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News of the Weird

Monday June 24, 2002

Color of space is  

‘Cosmic Latte’ 


BALTIMORE — Good news for coffee lovers: Space, the final frontier, is the color of a latte. So say astronomers Karl Glazebrook and Ivan Baldry at Johns Hopkins University. 

In January, the two determined that the universe was a sprightly pale turquoise, then after discovering a glitch in their software in March, they realized that the average color was actually a milky brown. 

Not knowing what to call it, besides beige, they solicited suggestions, prompting nearly 300 e-mails with ideas including Big Bang Beige, Cappuccino Cosmico, Galactic Gold and Infinite Sand. 

The winner? Cosmic Latte. 

Baldry, a postdoctoral fellow, said he and Glazebrook both love coffee, which factored into the decision. Cosmic Latte is also appropriate because it’s close to “latteo,” which “means Milky Way in Galileo’s native Italian,” the pair wrote on their Web site. 


Auto shops often can’t crack the diagnostic code 


ARLINGTON, Va. — At least a couple of times a week, mechanic Ernie Pride tells customers at his independent repair shop he can’t fix their cars because he doesn’t know what’s wrong with them. Go to the dealer, he advises. 

He has the experience and knowledge to service vehicles but lacks the closely guarded information needed to diagnose problems with today’s high-tech cars. 

Automakers refuse to make much of it available to independent shops that compete with higher-priced dealerships. The practice is raising hackles in Congress and a vigorous defense by the industry. 

Figuring out what’s wrong with an automobile is no longer as simple as poking around under the hood and examining parts. Computers control many modern vehicle systems, including the engine, the air bags and the antilock brakes. Mechanics now diagnose problems by connecting a handheld computer to the vehicle. 

The computer gives the mechanic a code of numbers or letters that designate the source of a problem. Without the reference material to interpret the code, a mechanic can’t fix the car. 

“We just say, ‘We’re sorry. You’ve got one option — go to the dealer,”’ said Pride, manager of The Car Store outside Washington. 

All repair shops must get some emission system codes because of the Clean Air Act. 

Some members of Congress worry that higher-priced dealer repair shops are using the codes to corner the repair market. Lawmakers have introduced legislation to require manufacturers to share diagnostic codes with car owners and shops.