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The Straight Dope 

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Do you need a key to start an F-16? --Dave Johnson, Chicago

No. I feel it is important to make the public aware of this. An F-16 definitely is something you do not want to leave overnight on the street in a bad neighborhood.

Why do they call it Latin America? It always sounded like Spanish to me. --Smartass, Miami

Well, you're one jump ahead of the late, great Dan Quayle, who, if memory serves, thought Latin Americans spoke Latin. Actually it's called Latin America because the countries of the New World from Mexico on south speak languages descended from Latin, namely Spanish, Portuguese, and French.

THE BOOM CAR ABATEMENT DEBATE: GETTING UGLY

A while back someone wrote asking if there wasn't some effective device to render car stereos and boom boxes inoperative when they were turned up to a certain volume [February 26]. Your reply referred to something like nuclear bombs or cosmic forces or some other sad expression of comic overkill rather than taking your correspondent's question seriously and answering it accordingly. You could have advised the gentleman that several such devices have already been invented and are already available on the open market. One good example is the very handy Smith & Wesson .38 caliber Police Special. For fine-tuning accuracy the five- or six-inch barrel is recommended. In a steady hand, this tool is also effective on explosively loud motorcycles with hollowed-out tail pipes instead of mufflers. --B.J. Merholz, Los Angeles

There are other solutions to the question of how to take out a boom box. (1) Pump in a signal with more wattage than the speakers' capability and kaboom! Fried boom box. (2) Stick a lightning rod on or near the stereo and let a gigawatt or more do the trick. (This can also cause an electromagnetic pulse effect.) Neither solution is without side effects: (1) If the signal can burst a speaker, it can also "pop" one's eardrums. (2) If you don't fry from the bolt of lightning your car could "conk" out and you could drive over a cliff or into another car. But hey, you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs. --Wayne Tracy, Malibu, California

Another device which is being considered for use against electronic systems is High Power Microwaves (HPM). These generators use sources such as very intense beams of electrons (typically currents of several kiloamperes) to produce microwave radiation at powers of over a gigawatt. HPM radiation can either temporarily confuse or scramble computers, or at high enough powers, actually melt the electronics and permanently disable the system. Neither method is cheap or likely to be available at Radio Shack anytime soon, but maybe the government can be persuaded to test one of these devices at the next Whitesnake concert. --Dan Revelle, Washington, D.C.

For years I have wanted someone to design a device small enough to fit in a standard briefcase that would consist of some very large capacitors kept permanently charged by a battery. At the touch of a switch, concealed under the briefcase handle, the capacitors would put a huge surge of power into a transmitter tuned to the critical frequencies of the transistors in the offending boom box or radio. The thing would have very short range so it would not fry every radio for a mile around, just the targeted one, pretty much next to which you would have to be standing. The destructive radiation could be focused to reduce the chances of collateral damage, such as to a passing police car. Is such a device feasible? --Peter Brennan, New York

Later, champ. Right now I'm trying on the shoulder holster and practicing the proper inflection for: "Hey . . . you talkin' to me?"

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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