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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Car and Drivers Big Buck bargains

For most people, 50 grand is a lot to shell out for a car. We drop that kind of coin, we expect a lot: a lot of luxury, a lot of technology, a lot of performance, preferably, a lot of all of that stuff. But as is usually the case with luxury items of any variety, the price premium is seldom matched by a commensurate level of bonus features, heightened performance, or other tangible benefits. To the contrary, when it comes to luxury goods, there’s usually an inverse correlation between price and content, as value takes a back seat to more subjective rewards like beauty, exclusivity, prestige, and, of course, brand name as prices climb higher.

Still, even among those that do have $50,000, $75,000, or more to spend on their next car, few are keen on senselessly throwing that money away—especially those who have worked very hard to earn their money in the first place. Fortunately, there are several automobiles in the luxury segment which actually do offer the spoils to match the expenditure.

In fact, in some cases, they offer more—a lot more—some with so much cool stuff that they not only compare very favorably to other vehicles in their price bracket, but they also out-run, out-perform, or out-pamper far more expensive automobiles.

Here, then, is a group of five $50,000 to $60,000 automobiles that we at Car and Driver find mighty impressive for the money, and which have proven even more compelling when put side-by-side with some of their much more expensive—but not much better—counterparts.

Read about them here

Guitar Rising for Real Guitar Heroes

guitarrising.jpgI never got the whole Guitar Hero, Rock Band and their fake guitars playing thingie, which require so much practice to master that you may as well use a real guitar to become as good as Satriani. That's why I love the idea of Guitar Rising, which can use any real electric guitar, from a Fender Telecaster to a Gibson Les Paul. The software teaches you how to play actual songs, tracking your accuracy much like Guitar Hero would do, as their demo video shows.

According to GameTank's CEO Jake Parks, the connection to the guitar would either work "via a guitar-USB adapter, a microphone, or directly to the sound card." He told us that they are planning to release for both Mac and PC.

The cool thing about Guitar Rising is that it isn't a simple videogame, but combines the fun of playing and beating scores to actually teach you how to play the real thing. While they "are in the process of licensing popular rock songs, and we'll announce them on our website as soon as we finalize the deals," there will be different songs for different levels of difficulty to ease the learning curve, as well as different speed settings, so you can start slow and progress until you master the song at real speed. In fact, they say that the song selection will include stuff easy for beginners but also songs challenging for experienced players.

In other words, you will actually learn to play guitar and try to be a Keith Richards-wannabe rather than just pretending to be Jeff Vader pretending to be Keith Richards. If you want to give it a try, they will be at the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco to visit us in the OMPR/IBM Pavilion, booth 6241. [Guitar Rising]

The 50 Hottest Women of Sports

collage of 50 hot sports women

Hours of training. Dedication. Toned bodies. Tanned skins.

Women and sports make an awesome combo, and PopCrunch wanted to honor this combo by listing the hottest female sports figures from around the world!

We’ve broken the top 50 into five pages, each with ten women, and we’ve ranked them according to hotness (you are free to agree or disagree with our ordering, but we think we did a pretty damn good job).

Browse the 50 Hottest Women of Sports

Dealipedia to make transactions public

Michael Robertson, who made $115 million when he sold his startup to Vivendi in 2001, wants every other entrepreneur to tell the world how much, or little, they pocketed during their business deals.

His new site, the recently launched Dealipedia, aims to become a hub of information about mergers, investments, acquisitions, and other business deals by encouraging the people in on the deals to upload information to its public wiki. The goal is to help entrepreneurs, VCs, and other curious parties understand what goes on behind the scenes of the business world.

Whether participants will give up that information -- and whether Dealipedia's data will be accurate -- remains to be seen.

Currently, in order to access large amounts of data on private business deals, you have to subscribe to for-fee services from companies like Dow Jones or Dun and Bradstreet. Robertson refers to these as as "old-world" companies which don't understand the power of wikis. Dealipedia, by contrast, will make all of its information free and accessible to the public.

In a conversation with EPICENTER, he noted that some people have vested interests in getting deal information public, from the company founders in the thick of the negotiations to ancillary participants like PR executives and bankers who shepherd the deals. To encourage contributions, Dealipedia will allow people to add information anonymously.

As for the reliability of anonymous contributions, Robertson is relying on a communal intelligence. "We're a wiki model, so we're depending on the wisdom of crowds," Robertson said. "If somebody types in that my company,, was sold for $200 million, I'm going to say, 'Like hell it was, it was sold for $385 million!' People have a vested interest in making sure the data is accurate."

So far, the site has informationon past web deals like the sale of Weblogs, Inc. to AOL (which apparently netted founder Jason Calacanis $11 million) and the acquisition of photo sharing site Flickr by Yahoo in 2005. An anonymous person on the site contributed the tidbit -- still unverified -- that Flickr founders Caterina Fake and Steward Butterfield each took home $5 million for the sale. And Robertson himself has contributed content. His $115 million payday is recorded in Dealipedia's entry on the sale and in its tantalizingly named "Who Made The Money" section, which details the amounts distributed to key people at the close of a deal.

"I'm proud that I made $100 million, or whatever it was, on I'm proud of that. I don't mind people knowing because, at some level, that says that I'm a decent businessman," Robertson said. "So I think that if people may be fearful of being boastful, I think that deep down, they will want this information to be made public and that's our bet with Dealipedia.

Indoeuropean Language Family Tree

Son of Concorde: New hypersonic airliner will fly to Australia in just over four hours

By RAY MASSEY - More by this author »

Last updated at 15:45pm on 7th February 2008 Flying at more than twice the speed of Concorde and five times the speed of sound, this hypersonic airliner is set to be the future of modern air travel.

Looking like a supersonic passenger plane from Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds, the revolutionary aircraft with a top speed of 3,400mph aims to fly between London (or Brussels) and Sydney in under five hours.

Billed as the "Son of Concorde", the commercial plane is designed to carry 300 passengers and will reach speeds of Mach 5 – five times the speed of sound.

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'Son of Concord': The revolutionary plane will fly at a top speed of 3,400mph and should be able to carry 300 passengers

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Its hi-tech liquid hydrogen-powered engines will also produce few carbon emissions, making air travel much greener.

Alan Bond, a senior engineer in the project, partly funded by the European Space Agency and the European Union, yesterday described the aircraft as "unique".

The ground-breaking aircraft - known as the A2 – is the work of British engineers at Reaction Engines Limited in Oxfordshire.

Specialists came up with the design as part of a project called Lapcat (Long-Term Advanced Propulsion Concepts and Technologies).

Mr Bond's team includes many who developed the British Aerospace "Hotol" engines designed in the 1980s to send aircraft into low orbit and back to earth in record time.

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Green machine: The hypersonic plane will be fuelled by liquid hydrogen - the only downside is that it has no windows

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Mach 1 is the speed of sound, which is roughly around 700mph but depends largely on altitude and the density of the air.

He said of the proposed new super-plane: "It's designed to leave Brussels International Airport, fly quietly and sub-sonically out into the North Atlantic at about Mach 0.9 before reaching Mach 5 across the North Pole and heading down over the Pacific to Australia.

"The total flight time from Brussels to Australia allowing for air traffic control would be four hours and forty minutes.

"It sounds incredible by today's standards but I don't see why future generations can't make day trips to Australasia."

The £5.4million scheme aims to study the types of propulsion systems required "to reduce long-distance flights, such as from Brussels to Sydney, to less than two to four hours".

The current flight time for airliners flying between England and Australia is 22 hours 50 minutes - four times longer than the target set.

At 433ft long (132m), the A2 is half the length of the Titanic and weighs 400 tonnes, lighter than a Boeing 747.

To reach Mach 3 the plane initially generates thrust through engines similar to those used in conventional jet aircraft.

But beyond Mach 3, a specialist unit pre-cools the super-heated air generated by flying at high speeds before it enters the turbines, preventing the engines from melting.

Previously, engineers have failed to design a system capable of operating at such extreme temperatures.

If built, the cost of a ticket on the A2 - which will cruise at an altitude of 100,000ft (30,480m) - from Europe to Australia is estimated to be around £2,000.

Because it is fuelled by liquid hydrogen, the aircraft only produces water vapour and nitrous oxide as exhaust and has a negligible carbon footprint.

Despite its length, the aircraft will also be able to land on current international airport runways.

Mr Bond, managing director of Reaction Engines Ltd, said that from a standing start and with the requisite political will, the plane could be flying commercially within 15 years.

When quizzed about the name, he acknowledged that the 'A2' designation was similar to the rocket designations used by Nazi rocket scientist and subsequent NASA rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun, but said this was purely coincidental.

The German A2 rocket was a precursor to the A4, which was subsequently renamed by Hitler as the V-2 for Vengeance (Vergeltung) weapon.

"Someone did point this out. But it's a coincidence. We're not intending to launch them onto London," said Mr Bond.

Euros Accepted' signs pop up in New York City

NEW YORK (Reuters) — In the latest example that the U.S. dollar ain't what it used to be, some shops in New York City have begun accepting euros and other foreign currency as payment for merchandise.

"We had decided that money is money and we'll take it and just do the exchange whenever we can with our bank," Robert Chu, owner of East Village Wines, told Reuters television.

The increasingly weak U.S. dollar, once considered the king among currencies, has brought waves of European tourists to New York with money to burn and looking to take advantage of hugely favorable exchange rates.

"We didn't realize we would take so much in and there were that many people traveling or having euros to bring in. But some days, you'd be surprised at how many euros you get," Chu said.

"Now we have to get familiar with other currencies and the (British) pound and the Canadian dollars we take," he said.

While shops in many U.S. towns on the Canadian border have long accepted Canadian currency and some stores on the Texas-Mexico border take pesos, the acceptance of foreign money in Manhattan was unheard of until recently.

Not far from Chu's downtown wine emporium, Billy Leroy of Billy's Antiques & Props said the vast numbers of Europeans shopping in the neighborhood got him thinking, "My God, I should take euros in at the store."

Leroy doesn't even bother to exchange them.

"I'm happy if I take in 200 euros, because what I do is keep them," he said. "So when I go back to Paris, I don't have to go through the nightmare of going to an exchange place."

(Reporting by Angela Moore, writing by Bill Berkrot; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

Copyright 2008 Reuters Limited.

Optical Scientists Add New, Practical Dimension to Holography

Optical Scientists Add New, Practical Dimension to Holography

fig4b_tay_08994A-copy.jpgView of a model of an ethane molecule from the updatable 3-D holographic display developed at The University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences in collaboration with Nitto Denko Technical Corp., Oceanside, Calif. The 3-D image was recorded on a 4-inch by 4-inch photorefractive polymer device. (University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences/Nitto Denko Technical Corp.)

fig4a_tay_08994A-copy.jpgViews of an automobile (top) and of a human brain (bottom) from the updatable 3-D holographic display developed at The University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences in collaboration with Nitto Denko Technical Corp., Oceanside, Calif. The 3-D images were recorded on a 4-inch by 4-inch photorefractive polymer device. (University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences/Nitto Denko Technical Corp.) (Click to enlarge.)

fig4c_tay_08994A.jpgView of a human skull from the updatable 3-D holographic display developed at The University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences in collaboration with Nitto Denko Technical Corp., Oceanside, Calif. The 3-D image was recorded on a 4-inch by 4-inch photorefractive polymer device. (University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences/Nitto Denko Technical Corp.) (Click to enlarge.)

The new device has medical, industrial, military applications.

University of Arizona optical scientists have broken a technological barrier by making three-dimensional holographic displays that can be erased and rewritten in a matter of minutes.

The holographic displays which are viewed without special eyewear are the first updatable three-dimensional displays with memory ever to be developed, making them ideal tools for medical, industrial and military applications that require "situational awareness."

"This is a new type of device, nothing like the tiny hologram of a dove on your credit card," UA optical sciences professor Nasser Peyghambarian said. "The hologram on your credit card is printed permanently. You cannot erase the image and replace it with an entirely new three-dimensional picture."

"Holography has been around for decades, but holographic displays are really one of the first practical applications of the technique," UA optical scientist Savas Tay said.

Dynamic hologram displays could be made into devices that help surgeons track progress during lengthy and complex brain surgeries, show airline or fighter pilots any hazards within their entire surrounding airspace, or give emergency response teams nearly real-time views of fast-changing flood situations or traffic problems, for example.

And no one yet knows where the advertising and entertainment industries will go with possible applications, Peyghambarian said. "Imagine that when you walk into the supermarket or department store, you could see a large, dynamic, three-dimensional product display," he said.

Tay, Peyghambarian, their colleagues from the UA College of Optical Sciences and collaborators from Nitto Denko Technical Corp., of Oceanside, Calif., report on the research in the Feb. 7 issue of the journal Nature.

Their device basically consists of a special plastic film sandwiched between two pieces of glass, each coated with a transparent electrode. The images are "written" into the light-sensitive plastic, called a photorefractive polymer, using laser beams and an externally applied electric field. The scientists take pictures of an object or scene from many two-dimensional perspectives as they scan their object, and the holographic display assembles the two-dimensional perspectives into a three-dimensional picture.

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research, which has funded Peyghambarian's team to develop updatable holographic displays, has used holographic displays in the past. But those displays have been static. They did not allow erasing and updating of the images. The new holographic display can show a new image every few minutes.

The 4-inch-by-4-inch prototype display that Peyghambarian, Tay and their colleagues created now comes only in red, but the researchers believe much larger displays in full color could be developed. They next will make 1-foot-by-1-foot displays, then 3-foot-by-3-foot displays.

"We use highly efficient, low-cost recording materials capable of very large sizes, which is very important for life-size, realistic 3-D displays," Peyghambarian said. "We can record complete scenes or objects within three minutes and can store them for three hours."

The researchers also are working to write images even faster using pulsed lasers.

"If you can write faster with a pulsed laser, then you can write larger holograms in the same amount of time it now takes to write smaller ones," Tay said. "We envision this to be a life-size hologram. We could, for example, display an image of a whole human that would be the same size as the actual person."

Tay emphasized how important updatable holographic displays could be for medicine.

"Three-dimensional imaging techniques are already commonly used in medicine, for example, in MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT scan (computerized tomography) techniques," Tay said. "However, the huge amount of data that is created in three dimensions is still being displayed on two-dimensional devices, either on a computer screen or on a piece of paper. A great amount of data is lost by displaying it this way. So I think when we develop larger, full-color 3-D holograms, every hospital in the world will want one."

Hilary and Bill Clinton in the 1970's

Navy's Magnetic Rail Gun

Last week at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, in Dahlgren, VA, a seven-pound bullet emerged from a truck-sized contraption at seven times the speed of sound and sent a visible shockwave through the air before crashing into a metal bunker filled with sand. With 10.6 megajoules of kinetic energy, this aluminum slug was propelled not by explosives but by an electric field, making this the most powerful electromagnetic railgun ever fired. The device is part of the navy's railgun development program.

While propellant-driven shells have been mainstays of naval warships for the past hundred years, the cost and safety issues related to storing explosive materials have driven engineers to seek alternatives like the electromagnetic railgun. "There are physical limits to what you can do with gunpowder," says Charles Garnett, the manager at Dahlgren, referring to the maximum velocities that explosions can produce. A railgun could eventually send a 40-pound slug 200 miles in six minutes--10 times the range of the navy's primary surface support gun, the MK 45--and it could be used to support Marine troops engaged in land-based operations.

"A lot of people think a railgun is not going to make a lot of noise," Garnett says. "It's electrically fired, and they expect a whoosh and no sound." In reality, when the bullet emerges, it lets out a crack as electricity arcs through the air like lightning.

The railgun gets its name from two highly conductive rails, which form a complete electric circuit once the metal projectile and a sliding armature are put in place. When current starts flowing through the device, it creates a powerful electromagnetic field that accelerates the projectile down the barrel at 40,000 gs, launching it in a matter of milliseconds. Aerodynamic drag along with a million amps of current heats the bullet to 1,000 °C, igniting aluminum particles and leaving a trail of flame in its wake. The researchers estimate the muzzle energy based on the mass and velocity of the bullet in the barrel and from precisely timed x-ray snapshots during flight.

"What's important," says Garnett, "is that this is the first step on the way to building a tactically viable system with 64 megajoules of energy."

The previous experimental railgun record of 9 megajoules had been set 15 years ago by a team at the University of Texas at Austin funded by the U.S. Army. But the Texas railgun was operating at the upper end of its capacity, while Garnett says that the new gun has been designed to handle up to 32 megajoules, and the ultimate goal of the project is to build a 64-megajoule model.

Brain Signal linked to Autism

By imaging the brains of adolescents with a high-functioning form of autism as they played a social-interaction game, scientists have identified a physiological deficit specific to the disorder. The researchers believe that the change is linked to a diminished sense of self. The findings, recently published in the journal Neuron, could help guide future research into the nature of autism and potentially lead to new ways to diagnose and treat the disorder.

"I think this is an exciting advance," says Uta Frith, a professor at University College London, in England, who wrote a preview of the paper for Neuron. Most studies find only subtle differences in people with high-functioning autism, "so it's quite impressive to find such a big difference," she says.

Autism is a complicated and heterogeneous developmental disorder marked by problems in language and social behavior. No medical tests exist to detect the disorder, so children are typically diagnosed based on doctors' observations. Scientists are avidly searching for more objective markers of autism, but identifying specific brain abnormalities has been a challenge.

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston, believe that they have now identified a specific physiological marker of the disorder. Read Montague, Pearl Chiu, and their colleagues scanned the brains of adolescents with Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, while they played an interactive trust game.

In the game, one person, designated the investor, chooses an amount of money to send to a second player, the trustee. The money is tripled en route, and the trustee must then decide how much to give back to the investor. When played by normal volunteers, the game unfolds in a very characteristic fashion: generous gestures are met with generous responses, while selfish ones inspire selfishness in return.

Brain activity also follows a stereotyped pattern. A study by Montague and his colleagues. published in 2006, imaged the brains of both the investor and the trustee as they played the game. The researchers discovered a specific signal in the cingulate cortex, part of the brain that integrates information from both the cortex and the body, that was detected only when the investor thought about how much money to give the trustee. A second signal was seen only when the investor received his or her return from the trustee. "We see a 'self, other, self, other' pattern," says Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Lab at Baylor. "We think that's an unconscious assessment of who the actions should be attributed to."

According to the new findings, people with Asperger's play the game just as a nonautistic person would, but they lack the characteristic "self" signal in the brain. Normal people lack the signal only when they think that they are playing against a computer, suggesting that autistic people view interactions with other people similarly to the way that normal people think about interacting with a computer. "This approach allows a somewhat objective look at something hopelessly subjective--sense of self," says John Gabrieli, a neuroscientist at MIT

Nissan to prevent price gouging on GTR

Nissan North America said on Wednesday that the 480-horsepower Nissan GT-R is now available for pre-ordering at 691 of approximately 1,400 of its dealerships in the U.S. At the same time, the automaker told Inside Line it has put a formal program in place to help prevent price gouging on the supercar, which starts at $69,850 for the base model.

"We are taking steps to let the dealers know that marking up the car is not a good thing," said Nissan North America Spokesman Darryll Harrison. "We're trying to take steps to curb excessive markups."

Harrison said the automaker is requiring dealership management staff, such as the dealer principal, to conduct all GT-R transactions. "We're not saying salespeople are bad, but management is closer to the day-to-day operations of the dealership, and they don't work on commission," Harrison noted.

Dealers will also be required to file all GT-R paperwork, such as factory orders for the GT-R, through Nissan North America's regional sales offices, which will oversee the sales prices of the car and provide "counsel" in case of price gouging. It is unusual for dealers to have to turn over orders to regional offices for oversight.

The 691 Nissan dealers who won GT-R certification are "many of our urban dealers in larger markets," said Harrison. A complete list is available at To become certified, the dealers had to have a master technician on staff who is trained in the "ins and outs of the GT-R," said Harrison. The certified dealers also had to invest in an upgrade of their facility, down to such details as providing larger lifts to accommodate the low and wide body of the GT-R.

Nissan also formally detailed pricing on the GT-R — except for the destination charge, which has not yet been set. The base GT-R is priced at $69,850; the GT-R Premium starts at $71,900. An iPod converter adds $360 to the bottom line, while carpeted GT-R floor mats add $280. "Super Silver," a special exterior paint, costs an additional $3,000. A cold-weather package is a no-cost option and bundles either all-season or snow tires made specifically for the GT-R, as well as different fluids that allow the car to operate in optimum fashion in colder climates.

Harrison said that customers should expect the pre-order process to require a down payment. But the automaker is not allowed to set that amount for the dealers. Harrison said bloggers have been e-mailing him, suggesting that pre-orders may require deposits as low as $500 or $1,000. The Web site warns of additional charges of $25,000-$60,000 over sticker for the GT-R in the U.S. Harrison would not provide advice to consumers on how much of a down payment is reasonable.

Harrison says the company expects a U.S. sales volume for the GT-R of 2,500 units in the first full year, followed by sales of about 1,500 a year afterwards. He emphasized that the 2,500 was a sales number, not a production number. "The 2,500 number is not a production cutoff," Harrison said. "We haven't determined whether or not we'll do that [cut off sales at a certain point]."

Customer deliveries of the GT-R are set to kick off in June.

What this means to you: Undoubtedly you'll pay over sticker price for the GT-R — but how much is the key question. — Anita Lienert, Correspondent

Ford Work Solutions for in truck productivity

Realizing that many truck owners use their vehicles as mobile offices, Ford on Wednesday stole a lot of the limelight at the 2008 Chicago Auto Show with a lineup of technologies for its F-Series trucks and E-Series vans that includes an industry-first in-dash computer.

The lineup is dubbed "Ford Work Solutions." The Dearborn automaker says it will roll out this fall on the 2009 F-150 XL, STX, XLT and FX4; the F-Series Super Duty XL, XLT and FX4; and all 2009 E-Series vans. The Transit Connect vans will get the technology in mid-2009.

Perhaps the most practical and long-awaited feature in the lineup is an in-dash computer that Ford says "allows customers to print invoices, check inventories and access documents stored on their home or office computer networks — right on the job site." The computer, which provides high-speed Internet access via the Sprint Mobile Broadband Network, was developed with Magneti Marelli and is powered by Microsoft Auto. The computer is located in the vehicle's center stack, taking up the spot occupied by the standard radio. Details include a 6.5-inch high-resolution touchscreen, two gigabytes of memory, a secure digital slot for additional memory, a USB port and a wireless keyboard and mouse. Options include a battery-powered inkjet printer.

"We're not releasing pricing yet," Ford Spokesman Alan Hall told Inside Line. "But it [the in-dash computer] will be priced competitively versus today's navigation options, between $1,500 and $2,200. It will be a better value than that in terms of everything you get. It's within the price range of a current navigation system.

"This is a solution which will be popular with small business owners, skilled tradesmen and independent contractors," Hall said.

Ford also rolled out Tool Link, a radio-frequency identification asset tracking system developed with Dewalt and ThingMagic. This technology lets customers maintain a detailed real-time inventory of tools or equipment stored in the pickup bed. "That is a software application," said Hall. "It would not be a huge investment because you are not purchasing equipment."

Another software technology is Crew Chief, a fleet telematics and diagnostic system that lets small fleet owners manage their vehicles, dispatch workers to job sites and keep vehicle maintenance records. The fourth high-tech feature is a Cable Lock security system that discourages the theft of "expensive tools too large to fit in the cab." Cable Lock can also be "programmed to identify user-set alerts, such as unauthorized use of a vehicle or excessive idling."

What this means to you: Automakers have long preached that vehicle interiors are the "next frontier." Ford proves it's a pioneer by one-upping the competition, at least on the truck side. — Anita Lienert, Correspondent