he learned that his mother had died in the 1918 flu pandemic. Unable to cope with his grief, Wain began to fray at the seams and his mental health declined. Accordingly, his cats no longer beamed with humor, and instead radiated paranoia and dread. Wain's relationship with his sisters deteriorated as he became obsessive, reclusive, and unstable.

By 1924, Wain had become violent and was committed to a mental institution. He spent the following years oscillating between calm lucidity and angry incoherence. The commonly accepted theory is that Wain had developed schizophrenia, but in lieu of a proper diagnosis it is impossible to tell what had happened to the poor man. When word spread that the once-famous illustrator was languishing in a drab hospital room, there was outrage amongst his fans and admirers, including such influential figures as the legendary science-fiction writer H.G. Wells.

At the behest of Wells and others, Wain was transferred to a far more a comfortable mental hospital. While Wain never recovered from his illness, the change of environment had a pronounced effect on him and his mood swings ended. Instead, he lived in quiet dementia, tending to a garden and caring for several pet cats that the hospital allowed him to keep. He also returned to art and produced many new beautiful illustrations. The pieces that he produced at the end of his life were highly abstract, and dazzlingly elaborate, and yet the familiar face of a cat is instantly recognizable.

Wain died on July 4th, 1939. His work is highly collectible, especially amongst both cat fanciers and psychology enthusiasts.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Everyone Needs a Hero

Alongside the personal rocket-pack, the household robot is one of the most eagerly anticipated accessories of Tomorrow. From Robby to Rosy, no bright future is complete without loyal robots tending to the chores and home maintenance; indeed, it's usually presented as being the pinnacle achievement of these far-flung societies. 

Still, our imagination always exceeds our technology, and we have not yet found a way to program the stoic professionalism of a majordomo onto a silicon chip. However, that doesn't stop us from trying.

In the 1980's, an electronics firm known as the Heath Company had found success manufacturing "Heathkit" do-it-yourself computers. By 1982, the Heathkit brand had expanded to include robotics. Known as HERO (an acronym for the Heathkit Educational Robot), the earliest models resembled little photocopiers on wheels. They were equipped with numerous sensors, a single mechanical arm, and 4 kilobytes of memory stored on tape-cassette. Through the use of a keypad in its "head," the HERO could perform simple tasks and even carry drinks.

The HERO was later followed by the smaller, more streamlined HERO Jr. This incarnation was designed with greater mass-market appeal and took cues from R2-D2 and other cute lil' robots from fiction. While Junior had less memory than its forebear, it did come equipped with a speech synthesizer that produced a voice that could be adjusted to the tastes of its owner. It could remember and repeat its owner's name, and then entertain them with pre-programmed poems, songs, and nursery rhymes. It also could patrol the home as a "guard" and remotely activate security systems if it detected intruders. Additional program cartridges were available to further broaden Junior's abilities.

Unfortunately, sales of the HERO Jr. and its successor (the bombastic HERO 2000), were not enough to sustain the Heath Company. Changes in computer technology and marketing had made the manufacture of kits a non-viable source of revenue. The Heath Company eventually folded in 1992, and was tossed back and forth by various investor groups. The once prominent company was a forgotten figure in the world of computing, and among its achievements, only its role in the nascent world of household robotics endured. 

 Recently, a new development has emerged from the ashes. Calling itself Heathkit Educational Systems, this company has partnered with a Canadian corporation called White Box Robotics. Their first major project is the most advanced HERO to date; a HERO for the 21st century. Perhaps believing that their creation needed a more manly name, they named the thing the HE-RObot. This model comes equipped with Windows XP, a web cam, USB port, wireless networking, and speech recognition software allowing for a unique degree of interactivity with its owners and its environment.  Heathkit and White Box hope to have the HE-RObot available for purchase sometime in 2012, all for a mere $8000. 

Be the first one on your block. 

Would you like to know more?
-Take a look at the HERO line here
-Visit Heathkit Education Systems official site
-Visit White Box Robotics official site

No Evil Can Defeat Our Combined Force!

Monday, April 02, 2012

Fire and Brimstone or the Rocket's Red Glare?

1942 was a breakthrough year for Jack Whiteside Parsons, an ambitious, brilliant, and mustachioed chemist hailing from California. Parsons came from a dysfunctional family and had little success in school, and yet (perhaps inspired by his love of pulp science-fiction magazines) he and a group of friends went on to found the now-famous Jet Propulsion Laboratory and win a contract with the U.S military. Doggedly searching for a stable solid fuel for rockets, Parsons finally came across potassium perchlorate. His discovery would allow for the development of superior rocket technology and ultimately lead to man's exploration of space. Besides his passion for chemistry and engineering, Parsons had another major interest. That same year, he was inducted into the Ordo Templi Orientis (or the O.T.O.); a brotherhood of black magic founded by none other than the notorious occultist Aleister Crowley. It was Crowley himself who oversaw the initiation and placed Parsons as the head of the California branch.

So, all in all, it was definitely a memorable time.

Parsons was a follower of Thelema, an elaborate mish-mash of arcane practices that Crowley had cribbed from archaic sects from around the world. Parsons fiercely believed that these mystic rituals were components of the same forces he observed as a scientist, and as the leader of the Californian O.T.O. lodge he took his duties seriously (even collecting dues from the other would-be-wizards). His esoteric ideas irked his colleagues and threatened his military employers. In spite of the valuable discoveries he had made, he was bought out of his own company in 1944.

It was around this time that Parsons had accumulated a gang of eccentrics living in his large Pasadena house (known as the Parsonage). The ranks of this motley crew included Robert Cornog (a physicist who had worked on the Manhattan Project), cartographer Marjorie Cameron, and L. Ron Hubbard, a hack writer with sinister ambitions. The group endured thanks to a mutual interest in science, science-fiction, and libertarianism. Parsons became especially friendly with Hubbard, and, in 1946, included him in an astounding plan to bring about a new age for mankind.

Drawing inspiration from Aleister Crowley's writings (and from some favorite pulp sci-fi stories) Parsons became convinced that the world was under the malign influence of a force called "Horus" that would eventually lead to "power governments, war, homosexuality, infantilism, and schizophrenia." As is the pattern with these things, a messianic figure was called for, and Parsons decided to perform a magical ritual called "Babalon Working" that would create a divine "Moonchild." He was to be the father, and Marjorie Cameron was to be the mother. Hubbard was appointed the official stenographer and took notes while observing the ordeal.

It didn't work.

Parson's life deteriorated after that. He tried to start a boat rental enterprise with Hubbard, only to have Hubbard steal the boat, the start-up funds, and Parson's off-and-on-again girlfriend Sarah Northrup. The coast guard intervened, but Parson was ashamed by the experience. He sold the Parsonage and resigned from the O.T.O. Hubbard, meanwhile, happily went off to found Scientology and ruin thousands of lives.

Parsons died in 1952, after being caught in an explosion of highly unstable mercury fulminate in his private laboratory. He had been reduced to making explosives for Hollywood special effects companies and was in a rush to complete a contract. Despite his crucial contributions to the world of rocketry and space travel, Parsons is a fairly obscure figure today, known mainly to modern Thelema cultists and enthusiasts of the paranormal. He received a rare posthumous tribute when a moon crater was named in his honor.

Would you like to know more?
-Feeling ambitious? Read Parsons' own Book of Babalon

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Okay...let's get a close up on Santo...

The legend relaxes in between takes, perhaps contemplating his many years of fighting vampires.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Five Fingers of Fear

While feverishly assembling the shattered pieces of an ancient tablet, I drew ever closer to unlocking the secret of the Haunted Archipelago, but then the kitchen clock chimed and I realized that it was high time that I got to work on the newest entry in our wildly popular Monster of the Month series

They say a picture is worth a thousand worlds...well, this one is worth 1,003.

This 1963 films tells the heartwarming tale of a disembodied appendage of an astronaut; who is ripped to shreds when mission control presses the suicide switch and detonates his capsule after he becomes stricken by an alien force. The mangled hand falls to Earth, where it is discovered by a teenager named Paul (who naturally decides to bring it home). Soon the hand is strangling people right and left, but what makes this mitt particularly malicious is its corrupting influence on the teenage mind. The hand exerts a strange control over the young Paul, causing him to develop dark rings under his eyes and avoid society. Soon Paul has taken up strangling too and the feds are hot on his heels.

It doesn't end well, and thanks to some comic-relief morgue attendants the Crawling Hands escapes to lure more gullible young Americans to their doom. So, be vigilante. Report suspicious hands.

Would you like to know more?
-Watch this trailer and soak up the hyperbole

Friday, February 24, 2012

Laughing to Death

Comets have long been the archetypal herald of the apocalypse, and Halley's Comet in particular has caused predictable hysteria every 75 years, but one visitation stands out from the others.

In 1910, as the comet drew close to Earth, astronomers at the Yerkes Observatory of Chicago announced that they had studied the comet's tail and discerned that cyanogen (oxalyl cyanide) gas was present. This discovery didn't receive much attention until an amateur chemist began propagating the idea that the cyanogen would react with the oxygen in the atmosphere as Earth passed through the comet's tail. The two gases would combine into nitrous oxide (colloquially known as laughing gas) and the world's population would die in fits of horrible, choking laughter.

Fear burned through Chicago and spread out into the rest of the nation. The Yerkes Observatory tried to dispel the doomsday rumors, but religious doomsayers brought up "Wormwood," a fallen star mentioned in Revelations that was prophesied to poison the Earth. This wasn't terribly helpful. In a desperate attempt to keep out the gas, people tried to seal shut their homes using tape and newspaper. Other panicked citizens bought crude gas-masks and phony "comet pills" from unsavory figures out to exploit the situation.  One Georgian man decided to lower himself to the bottom of a forty-foot well with a gallon of whiskey.

There were also those who decided to embrace the end of the world in style. By the time May rolled around and the comet became visible, numerous roof-top comet parties were held. One wonders if they were faintly disappointed when, inevitably, the world continued. The headline of that morning's Chicago Tribune was "We're Still Here!", needlessly alerting people to the fact that they were still alive. It seems the astronomers at Yerkes Observatory had the last laugh.

But don't take my word for it!
You can read about it in a book

Two Bombs for Two Kings

Second only to the classic, bolt-necked Frankenstein, King Kong has the most expansive pop-culture legacy of any movie monster. Even when the film was first released in 1933, it was clear that Kong was destined for an iconic status. It wouldn't be long before imitators and spin-offs started to crop up.

In fact, before the year was over, Japan had produced their very own Kong. Shochiku Studios had made a nice profit distributing King Kong in Japan and sought to replicate their success. Called Wasei Kingu Kongu (or literally "Japanese King Kong"), it was a short, silent movie that featured a giant ape on the rampage. The giant ape effect was achieved using a man in a costume and tiny model cities; a technique that would become the standard operating procedure for all the giant monster (or kaiju) films to follow.

Five years later, a different studio decided to try their own variation on the King Kong story, but they wanted it to be official. Zenshō Cinema approached RKO Pictures and received their permission to do a Kong film. The result was King Kong Appears in Edo (or "Edo ni Arawareta Kingu Kongu"), a period piece that featured a Kong-like beast attacking feudal Tokyo, warding away samurai, and running off with a geisha. 

Sadly, beyond these scraps of information, along with a poster and single photo, nothing more exists of Japanese King Kong and King Kong Appears in Edo. During World War II, the bulk of Japan's films were lost, and it is believed that all the prints were destroyed in the fiery nuclear blasts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The devastation wrought by the bombs that finished the two Kongs of Japan would ultimately inspire their successor. Sixteen years later, Japan produced a home-grown creature with Godzilla (or Gojira for the purists out there). The film drew heavily upon the dread of atomic warfare, and Godzilla's radioactive flame scorched Tokyo just like Hiroshima. 

But don't take my word for it!
You can read about it in a book.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Horse Sense

Beginning in 1927, thousands of curious people traveled to Stop 10, Petersburg Turnpike, Richmond, Virginia to visit Lady Wonder. Despite that she was unable to speak, Lady Wonder obediently provided answers to the astounded onlookers at the bargain price of fifty cents per question. But Lady Wonder was no mute gypsy mystic or mentalist act. She was a mare, descended from some prominent thoroughbred race-horses.

Owned and raised by one Mrs. C.D. Fonda, Lady Wonder communicated by manipulating alphabet blocks with her nose and stomping her hooves. She could seemingly identify distinct members of the crowd, do arithmetic, spell, and identify objects. No small achievement for a beast of burden, but Lady Wonder also went one step further with acts of clairvoyance.

She reportedly predicted Franklin Roosevelt's presidential victory, along with the correct outcomes of numerous races and boxing matches. On two occasions, the horse's advice was sought out for cases of missing children. One spectator described the show as nothing less than the "subconscious connection between the mind of man and the mind of an animal."

Many, however, were less credulous. One such person was professional magician Milbourne Christopher. Christopher had written several books on the subject of Extra-Sensory Perception and the occult, and had made it his mission to expose fraud and trickery. Milbourne studied Lady Wonder and found that the mare's miraculous abilities simply did not hold up to scrutiny. The horse was observing the unconscious body language of those in the crowd (especially the body language of her trainer Mrs. Fonda) and had no genuine comprehension of the questions asked of her. The predictions could easily be written off as mere coincidences.

As Lady Wonder's reputation was by this point firmly established, Christopher's conclusions had minimal impact on the horse's fame. Thanks to the endless novelty of a psychic horse, Lady Wonder continued to receive questions until 1955, finally dying two years afterwards.

Would you like to know more?
Read some old newspaper articles about Lady Wonder here
Or you can read about in a book!

Monday, February 06, 2012

Look Back in Angkor

The Ta Prohm temple of Cambodia is a popular destination in the ancient city of Angkor. Originally known as Rajavihara, the temple was constructed by the mighty Khmer empire during the twelfth century. After the empire crumbled, the jungle moved in and tightly embraced the temple. Tree roots and vines coil around the massive stone structure, and the seamless synthesis of architecture and nature is breathtaking.

Once a center of Buddhist meditation and education, the temple has numerous bas-reliefs depicting dancing spirits, monks in prayer, temple guards, and (naturally) Buddha. One distinct carving has an anomalous subject matter that has garnered great interest in recent years.

Now what would you say that this looks like?

If you said that it resembled a dinosaur (specifically a stegosaurus) then you're not alone. We've all been there; especially the adherents of a movement known as Young Earth Creationism. After cherry-picking ambiguous and esoteric quotes from the Bible, these folks became convinced that man and dinosaurs rubbed elbows only a few thousand years ago. The carving (along with other archaeological oddities) is frequently heralded by the group as a confirmation of their belief. Apparently the stegosaurus, along with the rest of the thunder-lizards, lounged around in Eden before ultimately drowning in the Great Flood.

Another triumph of rational thinking.

Putting aside that theory for obvious reasons, the question remains: what does this carving depict? Some have said that the creature is meant to be a bull or boar wading in front of some large tropical leaves. Others have postulated that it's a bad likeness of a chameleon. A third group believes the carving is modern day vandalism, but it does appear to be neatly integrated into the surrounding tableau. Barring some kind of invasive investigation, no one can know for certain. We actually prefer it that way. Some mysteries are more fun when left unsolved.

Would you like to know more?
-Read this article from the Smithsonian Institution
-Read this article from Skeptoid

Monday, January 23, 2012

An Arm and a Leg

These days, everyone's broke. Well...nearly everyone, but for the most part the money's tight and sometimes that means making changes to one's lifestyle. For instance, before the crash, I'd frivolously purchase six dollar shirts. Now I refuse to get anything above two bucks. It's simply not in my budget.

Sometimes, however, people have made drastic modifications. Desperate times call for desperate measures (as the cliché goes) and during the recession of 1953 things were bleak in the small redneck town of Vernon, Florida. With no jobs and no future, several middle-aged men filed claims with their insurance company.

After, of course, removing off their limbs.

Ghoulishly referred to as the "Nub Club," these men had all lost hands and feet in various "accidents" and defrauded thousands of dollars from their insurers. Most of these incidents involved firearms, but some men reported axe injuries. Maybe they were old-fashioned. Regardless, it remains a mystery as to who exactly was the first, but the strategy proved alarmingly popular. More than fifty men took to amputation to make ends meet, and this was especially noticeable in a town with only five hundred people. Eventually, an army of insurance investigators was dispatched to Vernon to examine the improbable quantity of dismemberment and the story reached the papers. The reports referred to Vernon as "Nub City" and the name endured.

In 1981, documentary filmmaker Errol Morris learned about Vernon and decided to make a movie about the town. Not surprisingly, the taciturn members of the Nub Club were not keen on being interviewed, and so Morris was forced to broaden his focus to the other eccentrics that Vernon had offer.

It seems there were plenty to choose from.
Would you like to know more?
-Read this article from the Tampa Bay Times
-Read this excerpt from Accidentally, on Purpose: the Making of a Personal Injury Underworld in America
-Buy the Vernon, Florida documentary here for $2.75. Now that's a bargain.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Plastic Problem of the Pacific

The processes of human civilization are changing the planet into something quite inhospitable. Evidence of the transformation can be seen everywhere, but there's one prominent example in the North Pacific Ocean. It stretches across 270,000 square miles (exceeding the size of Texas) and is calculated to weigh in at 100,000,000 tons.  If the work of numerous devoted oceanographers and engineers is unsuccessful, then it promises to become of the first continent of a new world we unknowingly built. It's a loosely organized island of garbage, undulating in the waves. They call it the Pacific Trash Vortex.

Like so many environmental problems, the Trash Vortex didn't arrive without  warning. In 1988, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration examined the convergence of several ocean currents and predicted that plastic debris from America, Canada, and Japan (along with discarded fishing nets and the nautical liter produced by international shipping) would begin to accumulate in specific areas. Nothing was done and the bigger-than-Texas problem is the result. First observed in 1997, the Trash Vortex is only one of several, with others floating in the North Atlantic and Indian Ocean.

The masses of plastic are weathered by the surf and sun, but do not biograde. Some of the innermost garbage has been there for decades. Marine life and sea-birds become entangled in the Vortex and often die trapped or suffocated. Some are even poisoned after swallowing bottle-caps and bits of ballpoint pens. Still worse, toxins produced by the garbage patch (like those old classic PCBs and DDT) seep down into the ocean to harm those creatures beneath the waves.

Currently a handful of nonprofits groups and research organizations periodically head into the Trash Vortex to perform tests and raise awareness. But its has yet to be contained. As of now, the Vortex grows ever larger.

For god's sake, recycle, okay?

Would you like to know more?
-Read this article from the New York Times
-Read this article from Greenpeace

We Now Return to the Regularly Scheduled Program

The Black-Out's over. Time to get back to work.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Cruising Radioactive

Most experts agree: the future is here, but how do we make it go? The quest for fuel is one of the central problems of our era, and as we scramble for solar cells and try to turn algae into gasoline, we can't help but wonder why people didn't bother to work this out decades ago.

Well, while most of the world was content to drill for oil and forget about tomorrow, there were some rudimentary efforts towards alternative power sources. But sometimes the best of intentions can't make up for dismally bad ideas. Imagine a miniature nuclear reactor colliding with a guard-rail at fifty miles-per-hour. Now you understand the major flaw of the Ford Nucleon.

Resembling a hybrid between a speed-boat and George Jetson's flying saucer, the Nucleon was a design concept unveiled by the Ford Motor Company in 1958. Atomania was huge, and the Nucleon was intended to be the world's fist atomic car. While the specifics of the Nucleon engine had not been finalized, the idea was that the Nucleon would have hot hunk of uranium in the back, boiling water into steam which would then drive the engine. While the water tank would need to be regularly replenished, the radioactive fuel could last up to five thousand miles before being replaced. The Nucleon was also designed to have multiple engine settings (depending on the owner's driving habits) to ensure optimum fuel efficiency. All that and no harmful carbon monoxide fumes. What a deal.

Given the problems that we've had with stationary nuclear reactors (staffed with ostensibly well-trained employees) the notion of clueless drivers speeding around with a engine full of uranium is more than a little horrifying. Engine tune-ups would necessitate hazmat suits and the highway exits would be littered with depressing sales stations dealing in fuel-rods and blue raspberry slushies. Thankfully, the Nucleon never made it out of the design stage. There's one less thing to worry about.

Would you like to know more?
-Read this explanation from Ford's official website
-Read this article from Hemmings Motor News