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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lamborghini LP560-4 Don't let anything but money stop you.

Some might call it the “poster effect”—when you finally see a Lamborghini in person after years of only seeing them on posters, the effect is childlike giddiness. The jump from wall art to reality is mesmerizing, and the crazy origami spaceship with Lamborghini badges sitting in our parking lot doesn’t disappoint. Paint one metallic white—sorry, make that Bianco Monocerus, which literally means “white single-horned beast”—and it amplifies the folded-paper look of the latest Gallardo LP560-4.

The blitz on the senses and sensibility continues inside the white beast, where soft black leather stretches over everything but the floor. The cabin has a few reminders that Audi owns and runs Lamborghini, and these are the only concessions to the ordinary—the climate-control system has been lifted from the A8, and the stereo and navigation system are from a last-gen A4. Don’t fret. If the Italians were left to engineer such banalities, the interior would probably have wires hanging out of it and smell like an electric train set—let’s be honest, it wouldn’t work as reliably as the Audi-supplied hardware.

Turn the Audi-like switchblade key in the ignition, and the starter whirs, rousing the heavily revised V-10; it barks and coughs, then settles down to a warm rumble. Some minor styling changes have been made to the Gallardo for 2009, but the big news is the engine. Direct fuel injection, a higher compression ratio of 12.5:1, and a bump in displacement from 5.0 liters to 5.2 liters now provide 552 horsepower, 40 more than last year’s standard Gallardo and 29 more than the special-edition Gallardo Superleggera.

A new exhaust keeps the engine sounds subdued while cruising, but stomp on the throttle, and the engine’s throat opens to unleash the V-10’s race-car voice. A wailing Lamborghini underfoot should qualify as therapy: For a moment, we forget that we work under fluorescent lights in cubicles the color of gloom. There are times when we actually wish the Lambo was just a bit slower so we could revel in the music for longer than bursts lasting only a few seconds.

How quick is the new Lambo? First, we have to tell you about its transmission.

E-gear, the single-clutch automated manual that costs an extra $10,000, now shifts faster than before and works remarkably well around town, better in fact than BMW’s SMG. We’d probably save the $10,000 and shift gears ourselves were it not for the aptly named launch control that comes with E-gear. From a stop, launch control revs the engine to 5200 rpm and engages the clutch violently. Wondering what that feels like? It’s the automotive equivalent of the eruption of Krakatoa. All-wheel drive and sticky Pirelli rubber lose out to 552 horsepower—all four wheels immediately go up in smoke, four distinct skid marks are tattooed on the asphalt, and the Gallardo rockets to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds. A quarter-mile is gone in 11.2 seconds at 130 mph—you can count on one hand the street cars we’ve tested that are quicker than the LP560-4.

Despite the extra power, the smallest Lamborghini remains eminently civilized when the dial is set to delicate. The chassis is firm without being abusive, the driving position is comfortable, visibility is good in all directions, and freeway traffic parts ahead of you like some sort of vehicular Red Sea.

The only chink in the armor is the car bon-ceramic brake system that commands $15,600 over the standard brakes. As far as we can tell, the first few inches of brake-pedal travel has little effect on the brakes; meanwhile, the Lambo continues to hurtle toward Internet immortality on www.wrecked Keep pushing, and without warning, the brakes clamp down hard, and you’ve stopped well short of the stoplight. Passengers will wonder why you seem incapable of driving your Italian toy smoothly, you’ll regret spending Honda Civic money on a set of unsatisfying brakes, and you might just get rear-ended by a Toyota Corolla whose driver was trying to snap a picture of your car. The Gallardo Superleggera we tested in November 2007 had even worse brake feel. Feel aside, the brakes achieve an excellent 158-foot stop from 70 mph, but the all-or-nothing touchiness is inexcusable.

Prospective buyers can easily avoid the prickly brakes (and save $15,600) by not ordering them; we’ve previously tested Gallardos with the standard setup and found brake feel to be progressive and satisfying. With the exception of the optional brakes, this Lambo is so good that the Ferrari F430 may have just been toppled.

February 2009

Save the Earth, Drive a Ferrari

Amid the huffing and puffing on Capitol Hill and elsewhere about jacking corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) for new vehicles to 35 mpg by 2020 (or up to 50 mpg if you happen to live in California) while reducing tailpipe emissions to the level of an ant fart, it seems the world has overlooked this surprising statistic: Toyota Priuses are 78 times more toxic to the environment than Ferraris. Furthermore, they consume 78 times the amount of gasoline.

The Math

That’s right. While we’re sure to be called out on this by our more persnickety readers, the math breaks down thus:

Since the beginning of the 2004 model year, when the current Prius debuted, Ferrari has sold roughly 7900 cars in North America. Annual mileage for the average Ferrari is tough to estimate, as some are destined to remain zero-mile collectors’ items while others are daily drivers, but according to a Ferrari spokesman, Ferraris sold in North America get driven “right around 5000 miles per year for V-12 models, less with the V-8s.” Assuming, then, that the average Ferrari is driven 4500 miles per year, the total fleet mileage for this fresh herd of prancing horses is 35,550,000 miles per year (all too few of them with our hands on the reigns).

The average Ferrari CO2 emissions level hovers somewhere near 400 g/km, or 644 g/mile, according to Ferrari. Over the 35 million or so miles that the fleet of North American Ferraris will travel in the next year, they will be responsible for approximately 23 million kg of CO2. Fuel consumption, at an average of about 14 mpg combined for the Ferrari fleet, will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.5 million gallons of gas. Sound like a lot?

Look at how the Prius is pillaging Mother Earth. Since the 2004 model year, when Toyota introduced the current-generation Prius (and through November 2008), Toyota delivered 609,625 units. Toyota claims the average Prius is driven 15,000 miles per year, for a total fleet mileage of 9,144,375,000 miles annually. According to Toyota, the Prius coughs up a comparatively dainty 118 g/km, or 190 g/mile, of CO2, but with all those rolling doorstops on the road, that results in an atmosphere-choking 1.7 billion kg per annum, or roughly 78 times as much as the Ferrari set. And all the gas consumed over those nine billion or so miles, even at a combined 46 miles per gallon, still robs the earth of about 200 million gallons of gas, also 78 times as much as is consumed by Ferraris. Pigs.

Toyota, for its part, was glib when confronted with the facts. A Toyota spokesman, who declined to be named, said, “Ferraris are green? I thought they were all red.”

Just Kidding, Sort Of

Okay, we’re totally not serious. Suggesting that, between a Ferrari and a Prius, the premium-swilling prancing horse would be the most environmentally responsible option would be journalistically irresponsible, despite the 1.7 billion kilograms of CO2 that today’s Priuses will pump into the atmosphere over the next year, the 200 million gallons of gas they will consume, and the innumerable quantities of raw materials required to build them and their bespoke metal-heavy hybrid battery packs. Believe it or not, the Prius hardly makes a dent in the environmental picture while meeting the needs of far more commuters at far less expense to them as well as the earth on a per-mile basis than a Ferrari. Indeed, if every Prius driver switched into a Ferrari and drove it 15,000 miles per year, the overall picture would be far less green—but a lot more red.

We appreciate Toyota’s clear commitment to making the Prius the incredibly green vehicle it is, to say nothing of how much greener the all-new 2010 Prius will be when it launches next month at the NAIAS. But to us, these facts underscore that it’s not the cars themselves that are doing the damage, but the drivers. If we all drove less, it might matter less what we drive than how and how often. If we were all really smart about when we drove, we could save the world by driving Ferraris.

Hey, Environmentalists: Instead of Legislating the Prancing Horse into Extinction, Try Walking

We hope this fact is not lost on our lawmakers as they further their green-car agendas, the results of which could result in a de facto ban of exotics and super-luxury cars in many states, or at least exorbitant fines being slapped on them. Certainly, buyers of these cars are accustomed to exorbitant fines (six-to-seven-figure MSRPs and gas-guzzler taxes) already. But the added cost may be just enough of a deterrent to keep some customers away—particularly with the economy in the shape it’s in—and that could prompt Ferrari, Lamborghini, and other high-end makes out of the U.S. altogether.

If there’s one caveat, it’s that these states are not alone: European Union lawmakers recently approved an aggressive plan of their own to reduce CO2 emissions, and high-end carmakers are already bracing to deal with that. In any case, we hope that the folks in Washington D.C., Sacramento, and the EU keep things in perspective as they enact legislation that could quite possibly erase the most colorful and beautiful cars in the world from the automotive landscape.

The Year in Materials

World’s strongest material: Researchers who probed single-atom-thick graphene with a sharp diamond tip found that it’s the strongest material ever tested. The illustration shows the atomic structure of graphene, a mesh of carbon and hydrogen atoms.
Credit: Jeffrey Kysar, Columbia University

Graphene, the material behind one of our 10 emerging technologies of 2008, stayed in the news all year. In July, researchers who poked the single-atom-thick carbon sheets with the tip of an atomic force microscope confirmed that graphene is the strongest material ever tested. But most of the graphene community, including Kostya Novoselov, one of the first to make graphene and one of TR's top 35 innovators under 35 in 2008, is interested in graphene's electrical properties. Last month, two separate groups of researchers reported that they had made fast graphene transistors that could be used for wireless communications. Other researchers addressed the problem of manufacturing graphene. Novoselov and his collaborators originally made the single-atom-thick hydrocarbon sheets by crushing graphite between two layers of tape. But more scalable graphene-manufacturing technologies will be needed for the material to be adopted by the chip industry. One group at the University of California, Los Angeles, developed a simple method for making large sheets of graphene by dissolving graphite in hydrazine.

Nanomedicine and Nanomaterials Safety
Researchers made a number of advances in understanding how to make nanomaterials that take a drug straight to diseased cells in the body, which should improve the efficacy and safety of therapies for cancer and many other diseases. They found that nanoparticles shaped like bacteria did a better job getting inside cells, and developed ways to get drugs to the right subcellular machine. And they made major progress in developing agents to deliver RNA. Delivery has been one of the biggest obstacles to a promising therapeutic technique called RNA interference, which uses strands of RNA to muffle the activity of disease genes. A method for screening large numbers of fatty-molecule carriers allowed the company Alnylam Pharmaceuticals to make carriers for delivering RNA to respiratory cells and other targets in mice.

However, there was some bad news this year about the safety of nanomaterials. Two studies in mice suggested that carbon nanotubes could behave like asbestos in the lungs, causing cancer. Whether the nanotubes can, like asbestos, be easily inhaled is just one of many remaining questions. Nanomaterials are diverse in their chemistry and structure, and it's difficult to make generalizations about their safety. One study this year attempted to address this diversity. Researchers developed a method for screening a diverse group of nanomaterials in large numbers and in many kinds of human cells.

Stretchable, Flexible, Wearable Electronics
Other researchers integrated carbon nanotubes into a number of devices. Researchers in Japan made a stretchy electronic circuit by adding carbon nanotubes to a polymer, creating a material that could be used to make stretchable displays and simple computers that wrap around furniture. In China, researchers made thin, transparent, flexible speakers from carbon nanotubes. And researchers in Illinois made stretchable silicon electrical circuits whose performance equals that of their rigid counterparts.

By coating cotton thread with a mixture of carbon nanotubes and a conductive polymer, researchers in Michigan made fabrics that can perform sophisticated computation and act as wearable biosensors whose sensitivity to biological molecules rivals that of conventional diagnostics.

Tough, Strong, and Sticky
Some of the year's coolest new materials were made possible by mimicking the nanoscale features of natural structures. For years, researchers have been trying to make materials that are as tough as nacre, the material that lines abalone shells, with limited success. This year, materials scientists created a new ceramic that's better than nacre; it could eventually be used as a structural material for buildings and vehicles. Like nacre, the new ceramic is a composite of a hard material and a gluey one. Researchers have also finally outdone the gecko, which uses arrays of nanoscale hairs on its paws to scale walls and ceilings. Arrays of carbon nanotubes with two layers--one vertically aligned, the other tangled--mimic gecko-foot structures but are 10 times as sticky.

Super-Resolution Imaging and a $10 Microscope
Metamaterials are usually lauded for their potential to direct light around an object, completely hiding it. This year brought the first designs for acoustic metamaterials, which will shield objects from sound. But the earliest application of metamaterials, usually made up of metals carefully structured on the nano- or microscale to tailor their interactions with light, is likely to be in super-resolution imaging. Light microscopes with resolutions on the scale of biological molecules will help biologists understand not just what proteins are at work in diseased cells, but also how they interact with other molecules to cause disease. Nicholas Fang of the University of Illinois is using metamaterials made up of metals structured on the nanoscale to make superlenses, which increase the resolution of biological light microscopes by an order of magnitude.

Other groups are taking a different approach to super-resolution imaging, developing new fluorescent probes and new optical systems to make the inner workings of cells visible. The highest-resolution 3-D light microscope ever made allowed researchers to see the inner workings of the metabolizing mitochondria, the subcellular organelle that powers cells, for the first time.

Meanwhile, a $10 microscope developed this year at Caltech uses cheap starting materials, including microfluidics and the same light-sensing chips found in digital cameras. Its imaging quality equals that of conventional microscopes. If integrated into a PDA, it could bring sophisticated imaging technology to rural doctors.

This year, researchers at Tufts University demonstrated that they can use proteins from silkworm cocoons to make biodegradable optical devices. They hope that their devices will eventually be implanted during surgery and used to monitor patients for signs of recovery.

The year also saw advances in materials for tissue engineering. It's been difficult to mimic the structures of the heart, liver, and other tissues in the lab. A stretchy polymer developed at MIT can withstand the mechanical stresses of beating heart tissue, and its honeycomb structure encourages heart-muscle cells to orient naturally, which makes for heart-tissue patches that contract like real heart muscle.

The Cost of Cutting Carbon

The cheapest way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is probably to put a price on them. One way to do that is a direct tax (see "Q&A"). Another is a cap-and-trade system, where the government sets an overall cap on emissions, but indi­vidual businesses trade emission allowances. But surprisingly, a carbon penalty may do little to increase reliance on renewable energy or reduce petroleum consumption.

Putting a price on carbon would certainly reduce the use of conventional coal-fired power plants. Coal emits more carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels, and its price would more than double. But natural gas would see only a modest change in price: in the short term, it would proba­bly replace coal as the chief source of power. Oil prices wouldn't change much, either.

But unless the costs of wind and solar power come down or nuclear energy proves politi­cally viable, the cheapest way to reduce emissions in the long term would be to capture carbon dioxide from coal plants and sequester it underground, according to a study by MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. Coal would again become the domi­nant source of electricity.

If the goal is to increase the use of renewable energy, says Sergey Paltsev, principal research scientist at the MIT joint program, governments may have to mandate its use. Unfortunately, that would increase energy costs much more than market-based approaches to carbon regulation would.

Projected sources of U.S. power, 2005-2050
Even with a carbon penalty, coal-fired plants that sequester emissions remain more effective than alternative fuels.

1Based on average 2007 prices 2For electrical utilities 3All blends
Source: Energy Information Administration/Gilbert Metcalf (prices); MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change (power sources)

Charts by Tommy McCall

Video Games that Beef up the Brain

Good-for-you Gaming: iStockPhoto

In a recent study from UC Berkeley, scientists revealed significant physical differences in the brain development of children from different socio-economic backgrounds. EEG scans taken of childrens brains while performing a task drawing heavily upon the prefrontal cortex-- the area of the brain where logic and reasoning tasks are carried out-- showed that kids from higher socioeconomic backgrounds show more developed cognitive activity in the prefrontal lobe, while kids from lower socioeconomic levels show brain physiology patterns similar to adults who have had a stroke.

The good news is that the poor kids haven’t suffered brain damage; they simply haven’t received the same mental stimulation as their wealthier peers. To combat poor brain development at an early age, neuroscientists are creating video games that specifically develop prefrontal cortex functions in school age kids.

I have to admit, I’m curious what kind of games will result from this effort. My generation had The (original) Oregon Trail and Carmen San Diego. Are these games no good? Admittedly, we spent most of our time naming our pioneer families after people we didn’t like and trying to kill them off with cholera or trying to shoot 5,000 pounds of meat when we could only bring 500 pounds back with us, but we learned something. Right? While companies like LeapFrog have long been in the good-for-you gaming market, these new games are novel in that they target a specific region of the brain, and they are being developed with the goal of closing the cognitive development, and socioeconomic, gaps.

Bernard Madoff Set to Disclose list of Holdings to SEC

NEW YORK (AP) -- An attorney for Bernard Madoff said the disgraced Wall Street money manager would give the Securities and Exchange Commission a list of his personal assets by 5 p.m. EST Wednesday to comply with a court order. The list will provide an account of property that could eventually be tapped to make restitution to victims of what authorities say was a massive Ponzi scheme.

The SEC declined to comment on whether it received the list or would eventually disclose its contents to the public.

Madoff's personal wealth is said to be substantial. He had mansions in the Hamptons and Palm Beach, Fla., a penthouse in Manhattan and a handful of luxury yachts. His firm operated proprietary stock trading desks in New York and London that were supposedly investing the family's vast fortune.

Still, those assets would likely cover only a fraction of the billions of dollars that investors entrusted to Madoff.

Law firms representing Madoff's clients said they were nonetheless still eager to see what might be available to repay victims.

"Like everyone else, we expect it to be made public," said attorney Matthew Gluck, a partner at Milberg LLP. Gluck added that if the SEC refuses to disclose the documents, his law firm would consider other steps to obtain the information.

Madoff's lawyer, Ira Lee Sorkin, said his client would comply with the court order Wednesday, but provided no additional details on the contents of the asset disclosure.

On Monday, a top SEC official is set to face a Congressional panel investigating the scandal.

The House Financial Services Committee, which is preparing for the most substantial rewrite of laws governing U.S. financial markets since the Great Depression, is scheduled to take testimony from SEC inspector general H. David Kotz.

A major focus of the hearing will be the inability of the SEC to unearth the scandal, said Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa., who will chair the hearing. The SEC has come under criticism for not fully investigating fraud allegations against Madoff's investment firm. SEC Chairman Christopher Cox has acknowledged that there were multiple failures by agency staff during previous inquiries.

"Sadly, Mr. Madoff's actions have further weakened the already-battered investor confidence in our securities markets," Kanjorski said in a statement. "We can, however, better understand how to reform the U.S. financial system by carefully examining this Ponzi scheme."

Madoff, 70, a former Nasdaq stock market chairman, is accused of running a scheme that paid fictitious returns to certain investors out of the principal received from others. Madoff remains under house arrest in his apartment in New York as part of an earlier bail agreement.

Associated Press Writer Larry Margasak in Washington contributed to this report.

Hyundai Genesis Coupe Super Bowl Ads set to WOW Potential Customers

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, California — Hyundai is going for the gusto with its 2009 Super Bowl TV ads. The pair of commercials don't settle for unveiling the 2010 Genesis Coupe to what is sure to be an appreciative audience. Behind the wheel is Pikes Peak champ Rhys Millen, and performing the soundtrack is the great cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

The name for the ad campaign is "The Epic Lap." The 30-second commercials show Millen doing some "precision driving" on Road Atlanta's 2.54-mile track, choreographed to the cellist's performance of the Gigue from Bach's Cello Suite No. 3 in C Major. According to Hyundai, Ma helped edit the film footage from the three-day shoot to ensure it matched his artistic interpretation.

The second commercial will feature a "second musical talent" who is as yet unnamed.

Super Bowl XLIII takes place on Sunday, February 1, and the commercials will be repeated during the Academy Awards broadcast on February 22. Hyundai also promises an online contest involving the commercials, with details to be announced later.

The Genesis Coupe, Hyundai's first rear-wheel-drive sports car, comes with a 220-horsepower turbo-4 or in a Track version with a 306-hp V6. It goes on sale in the U.S. this coming spring.

Inside Line says: The guessing starts now. Led Zeppelin? The New York Philharmonic? Barbara Streisand? Amy Winehouse? —

GM Brings Back Zero Interest Loans

DETROIT — A day after the Treasury Department provided a $5-billion lifeline to its cash-strapped GMAC financing arm, General Motors said it would reinstate cut-rate financing, including some zero-interest loans for up to 60 months, on many of its 2008 and 2009 models. The new incentive program runs through January 5.

GM said a number of vehicles also are eligible for "stackable" bonus cash of up to $4,250.

The zero-interest rate applies only to certain 2008 models, including all Saabs, as well as the discontinued Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy. The 2008 Chevrolet Corvette, Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky qualify for 4.9-percent financing; all 2008 Hummer models offer 2.9-percent rates, and all 2008 Cadillacs, 1.9 percent.

Rates on 2009 models range from 3.9 percent on Cadillac CTS, Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 to 5.9 percent on Chevrolet Avalanche and Silverado HD.

Inside Line says: The cash window is open again — but for how long?

Uncle Jay Explains: Year-end! 12-22-08

10 greatest beer TV commercials

54243530_ca04a78504Some beers were born to be stars of the small screen and have earned a place in our hearts – and our fridges – as a result of funny, thought-provoking, unusual or simply unforgettable TV commercials.

A good TV commercial is no guarantee of a good beer, but they do go well together.

We drank a few beers and researched the best of the best beer commercials on TV and can present them for your viewing pleasure.

So, what are you waiting for? Take a beer in hand, sit back and continue reading for the top 10 greatest beer TV commercials.

Photo by hoveringdog

  1. Guinness: Tipping Point. Guinness have a long affinity with TV advertising and consistently produce some of the most innovative and complex commercials. This spot has a great cinematic feel and reinforces the notion of the ‘big pint’.
  2. Stella Artois: Last Wishes of a Dying Man. Stella produced a string of clever, movie-like commercials riffing off the theme of the French film Jean de Florette (including reusing the memorable score). This commercial is the best of the series and manages to weave an entire short movie around the ‘reassuringly expensive’ beer.
  3. Carlton Draught: The Big Ad. This Australian beer pokes fun at the big set-piece commercials by being purposely self-referential, but is all the better for it. Worth inclusion in the top 10 for the sheer audacity of pulling it off!
  4. Guinness: Evolution. Another classic from Guinness, this time with stunning visuals and spanning millennia to highlight the wait associated with a good pint. One of the most original commercials for a beer on TV and instantly memorable.
  5. Brahma: Refreshingly Voodoo. From the Brazilian beer makers is this inventive commercial with an excellent punch line. Saying any more than that would possibly ruin things…
  6. Bud Lite: Swear Jar. Inspired by The Office, this is a nice one-joke commercial that is played very well. You can have some fun trying to fill in the bleeps.
  7. Carlsberg: Dream Apartment. This Irish-made commercial spawned a number of similar adverts and even made it’s way into popular culture with it’s signature “Carlsberg don’t do…”. The commercial nicely elevates the beer as a thing of excellence and brought their tag line of probably the best beer in the world into an interesting new dimension.
  8. Castlemaine XXXX: Sherry for the ladies. A great old Australian commercial, and a refreshingly frank, male-oriented piece that plays on the Aussie stereotypes, while at the same time, reinforces them!
  9. Carlton Draft: Flashdance. Another excellent Australian commercial, again for Carlton Draft. This inspired advertisement takes a surreal turn for the better and never looks back. The attention to detail is brilliant, especially the ‘update’ to the story at the conclusion.
  10. Guinness: The Surfer. 3 out of the top 10 for Guinness? It could have been 10 out of 10, such is the consistency and originality of their commercials. This one is pretty stunning; beautifully shot, highly original and unique. It’s such a huge advert that YouTube doesn’t really do it justice – you’d need a movie screen for it. It manages to capture the essential nature of Guinness within a fascinating scene – the black and white, the patience, the fulfillment. Sit back and admire!

And that makes 10! Are you thirsty for a beer yet? What was your favorite commercial of these, or have you another favorite that we missed? Leave a comment with your thoughts.

Mass. says new pot law allows other THC drugs, too

BOSTON (AP) — Guidelines for a new Massachusetts law that ends minor marijuana arrests say the law may also apply to other drugs with the same psychoactive ingredient, such as hashish.

The guidelines obtained Monday by The Associated Press say the law that takes effect Friday ends criminal penalties for possession of an ounce or less of THC — the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, hashish or hash oil.

Voters passed a referendum in November that instead imposes a civil penalty of a $100 fine and forfeiture of the drug.

The guidelines from the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security advise law enforcement agencies on the law's practical enforcement, but courts eventually are expected to have to settle questions on its scope.

The guidelines make clear that the law doesn't change existing regulations against drug distribution or driving under the influence, for example. In addition, all law enforcement officers with civil powers — including campus officers — have the authority to issue tickets.

The guidelines also recommend that cities and towns pass ordinances banning public use of such drugs.

30GB Zunes Failing Everywhere, All At Once

Right, so this is a weird one: we're getting tons of reports—tons—about failing Zune 30s. Apparently, the players began freezing at about midnight last night, becoming totally unresponsive and practically useless.

The crisis has been dubbed by Zune users 'Z2K9', due to the apparently synchronized faceplantings across the country. According to tipster Michael, the Zune users experienced something like this:

Apparently, around 2:00 AM today, the Zune models either reset, or were already off. Upon when turning on, the thing loads up and... freezes with a full loading bar (as pictured above). I thought my brother was the only one with it, but then it happened to my Zune. Then I checked out the forums and it seems everyone with a 30GB HDD model has had this happen to them

This report is consistently corroborated by literally hundreds of others across the various Zune support and fan forums.

What hasn't emerged yet, largely due to the fact that MS's support lines aren't yet open for the day, is why these devices are failing. The evidence seems to point to a software glitch, but simple resets aren't providing any relief. Some reports indicate that only Zunes with the latest firmware are affected, but this hasn't yet been confirmed.

The proximity of the events to the New Year, which inspired the Y2K9 moniker, provides little more than a colorful backdrop; it's unlikely that the switching of years in the Zune's internal calendar has anything to do with the failures (besides, it hasn't even happened yet).

If not for the uniform representation of events across the internet, I'd be tempted to suspect this as a hoax, but it just doesn't look that way. The story, assuming the described problem is of the magnitude reported, will probably take a turn for the large when the majority of Zuners start waking up. Let us know about your experiences in the comments. [Zunescene, ZuneBoards,—Thanks, Michael, Josh, Ben and others]

UPDATE: Reader Bill Bradski (Bill Brasky?) has summed up the situation thusly:

Ford’s New Ultimate Parking Machine

Ford Parking AssistIn the Ford system, sensors will identify a parking space and then advise the driver about the proximity of other cars and objects through visual and audible cues.

The fine art of parallel parking might be one step closer to extinction.

Two years ago, Lexus introduced what it calls the advanced parking guidance system, which theoretically enabled the Lexus LS 460L to parallel-park itself along any prime patch of empty curb.

The system was far from perfect. In his review of the LS 460L for The New York Times, Lawrence Ulrich wrote:

In practice, the system often took multiple tries over several minutes before docking successfully. It struggled to identify curbs and regularly asked me to realign the car before trying to park. The parking space has to be huge, at least five feet longer than the car, calling the entire exercise into question. And the system shuts down if you back up too fast.

Needless to say, the excitement came and went.

Now Ford is having a go at the trick with Active Park Assist, which will soon be available on two Lincoln vehicles.

Active Park Assist uses an ultrasonic-based sensing system and electric power-assisted steering to work its magic. Ford said its system also works on hills.

With sensors on the front and rear of the vehicle, the system identifies a parking space. While parking, the system advises the driver about the proximity of other cars and objects through visual or audible cues, or both. The driver can interrupt the automated procedure at any time.

The sensors used for the system also have other functions. For example, a sensor on the outboard rear quarter panel also monitors a blind spot area (part of the Blind Spot Information System) while helping detect cross traffic when backing out of a parking spot (Cross Traffic Alert).

Active Park Assist will be available as an option on the 2010 Lincoln MKS sedan in the middle of next year and will also be available on the MKT crossover, which will be introduced at the Detroit auto show next month.

Vikings' Punter Considers Changing His Name To 'World Of Warcraft'

I love video games. But not so much that I'd consider changing my name over them. However, Chris Kluwe from the Minnesota Vikings wants to ensure he'll have the highest selling NFL jersey.

Chris Kluwe does two things really well: Punting footballs and playing video games. Kluwe is known for being an avid gamer, so much so that he discusses them on his very own radio show on Minnesota's 93X station. During the season, Kluwe talked about the idea of changing his last name to something that would certainly make any Blizzard fan feel jealous.

"Back when [Bengals receiver] Chad Johnson changed his name to Ocho Cinco, I told the guys at 93X that I was going to change my name to Chris 'World of Warcraft' " Kluwe said. "They said that's too long. So they started calling me Chris 'Warcraft.' I could make a lot of money if I changed my name to that."

It's hard to tell if he's being facetious or not. But considering how much WoW playing he reportedly does, this is something that needs to be taken seriously.

It should also be pointed out that Kluwe recently signed a contract extension through 2013 that will pay him 8.3 million dollars. Not bad for someone whose job it is to kick a ball around for 2 hours once a week. So yeah, Chris, you don't need anymore money. Your life is just fine.

As for his radio show, Kluwe said his listeners would actually prefer if he'd talk less about football and more about video games.

"I think more people like to hear me talk about playing video games than football," said Kluwe, an expert at many video games. "I've played video games since I was 4 years old. I play them a lot more than I kick a football. I kick the ball about 45 minutes a day. I play video games about five or six hours a day. But that's OK. I don't watch TV."

If you wanted to change your last name to any video game title, what would it be? If I were forced to, I would pick Jim 'God Hand.'

The 11 Most Radical Beer Commercials of the 80's

The 1980s were nuts: cocaine, brick phones, Kirk Gibson and Reaganomics. But most importantly, it was the decade in which the campiest, and most ridiculous beer adverts were created. These commercials have a distinct playfulness to them, rather than the sex-laden advertising efforts of the 1990s, and the absurd or relatively high-brow commercials of today. They were also, overwhelmingly montage-based and very low budget, when compared to today’s standards. If you notice, each commercial also has a jingle, which is nice. Savor the cool, refreshing flavor of these sweet advertisments and feel free to pour some out for the brands that no longer exist…


Not sure if this beer was referencing Los Angeles or Louisiana. I’m not sure, either, if it matters. What ever happened to LA Beer?


I am led to believe that the Hollywood blockbuster Brokeback Mountain was heavily inspired by this beer commercial. I think this advert came out about two months before advertising executives finally realized that more beer could be sold if attractive, busty women in high-waist bikinis were visible at all times. But then again, I could be wrong.


This commercial epitomizes 1980's beer advertising efforts, and features arguably the most famous mascot in the history of alcohol advertising, Spuds MacKenzie. With cameos by Robin Leach’s voice, and a Brian Wilson sound-alike, what that is good is not in this commercial? I love that the dime at the end of this video asks Spuds to call her. If I could sum up this commercial in one word it would be “awesome”. If I could use two, it would be “textbook anthropomorphism.”


Why are two guys sitting in the driver’s sear of a Sedan? That is a four-seater if I am not mistaken. This commercial is the single reason why professional athletes feel the need to one-up each other with dinosaur-egg omelets on MTV’s Cribs.


Miller High Life is for honest, hardworking Americans...and boxers. This commercial was made during the height of America’s financial, economic and military supremacy. Back when we exported not only delicious light beers, but also honesty, big trucks (to Mexico and Canada) and a Protestant work ethic. Can you blame the Japanese for latching on to everything American during the Eighties and Nineties?


This is perhaps Joe Piscopo’s most noteworthy performance outside of SNL.


This commercial features a Maverick type character that keeps having the wool pulled over his eyes. At the end of it all, a red ribbon (maybe held by, or associated with a woman) steals his hog, and refrigerates his beer. A classic bait and switch, and you know what, the commercial’s protagonist doesn’t seem to mind. Because, a six-pack of Schlitz is definitely worth a motorcycle. An extra bonus is that this commercial features the panty-dropping rock classic “More Than A Feeling” by Boston.


This commercial features Christopher McDonald before his acting career blasted off with his role as Shooter McGavin in Happy Gilmore, quite possible the best movie ever. He plays the role perfectly of a smarmy wing man to his oafish friend who accidentally got a phone number. The commercial takes us back to a time and place when drinking didn’t lead to problems, only impromptu high-fiving and maybe an super-competitive billiards game that ends also in a high-five. Where? At the Silver Bullet, of course.


This campy Christmas time ad from Coors features a Scott Baio look-alike, and some bad-ass Christmas-themed beer cases. What doesn’t make sense is why the main character looks frightened by the beer at first. Either way, Coors never fails to make a kick-ass party even more kick-ass. Twelve ounces at a time. My suggestion is that they bring those cases back, but then again, people will start bitching that we need Hanukkah and Kwanzaa themed ones too.


In Australia, there is a lot more open space than in America, toilets drain counter-clockwise and commercials are twice as long. The best part of the commercial is the man singing about being Australian, has a distinct American accent and sounds a bit like Bob Seger.


HOLY SHIT. I’m pretty sure this commercial aired in 1980, which barely makes it eligible for this list. The bottom line however, is that this is the best commercial ever made. Ever. The commercial starts out as what seems like an educational video on sexual harassment, but then quickly becomes a dance fest that gets the whole brewery involved. It is really just the logical next step from their old marketing campaign. Enjoy this.

ESPN to air 2010 Pro Bowl

The Pro Bowl will be played one week before the Super Bowl in 2010 and both games will be staged in Dolphin Stadium. The Pro Bowl will be televised on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, 2010.

"We are looking at alternatives to strengthen the Pro Bowl," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement Tuesday. "We will evaluate this concept after the 2010 Pro Bowl."

It's not a new notion to have the game moved up to take place between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. The NFL has discussed it multiple times in recent years, and Goodell told The Associated Press last month that having the game precede the Super Bowl would avoid a "somewhat anticlimactic" ending to the season.

"ESPN presents year-round coverage of the NFL and will work together with the league to promote the 2010 Pro Bowl as one of the kickoff events to Super Bowl XLIV week in South Florida," John Wildhack, ESPN executive vice president, program acquisitions and strategy, said in a statement Tuesday.

The Pro Bowl has been held in Honolulu since 1980, and it's probable that the game will return to Hawaii after 2010, although not on the permanent basis as has been the case over the past three decades. Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle said she was hopeful a deal could be struck in time for the 2011 game to return to Honolulu, and the city's mayor, Mufi Hannemann, told The Associated Press that he also is optimistic for eventual Pro Bowls.

"It's not that this comes as a surprise," Hannemann said. "The NFL has made it known for some time now that they were looking for some sort of rotational basis. We just need to get a new agreement with the NFL, whether it's every year or every two years or every three years. The ball's in our court to get that done."

It won't be South Florida's first Pro Bowl: the 1975 game took place in Miami's Orange Bowl, during a period when the site rotated annually.

Time and place for everything

The NFL's plan to take a different approach to the Pro Bowl might make the all-star game relevant, Pat Yasinskas writes. Blog

It is anticipated that the league's plan is for players on the AFC and NFC championship squads not to take part in the Pro Bowl.

Miami was awarded the 2010 Super Bowl three years ago, a record 10th time the game will come to the Dolphins' home city. The notion of adding the Pro Bowl to the lineup in South Florida was first discussed several months ago. It's not clear when the final decision was made to move the game.

Hawaii tourism officials have lobbied in recent months to extend the game's current contract, which expires after this season's Pro Bowl, pointing to the fact that it's been sold out every year since moving to Honolulu and generates about $30.5 million in visitor spending and tax revenues.

Earlier this year, Hawaii's state government released $11 million for lighting and roofing improvements at Aloha Stadium, part of ongoing upgrades designed to refurbish and modernize the aging stadium. State officials have also considered demolishing the facility and building a new stadium.

Losing the Pro Bowl, combined with slowdowns in tourism because of the sluggish economy, is a double-dose of bad news for Honolulu, which estimates that 25,000 people came from out-of-state for Pro Bowls.

"It's not a shock because in talking with the NFL last year and this year, you realize the potential was there that it wouldn't stay in Honolulu forever and ever," Hannemann said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Popeye the Sailor copyright free 70 years after Elzie Segar's death


Popeye generates about £1.5 billion in annual sales

“I yam what I yam,” declared Popeye. And just what that is is likely to become less clear as the copyright expires on the character who generates about £1.5 billion in annual sales.

From January 1, the iconic sailor falls into the public domain in Britain under an EU law that restricts the rights of authors to 70 years after their death. Elzie Segar, the Illinois artist who created Popeye, his love interest Olive Oyl and nemesis Bluto, died in 1938.

The Popeye industry stretches from books, toys and action figures to computer games, a fast-food chain and the inevitable canned spinach.

The copyright expiry means that, from Thursday, anyone can print and sell Popeye posters, T-shirts and even create new comic strips, without the need for authorisation or to make royalty payments.

Popeye became a Depression-era hero soon after he first appeared in the 1929 comic strip, Thimble Theatre. Segar drew Popeye as a “working-class Joe” who suffered torment from Bluto — sometimes known as Brutus — until he “can't stands it no more”. Wolfing down spinach turned Popeye into a pumped-up everyman hero, making the case for good over evil.

Popeye the Sailor made his screen debut in 1933. According to a poll of cinema managers, he was more popular than Mickey Mouse by the end of the Thirties.

During wartime, the Popeye tattoo was etched on thousands of soldiers and sailors, who aligned themselves with his good-hearted belligerence.

The question of whether any enterprising food company can now attach Popeye's famous face to their spinach cans will have to be tested in court.

While the copyright is about to expire inside the EU, the character is protected in the US until 2024. US law protects a work for 95 years after its initial copyright.

The Popeye trademark, a separate entity to Segar's authorial copyright, is owned by King Features, a subsidiary of the Hearst Corporation — the US entertainment giant — which is expected to protect its brand aggressively.

Mark Owen, an intellectual property specialist at the law firm Harbottle & Lewis, said: “The Segar drawings are out of copyright, so anyone could put those on T-shirts, posters and cards and create a thriving business. If you sold a Popeye toy or Popeye spinach can, you could be infringing the trademark.”

Mr Owen added: “Popeye is one of the first of the famous 20th-century cartoon characters to fall out of copyright. Betty Boop and ultimately Mickey Mouse will follow.”

Segar's premature death, aged 43, means that Popeye is an early test case for cartoon characters. The earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons will not fall into the US public domain until at least 2023 after the Disney corporation successfully lobbied Congress for a copyright extension.

Sailor and spinach

— Popeye was added to the Thimble Theatre Olive Oyl strip in January 1929

— Elzie Segar was told to tone down Popeye’s aggression as it was a bad influence on children

— Though it is a myth that he was coopted to promote spinach by the US Government, spinach sales in America rose by a third in the decade after his appearance. A tie-in Popeye Spinach brand is one of the most popular in the US

— Popeye was the first cartoon character commemorated by a statue, in 1937 in Crystal City, Texas, the self-proclaimed Spinach Capital of the World

— Popeye animations, cartoon strips and merchandising generated $150 million a year by the 1970s

— The Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits chain was named after Popeye Doyle from The French Connection film. It now endorses the cartoon character

— The burger-loving J. Wellington Wimpy character gave his name to the Wimpy restaurant chain

Coke-sniffing dogs and the Fourth Amendment

By Julian Sanchez

Any time an appellate court hands down a ruling involving drug-sniffing dogs, I pay attention. Not for personal reasons, mind you—strictly a political junkie here—but because I've long been interested in the unique (or sui generis, as the courts prefer) legal status of the dog-sniff. Because they're non-intrusive and detect only the presence or absence of contraband, something in which the law recognizes no legitimate privacy interest, they've been ruled not to constiute a Fourth Amendment "search" in most contexts. Because dogs are cumbersome tech, the impact of that rule is limited, but as precise, portable, and cheap sensory tech becomes ubiquitous, those dog-sniff precedents could become enormously significant. With apologies to Erica Jong, I call these "zipless searches."

Via, I see the Second Circuit has handed down a decision fleshing out the scope of the dog-sniff exception. The particular ruling hinges on a less-interesting question about whether the "curtilage" of a home (the protected area surrounding a house, such as a fenced in yard) extends to the brush behind the house where one too-clever-for-his-own-good fellow appears to have been hiding his stash. What's more important, though, is that notwithstanding the Supreme Court's 2005 holding in Illinois v. Caballes reaffirming the special status of the sniff, the Second Circuit held to the logic of its own 1985 ruling affording special protection to the interior of the home.

That didn't do much good for the appellant in this case, since the court considered the brush behind the house too "public" to be due the heightened level of protection due that homes are afforded under the Fourth Amendment. But, invoking the Supreme Court's ruling in Kyllo v. U.S. (2001), which involved the use of infrared scanners to detect a marijuana-growing operation, the Court made clear that it still believed a dog sniff (and presumably the technological equivalent thereof) would constitute a search if it were used to detect the presence of drugs within the interior of the home.

In a way, that's surprising, because the logic of Caballes potentally has rather broader implications. The special features of dog-sniff type searches—targetedness and the absence of physical intrusion—hold true wherever the contraband happens to be located. On the other hand, the broad language of Kyllo can be read to suggest that the expectation of privacy within the home is so strong as to establish a kind of per se rule: Everything in the home, even contraband, is presumed to be private.

This actually creates an interesting quandary, though. It turns out that the drug stash in this case was located beyond the curtilage of the home. But there was no way to know that in advance. Given a sufficiently sensitive nose or scanner, the dope could have been in the garage, or perhaps even the interior of the home. Now, you might think, so what? If a dog or a device picks up traces of drugs, and following that lead suggests that the stuff is inside a protective space, the cops just go get a warrant to go in and search the premises.

The problem is this: As I understand the court's reasoning, whether or not a Fourth Amendment "search" has taken place depends on the location of the drugs—on whether the sniff or scan has revealed information about the interior of a protected domain—not on the location where the search is conducted. (That's why in Kyllo, the infrared scan of the home was a "search" even though the cops stayed parked across the street.) If the stash had turned out to be in the garage, then the sniff would have been an improper search, even though the cop would not have had any way of knowing this in advance. And (intuitively—please bear in mind that I'm a layman here) that would seem to entail that the results of that search are "fruit of the poisonous tree," which would preclude using that information as the basis for a warrant to search the home.

Here, too, none of this would have mattered in the particular case under consideration, since the cops had ample other grounds for a warrant, which was already on the way when the pooch discovered the stash. But questions like this seem bound to arise if, ten years from now, every beat cop is equipped with an inexpensive handheld device that acts as a geiger-counter for drugs. (Not a huge stretch given that working prototypes of such tech have been in development for at least five years.) The rule articulated by the Second Circuit, under which police can't know in advance whether a particular scanning action constitutes a "search," seems destined to become unworkable.

Scotland by train: Bonnie palace on wheels

Scotland's answer to the Orient-Express, the Royal Scotsman, offers a first-class tour of the Highlands, says Clare Mann.

By Clare Mann

Interior of the Orient Express in Scotland
George Pullman, who designed the British Pullman carriages in the 1920s, described them as 'palaces on wheels' Photo: GORDON JACK

"These don't look like average holidaymakers, but then this doesn't look like an average holiday," my son Alexander observed at Edinburgh's Waverley Station. We were following, a little self-consciously, a piper in Highland dress, up the platform.

The Royal Scotsman, nine gleaming maroon and gold replica Pullman coaches, complete with crew of 13, awaited our arrival. On the dot of 1.20pm the train departed and we were off on a two-night Highland tour, catapulted into a jolly Edwardian house party, sipping champagne (orange juice for him) in the handsome Observation Car as we trundled past Edinburgh Castle.

Our fellow travellers, 19 in all (the maximum is 36) were a multinational group. Half had just done the three-night Western tour to Mallaig. The party consisted of four English couples, a lone Scotsman from Perth, a mother and daughter from Moscow, an elegant elderly couple from Athens, two American couples, a scholarly American widow and a Belgian. The last, of course, became our Hercule Poirot.

As we approached the Forth Bridge, Quentin, a retired naval officer and our host for the trip, urged us outside to the terrace of the Observation Car. We rattled over the mighty bridge, 490ft above the Firth of Forth, under a cloudless sky.

George Pullman, who designed the British Pullman carriages in the 1920s, described them as "palaces on wheels". Each had its own name, décor and history. Our "state cabin", panelled in mahogany with delicate marquetry, was comfortable, if cosy.

Interior - Scotland by train: Bonnie palace on wheels
'Afternoon tea was a treat' Photo: GORDON JACK

The train proceeded at a sedate pace. We passed through pretty Victorian stations where a lone passenger waited for a train to who knows where. On through Perth, Blair Atholl and into the heart of the Cairngorms. Craggy hills and moor floated by, red kites soared overhead, and we passed tumbling rivers and patchworks of heather dotted with newly shorn sheep.

Afternoon tea was a treat: tiny sandwiches, Scotch pancakes with smoked salmon, miniature scones, clotted cream and carrot cake. Two chefs worked deftly in the kitchen. There was an open window in the passageway, so that guests could pause and watch the preparations.

Lulled by tea, scenery, the murmur of conversation and sunshine streaming through the windows, it was hard to believe we had left a hectic Edinburgh only hours before. My book had fallen into my lap unopened. Alexander was equally engrossed – in his PlayStation.

It was rather an effort to get off at Dalwhinnie for a tour of the distillery in the early evening. The Royal Scotsman's own bus, which had followed us from Edinburgh, drove us the short distance from the station and several drams of peaty malt "the gentlest and most refined malt of all" slipped down easily before we tottered back on board.

At Boat of Garten, the train shunted on to a private line owned by the Strathspey Railway Society. It was here we were to spend a peaceful and stationary night. Ray Owen, a Scottish historian and terrific raconteur, entertained us after dinner dressed in Highland garb and equipped with weapons. He told us of Bonnie Prince Charlie, brave clans, cowardly Red Coats and the Battle of Culloden in 1746. We listened spellbound.

Breakfast was taken in our favourite carriage, Victory. Churchill had used it in his election campaign after the war. We tucked into porridge, smokies (smoked haddock), fried haggis and black pudding, polished off with freshly baked pastries. But there was no time to linger. We were back on the bus and off to spend the morning at Rochiemurchus, a 25,000-acre estate that has been in the Grant family for 500 years.

Piper at Waverley station - Scotland by train: Bonnie palace on wheels
' We were following, a little self-consciously, a piper in Highland dress, up the platform' Photo: GORDON JACK

Here there were a variety of activities on offer: I opted for fly-fishing, Alexander for clay-pigeon shooting; the Texans went in search of osprey. I was in heaven – on a still loch with a gillie on a perfect day. I even caught a trout.

Our trusty bus caught up with the train for lunch at Nairn. I craftily sent Alexander to bag a table for two in Victory – otherwise it was communal dining in the other dining car at a long table. There was time for a siesta before another expedition at Keith to Johnson's cashmere mill and shop. Alas, no afternoon tea on the menu, but I was excited by the call of cashmere.

Through Aberdeen, Montrose and Aberdour we sped towards our grand finale, a black tie (and dress kilts) dinner. Here, it has to be said, the canapés were disappointing: they should have been better at the price. Dinner, though, was excellent: potted shrimp and crayfish, fillet of beef and rhubarb cheesecake.

Dundee was not the most scenic resting spot for our second night, but finding a berth for a nine-carriage train is no easy matter. I opened the curtains the next morning to find two small girls peering in. They giggled at my dishevelled state. "Not cool," murmured my son from his bunk.

We ate our last breakfast going over the Tay Bridge and Firth of Tay looking out to sea. "I wouldn't mind staying on for the Western tour," said Alexander through a mouthful of kipper. I agreed wholeheartedly.