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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A home for $100

Home sellers dream up extreme incentive: Essay contest

Associated Press
Published on: 03/17/08

NEW YORK — Frustrated as her house languished on the market for three straight summers, J.J. Rodgers is trying a new sales tactic: giving the two-story home away in an essay contest.

Already, she's received more than 500 entries — each essay requires a $100 entry fee — for her four-bedroom home in Red Feather Lakes, Colo. She's hoping for a minimum of 2,000 entries, or $200,000 in fees, by the May 25 deadline to pay off the mortgage, cover closing costs and have a little left over. Rodgers last listed the property at $169,000 after cutting the price three times.

Jack Dempsey / AP
The Red Feather Lakes, Colo., home of J.J. Rodgers and her husband, Wes Ludlow. Frustrated as their house languished on the market for three straight summers, Rodgers and Ludlow are trying a new sales tactic: giving the two-story home away in an essay contest.


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"We don't have anything to lose," Rodgers, 45, said. "If we're unsuccessful, at least we did something different from what we've already tried."

Rodgers isn't alone in turning to unconventional sales incentives to unload her house. Aside from cash, home sellers across the country are giving away luxury cars, homeowner warranty plans and furniture to entice buyers.

Once upon a time, the crazy offers came from buyers who bid prices to astronomical heights and waived inspections and contingency clauses in sales contracts. Now, as homeowners compete with record high supply from foreclosed homes and builders' discounted inventory, the shoe's on the other foot.

The inventory of existing homes on the market rose in January to a 10.3 months supply, meaning it would take that long to unload existing inventories, while the supply of new homes increased to 9.9 months, the longest period in more than 26 years.

The glut has battered sales volume and prices. Sales of existing homes dropped to the slowest pace on record in January, with the median price sliding to $201,100. New home sales in January also fell to the slowest rate in nearly 13 years and the median price tumbled to the lowest level in more than three years.

To avoid getting lost in the crowd, homeowner incentives vary widely. One Colorado homeowner offered a club membership and golf lessons, worth about $4,000, on his $349,000 house on a golf course. Another seller in the state is willing to part with his tractor and pickup truck to remove snow around his home on 40 acres.

Daniel Lasnick, a real estate attorney in Stamford, Conn., recommends discussing deals involving quirky incentives with a real estate lawyer. Depending on the incentive, a side agreement may be needed. Additionally, Lasnick said a buyer may want to consult with an accountant, especially regarding any contests.

"If you're a winner and it's a prize, you'll have to pay income tax on the house. It's no different from winning a lottery," he said.

Once a popular arrangement in the 1980s and 1990s, owner financing is back in vogue as banks shy away from making home loans to anyone except the most creditworthy. Greg Winfield, who runs the web listing service has seen a recent increase in owner-financed and lease-option properties for sale, especially in California and Arizona.

In owner-financed sales, sellers lend all or part of the money needed to purchase the property. Often, the mortgage payments are held in an escrow account and a real estate attorney arranges the transaction.

"People are offering all kinds of goofy things to get their houses sold," said real estate agent Allen Butler in Surprise, Ariz. "But what gets a house sold really is going to be based on price and price alone. The incentives, they can attract traffic and interest."

Buzz was all Bob and Ricki Husick needed to sell their Wexford, Pa., home using a unique incentive. In October, the couple advertised that the buyer would get the purchase price back upon the pair's passing. The heirless Husicks added a bonus offer: The buyers could inherit the couple's retirement home in Arizona, worth about $500,000, too, if they agree to care for the Husicks in old age.

After vetting more than 100 offers following a flood of media attention, the couple found a buyer 80 miles from their two-story colonial and plans to close before the end of April. They will receive their $399,999 listing price. The buyers haven't counted out the offer to look after the Husicks during their twilight years, but both parties realize circumstances could change in the interim.

"The house is sold. They'll get the money back. That part's a done deal," Husick, 55, said.

Rodgers and her husband, Wes Ludlow, hope their essay contest will be another success story. The couple, who have five children, decided to sell the Red Feather Lakes home, their second house, to free up money to pay for college. They own another home in Fort Collins, Colo., about a 45-minute drive away.

"I think the trick to the essay contest is if you can't get the story out there and keep it out there, it's not in forefront of people's minds and they forget about it," Rodgers said. The couple recently extended their deadline to May from March 25 to give people more time to enter.

Built in 1982, the home sits on a quarter acre and boasts a wraparound deck, two fire stoves and a new hot water heater and pressure tank. County records show the home was valued at $171,900 at the end of last year.

A Fort Collins title company will prepare the paperwork to send to the winner ahead of the closing date. All entry fees are held in escrow until closing when the title company will wire funds to the couple's mortgage company. If they don't receive enough entries, they will send the money back to the entrants.

Rodgers and Ludlow asked for volunteers in the Red Feather Lakes community to judge the essays. They found nine unrelated people, including a local attorney and a small business owner, to choose the winner. The essay is open to any subject and limited to 500 words. They have received essays from as far away as Hawaii accompanied by family photos and personal letters.

"I'm blown away by people's creativity and intelligence. I feel honored to read these people's writings," Rodgers said. "It's like this big story quilt unfolding in front of us."

Fitzy's Wicked Pissah 2008 Red Sox Preview

Andre the Giant - the Greatest Drunk on Earth

Some amazing man or woman, past or present, who stands colossus-like atop the Big Keg, the ground below littered with crushed empties and the blacked-out carcasses of lesser beings? A verging demigod, whose prowess with a bottle leaves you shaking your head in pop-eyed adoration? Lots of us do.

In addition to their wrist-raising abilities, we deify great drinkers because they indulge their lust for intoxication while simultaneously operating at the peak of their powers in whatever their chosen profession. In other words, great drunks are also great writers, actors, athletes, scientists, statesmen, philosophers, and so on.

I have a favorite drunkard. He was an athlete—a professional wrestler in fact—but he was also a gifted entertainer and a true artist. His parents named him Andre Rene Rousimoff, but we knew him as The Eighth Wonder of the World, Andre the Giant.

For two decades, from the late 1960s through the mid 1980s, Andre the Giant was the highest paid professional wrestler in the business and a household name across the globe. Promoters fought tooth and nail to book Andre, as his presence on a card all but guaranteed a sell-out. Fans cheered his every move, and mobbed him on the street as if he were a great big Beatle.

For proof of his drawing power, look no further than Wrestlemania III in 1987. The main event was Andre vs. Hulk Hogan. The show drew the first million-dollar gate in wrestling history, set a pay-per-view record that lasted a decade, and set the all-time indoor attendance record for any live event ever—78,000+ butts in seats at the Pontiac Silver Dome in Detroit—destroying the previous record set by some rock band called the Rolling Stones. His rematch with Hogan two months later, broadcast live on NBC, attracted 33 million viewers, making it the most watched wrestling match ever.

Known to his friends simply as “Giant” or “Boss,” Andre was born on May 19th, 1946, in Grenoble, France, the child of Russian immigrants. Shortly after his birth, he was diagnosed with a rare glandular disease, acromegaly, which caused his body to over-produce growth hormones. As a result, Andre grew to a height of somewhere between 6’11” and 7’5” and a weight of over 500 pounds (his actual height and weight have been speculated about for decades—the business is notorious for inflating wrestlers’ statistics—but Andre’s illness sometimes made him slouch or bow his shoulders, so he might well have been the advertised 7’5”). He first wrestled as Andre the Butcher, but it was Vincent J. McMahon Sr., owner of New York’s World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), who christened him “Andre the Giant.”

While it can be argued that a miniscule handful of professional wrestlers matched Andre’s in-ring achievements (Gorgeous George back in the ‘40s and ‘50s, perhaps; Dusty Rhodes in the ‘70s, and Hulk Hogan, without a doubt, in the ‘80s), no other wrestler ever matched his exploits as a drunkard. In fact, no other human has ever matched Andre as a drinker. He is the zenith. He is the Mount Everest of inebriation.
As far as great drunkards go, there is Andre the Giant, and then there is everyone else.

The big man loved two things: wrestling and booze—mostly booze—and his appetites were of mythic proportion.

First, consider the number 7,000. It’s an important number, and a rather scary one considering its context, which is this—it has been estimated that Andre the Giant drank 7,000 calories worth of booze every day. The figure doesn’t include food. Just booze.

7,000 calories.

Every day.

I don’t know about you, but it makes my brain turn somersaults. Hell, it makes my brain perform an entire floor routine, complete with colored ribbons.

When Andre arrived in New York to begin his long working relationship with the McMahon family, his reputation as both a serious student of the nightlife and an extravagant spender was already a topic of speculation and wonder among East Coast wrestlers and promoters. Andre might make $15,000-$20,000 for a single appearance at Madison Square Garden, and a substantial amount of that went to settling the bar tabs he piled up as he boozed his way up and down Manhattan until sunrise. Andre’s generosity matched his size. He often invited a gang of fellow wrestlers along for the ride, as he disliked drinking alone, and picked up some truly staggering tabs. Andre was going to have a good time and went out of his way to make sure everyone else did too.

Worried about his headliner, Vince McMahon Sr. assigned a “handler” to the Giant—long-time wrestler, manager, and road agent, Arnold Skaaland, whose only job when Andre was in town was to keep him out of serious trouble and get him to the arena in time to wrestle. Skaaland was an old-school drinker in his own right, but Andre blew his mind. On one occasion he could only watch goggle-eyed as Andre went about demolishing a dozen or so quarts of beer as a “warm-up” for a match.

With Skaaland on the job, Vince Sr. knew Andre was in capable hands, but the promoter still worried about how the Giant would cope with the insane amount of travel required of a wrestling superstar. Andre loathed flying—no commercial airliner could accommodate such a massive man without resorting to the luggage compartment—and his opinion of most cars wasn’t much sunnier, because aspects of his disease caused intense pain in his knees, hips and lower back when he remained too long in a cramped position. When a tight schedule left a plane or car as the only option, Andre eased his discomfort by getting good and hammered.

Vince Sr. pondered the situation and arrived at a novel solution. He wanted to keep the big man happy, so he bought a trailer and had it customized just for Andre. With plenty of room to spread out and relax, Andre could now travel in a semblance of comfort, which allowed him to do some serious boozing. During trips Andre consumed beer at the incredible rate of a case every ninety minutes, with bottles of vodka or top-rate French wine thrown in for variety.

Sadly, the trailer wasn’t available outside the WWWF territory; Vince Sr. wasn’t about to do the competition any favors. Andre didn’t expect other promoters to pony up a trailer just for him, so he commissioned a customized Lincoln Continental. With the front seat now positioned about where the back seat would normally be, Andre had a little leg room. He carried his luggage and wrestling gear in the trunk and towed his necessities in a trailer. Lined with plastic tarps, the rickety trailer was filled with ice and cases of Budweiser tallboys. As he cruised the nation’s highways, Andre kept a case on the seat beside him, stopping only for food, more ice, and another case or two if he ran low.

As famous as Andre was in this country, he was even bigger in Japan. He spent a few months out of every year over there, where he was treated like a living god and pocketed five-figure payoffs for a single night’s work. That being said, Andre didn’t really like Japan. Everything was too small. Hotel beds were like bassinets and it was all but impossible for him to shower or go to the bathroom in their Lilliputian facilities. He was known to rip the door off his hotel bathroom and make use of the toilet by sitting sideways with his legs sticking out into the main room.
Getting from show to show presented its own problems. Japanese promoters preferred to transport the gaijin wrestlers by bus, vehicles which steadfastly refused to house giants. In order to placate their star import, promoters removed several rows of seats from the back of the bus, creating something of a private cabin for Andre, a place spacious enough for him to stretch out or catch a nap. Mostly, though, Andre used the space as a comfortable spot to do his drinking.

A very green rookie wrestler named Hulk Hogan toured Japan several times with Andre and witnessed the Giant’s alcohol consumption first hand. According to Hogan, Andre drank, at a minimum, a case of tall boys during each bus ride. When he finished a can Andre would belch, crush the can in his dinner-platter-sized hand, and bounce the empty off the back of Hogan’s head. Hogan learned to count each thunk, so he could anticipate when Andre was running low. Whenever the bus stopped, it was Hogan’s job to scamper off to the nearest store, buy as many cases of beer as he could carry, and make it back before the bus departed, a sight that never failed to make Andre roar his bassoon-like laugh.

On one tour, Andre’s Japanese sponsors rewarded him with a case of expensive plum wine. Andre settled down in the back of the bus and started drinking. Four hours later, the bus arrived at the next venue, and Andre was polishing off the last bottle of wine.

Sixteen bottles of wine in four hours is a considerable feat, but it gets better. Andre proceeded straight to the ring and wrestled three matches, including a twenty-man battle royal. The 16 bottles of plum wine had no discernible effect on Andre’s in-ring ability. By the end of the evening, Andre had sweated off the wine and found himself growing cranky. He dispatched Hogan for a few cases of beer. Hogan hurried to do as Andre asked, knowing from painful experience that a drunken Giant was a happy Giant, and a happy Giant was less likely to fracture some vital part of an opponent’s anatomy in a fit of grumpiness.

In 1977, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes wrestled Andre at Madison Square Garden. Afterwards, the old friends went out on the town. They adjourned to one of Andre’s favorite watering holes and took stools at the bar (Andre occupied two). Several hours and some 100 beers later (around 75 of them were Andre’s), they decided to head back to their hotel. Andre looked at taxis with the same scorn as most other conveyances and announced that he and Dusty would walk, which was problem because Dusty was having trouble maintaining a vertical position. Andre studied the situation, and a twinkling grin blossomed across his huge face. People who spent any time with the big man quickly learned to watch for that grin. It was a harbinger of danger. It meant that Andre was contemplating something risky, something with potential legal ramifications, but also, most assuredly, something fun.

A moment later, the two huge wrestlers attacked a pair of horse-drawn carriages. Dusty threw a handful of paper money at one driver while Andre hauled the other from his seat with one hand. While one driver cursed and the other scrabbled around on the ground collecting his windfall, Andre and Dusty thundered off in the carriages. They raced through the Manhattan streets, dodging cars and pedestrians for fifteen blocks before ditching the carriages and lathered horses a block from their hotel. By the time the cops arrived, Andre and Dusty were enjoying snifters of brandy in the hotel bar, appearing as innocent as angels. The next day, they main-evented another card at the Garden. Another sell-out. Two pros at the top of their games.

Another time, in the ‘70s, Andre was holding court at a beach-front bar in the Carolinas, boozing it up with fellow wrestlers Blackjack Mulligan, Dick Murdoch, and the inimitable Ric Flair. They’d been drinking with gusto for hours when Flair goaded Mulligan and Murdoch into some slap-boxing with Andre, who had poured over 60 beers down his gullet. One of the two “accidentally” sucker-punched Andre. The Giant became enraged, grabbed both Mulligan (6’5”, 250 lbs.) and Murdoch (6’3”, 240 lbs.) and dragged them into the ocean, one in each hand, where he proceeded to hold them under water. Flair intervened, and Andre released the men, assuring them he was only playing around. Murdoch and Mulligan, who had nearly drowned, weren’t so sure, but neither messed with Andre the Giant again. They also picked up the tab.

On another occasion, Andre was touring the Kansas City territory and went out for drinks after a show with Bobby Heenan and several other wrestlers. When the bartender hollered last call, Andre, slightly annoyed, announced that he didn’t care to leave. Rather than risk an altercation with his hulking customer, the bartender told Andre he could stay only if he was drinking, imagining, surely, that he would soon be rid of the big fella. Andre thanked the man, and proceeded to order 40 vodka tonics. He sat there drinking them, one after another, finishing the last at just after five in the morning.

When ill health forced Andre to largely quit wrestling in the late ‘80s, he accepted the role of Fezzik in Rob Reiner’s movie The Princess Bride. Everyone on the set loved the big man, with the possible exception of Reiner himself. Ever the sociable fellow, he kept fellow cast members Mandy Patinkin and Carey Elwes out night after night, drinking and otherwise goofing around. The actors were incapable of matching Andre’s intake, but certainly gave it a serious try. As a result, they often showed up on set still loaded or suffering from the sort of hangovers that make death seem a pleasant alternative. Reiner tried to get Andre to leave the actors alone, but Andre could only be Andre, and the other cast members continued to pay the price.

The shooting schedule required Andre to be in England for about a month. When his part wrapped, Andre checked out of his suite at the Hyatt in London and flew back to his ranch in North Carolina. His bar bill for the month-long stay?

Just a shade over $40,000.

Now, if everything I’ve described so far isn’t proof enough that Andre the Giant was the greatest drunkard who ever lived, these last two stories should set my claim in granite.

You won’t find it in the Guinness Book of World Records, but Andre the Giant holds the world record for the largest number of beers consumed in a single sitting. These were standard 12-ounce bottles of beer, nothing fancy, but during a six-hour period Andre drank 119 of them. It was one of the few times Andre got drunk enough to pass out, which he did in a hallway at his hotel. His companions, quite drunk themselves, couldn’t move the big man. Fearing trouble with cops, they stole a piano cover from the lounge and draped it over Andre’s inert form. He slept peacefully until morning, unmolested by anyone. Perhaps the hotel people thought he was a piece of furniture.

Think about it: 119 beers in six hours. That’s a beer every three minutes, non stop. That’s beyond epic. It’s beyond the ken of mortal men. It’s god-like.

Giants are not made long for this world, and toward the end of his life injuries and health problems caused by the acromegaly caught up with Andre. It became difficult just to walk, let alone wrestle, so he retired to his North Carolina ranch to drink wine and watch the countryside. He declined myriad requests for a comeback, despite promises of lavish payoffs. He was simply in too much pain to perform at the level he demanded of himself. Then he received a call from Vince McMahon Jr.

McMahon was in the midst of taking his WWF promotion national. He’d scored big-time with his Wrestlemania events on pay-per-view, and as Wrestlemania III approached, Vince Jr. was hot to make it the biggest thing yet. To make that happen, he needed Andre the Giant.

Andre was in France visiting his ailing father when the call came. He thanked Vince Jr. but said there was no way he could get back in a ring, even though he very much wanted to. Not willing to give up, Vince Jr. flew to France to speak with Andre in person. He took Andre to see doctors specializing in back and knee maladies. Radical back surgery was proposed. If successful, the procedure would lessen Andre’s pain and perhaps make it possible for him to get in the ring for Wrestlemania. If Andre was game, Vince Jr. agreed to pay for the entire cost of the surgery.

The time arrived, and the anesthesiologist was frantic. He had never put a person of Andre’s size under the gas before and had no idea how much to use. Various experts were brought in but no solution presented itself until one of the doctors asked Andre if he was a drinker. Andre responded that, yes, he’d been known to tip a glass from time to time. The doctor then wanted to know how much Andre drank and how much it took to get him drunk.

“Well,” rumbled the Giant, “It usually takes two liters of vodka just to make me feel warm inside.”

And thus was a solution found. The gas-passer was able to extrapolate a correct mixture for Andre by analyzing his alcohol intake. It was a medical breakthrough, and the system is still used to this day.

Five months later, Andre the Giant wrestled a “body-slam” match against Hulk Hogan and brought down the house.

Two liters of vodka. Warm and fuzzy. Side by side like that, the two sentences hardly make any sense. For most of us, two liters of vodka means a one-way ticket to Blackout Island aboard the good ship Regurgitania.

After Wrestlemania, Andre retired for good. His beloved father died in 1993 and Andre returned to France to be with his family. He was still there when, on January 26th, 1993, Andre died in his sleep of heart failure at the age of 47.

The key to Andre the Giant is this — even as a youth he knew that his disease would dramatically shorten his life. He knew there was no cure, and lived every day with the understanding that death could shamble around the very next corner. Knowledge of this sort can darken a life.

It did not darken Andre’s.

He chose instead to pack his days with as much insane, drunken fun as they could hold. Instead of languishing in the darkness, he chose to walk in the sun.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now. Andre the Giant was an inspiration. I would pay a fortune for the opportunity to go back in time 30 years to watch such a master practice his craft, in the ring and at the bar.

Andre the Giant was the very embodiment of what being a drunkard is all about.

Very Creative Art made from Food

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3 Must-check Traveller Websites before your Next Trip

All of us take at least one trip annually, whether it be locally or overseas. As much we love them, most of us aren’t able to have trips very often. Whether it’s work, school, financial problems, there is always something that holds us back. Thus when we finally get a chance to get out it’s in our best interests to take necessary precautions to ensure that the next trip is a success. Many factors that ruin good trips include delays, insufficient information about the place you are visiting and just plain old loneliness. Here I would like to introduce to a number of useful websites that can help you make your next trip a better one.

Insufficient information for your trip?

Try WikiTravel

WikiTravel is a user-powered travel guide. There are about 18,000 travel guides and articles written and edited by regular travellers from around the globe. You can find pretty much anything here. So if you’re looking for relatively non-biased destination reviews definitely check it out.

WikiTravel -Community Travel Guides

There is one other emerging website that I want to mention here. Chokti is a YouTube-inspired site where you can find virtual tours of places you are planning to visit. At the moment there are about 1200 video/audio tours there. Mostly submitted by users themselves. While it’s highly unlikely that you’ll find a video tour of some remote village in India here, it does cover most of the major cities. Chokti does not require an account - however if you plan to upload videos, you need to register.

Hotel Reviews

For hotel review, pics, and map locations I recommend TripAdvisor. Not always true and objective, but usually offers enough info to get a basic idea. If photos are not enough and you want a visual preview of the hotel then try TVtrip, Trivop and Tripr.

Lonely on your trip?

Try Dopplr

Dopplr is essentially a virtual travel log. It allows you to add friends, share your travel schedule with them and discover other people with similar travel plans. It includes an action-feed on your profile page that shares all your current travel activity with all your friends. In addition to comparing travel schedules with friends, Dopplr also allows you to link your Dopplr account with Facebook and share travel activity with Facebook buddies.

Another useful feature Dopplr has to offer is picture sharing. It allows you to link your profile to your Flickr account and share travel pictures with friends and family. Registration is absolutely free, and they rarely send you emails so there’s no need to worry about “Great Offers” or “Daily Newsletters”. Check out Dopplr infocommercial below:

Delays on your trip?

Try FlightStats

Weather and air traffic make travelling a pain. With flight stats, you’ll know of any flight delays and weather issues BEFORE you leave for your trip. We have already briefly mentioned it here.

Flight Stats

Flight Stats uses a cool map in which all major airports are mapped out and color-coded. The colors represent the Flight Delay Index which is based on weather conditions and data sent out from the airports themselves. Red representing major delays and green representing smooth flying. Upon clicking on the dots, you’ll receive more detailed information about the airport in question, such as the exact temperature and the weather conditions.

A sub-feature of the map is the weather overlay. With this feature activated, it is possible to view cloud conditions overhead and predict beforehand if there will be any delays.

If you usually leave for the airport a hour and a half before your flight, you can glance at the ticker-tape at the top of the webpage that shows minute-by-minute delay updates on major international and domestic flights.

Some other included tools are mobile/email updates, real-time flight tracker, airport information, etc.


Not so long ago Aibek published 10 travel websites that should be bookmarked. Check it out as well, there are a number of really useful tools there. These include ATM locator, Taxi fare estimator, public-transport maps and more.

Blond Pole Dance (SFW)

Blonde pole dance - Watch more free videos

Garfield minus Garfield

I will go on record and declare Garfield in general just an ever so slight step above the Family Circus. Just in case that's not clear, its a nice way of saying it sucks. I'll admit to loving it as a kid - I used to check the compilation books out of my local library with abandon, but I was 7. I've moved on. Unfortunately, Garfield has not. It puzzles me why more cartoonists don't take a cue from the great Bill Watterson (of Calvin and Hobbes fame for those under a rock) and go out on top. This is not to say that Garfield EVER approached the level of Watterson's brilliance, but I digress.

Ok, enough with the banter and on to the link. Given my rant in the above paragraph, imagine my surprise when I stumbled across this site which argues that simply by removing Garfield from Garfield comic strips one is left with "an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life."

You know what? He's right? Click the link and enjoy the madness that is a lonely, depressed, John Arbuckle.

Prince would be proud of this Purple Rain

A ship that floats on bubbles, and other green boats

I'd like to thank licensed ship captain and editor of the blog, John A. Conrad, for this one: a ship that floats on a curtain of bubbles.

Blowin' bubbles, Matey.

(Credit: NMRI)

The Bubbling Ship is a concept devised by Yoshiaki Kodama, director of the Advanced Maritime Transport Technology Department at Japan's National Maritime Research Institute in Tokyo. The ship would blow bubbles from slits near the bow of the ship. The bubbles would travel along the hull, reduce friction, and hence increase gas mileage.

Is it feasible now? No, but that's what research grants are for. Ships are one of the largest consumers of diesel fuel in the world.

In any event, Captain John has assembled a list of his top 10 green ship concepts. Among the ideas: putting a parachute-like sail on a ship, an idea being championed by KiteShip and SkySails. SkySails in fact recently completed a two-month voyage and found that the sail cut fuel consumption by 20 percent.

There's also a boat with a giant wind turbine, and the Solar Sailor from Australia.

Captain John's site also features an interesting collection of clips about nautical mishaps. Check it out, sailor.

Homes of the world’s billionaires

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Earlier this year diamond magnate Lev Leviev decamped from Israel to the posh London suburb of Hampstead. His new $65 million home, called the Palladio, is an extravagant 17,000-square-foot, seven-bedroom estate replete with in-house nightclub and gold-plated indoor pool.
Glentree International

Buffett’s low-key suburban house is the exception, not the rule

updated 12:03 p.m. ET, Wed., March. 19, 2008

The world's richest man lives in the same five-bedroom, gray stucco house he bought in 1958 for $31,500.

That's right. Legendary investor Warren Buffett, 77, still calls his humble digs in Omaha's Happy Hollow suburb home, despite a $62 billion fortune that eclipses the gross domestic products of Croatia and Jordan combined. That famous folksiness is, of course, in keeping with his investment philosophy. "If you don't feel comfortable owning something for 10 years," he once told a reporter, "then don't own it for 10 minutes."

Of course, few billionaires live as simply and frugally as Buffett, who also professes a love for pub fare like burgers and Cherry Coke. (Not coincidentally, Buffett is a longtime investor in the beverage giant.)

But low-key is a relative term among the super-rich. Computer mogul Michael Dell claims to live simply, yet built a 33,000-square-foot manse in Austin, Texas, in 1997. Called "the castle" by locals for its high walls and tight security, the home sits on a 20-acre spread a mere stone's throw from Dell headquarters.

It's not so simple for other members of the Billionaires Club.

Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison, a hard-core Japanophile, blew an estimated $100 million building a 23-acre, 10-building Japanese-inspired imperial villa in Woodside, Calif.

But it doesn't stop there. In recent years, he has spent an estimated $200 million snapping up a dozen commercial and residential properties in the ritzy beachside enclave of Malibu, Calif.

In January, Russian-Israeli diamond magnate Lev Leviev bought the Palladio, an extravagant 17,000-square-foot manor outside London, for $65 million. (That works out to $3,823 per square foot, roughly twice the average in greater London.) The home includes a bullet-proof front door, gold-plated pool, indoor cinema and hair salon.

It's nifty amenities like these that help drive up the costs of billionaire homes. The $124 million sticker price for steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal's 12-bedroom spread in London's posh Kensington neighborhood includes Turkish baths and garage space for 20 cars. (No circling the block for an empty spot on Sunday nights!)

Visitors to Bill Gates' 66,000-square-foot compound in Medina, Wash., have the option of climbing 84 stairs to get to the ground floor — or riding the elevator. In addition to tennis courts and bowling alleys, Renco Group's Ira Rennert's 29-bedroom behemoth in the Hamptons, reportedly worth $170 million, boasts its own power plant.

Of course, a handful of billionaires both live and work on their estates. Star Wars director George Lucas presides over Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, Calif. Skywalker Sound, a popular post-production outfit, is based on the 5,156-acre spread, which boasts its own fire brigade and draws the regular gaggle of tourists. (The ranch is not open to the public.) Star sightings are the norm. In 2000, Tom Hanks taped sound effects for "Cast Away" there; last year Sean Penn paid a visit to tweak "Into the Wild." Lucas lives in the estate's main house, where he displays Hollywood memorabilia like Charlie Chaplin's cane, a prop whip used by Rudolph Valentino, and of course, Indiana Jones' Holy Grail.

Across the country, Donald Trump occupies the penthouse triplex of his Manhattan-based Trump Tower. The $50 million apartment, a monument to marble and gold, underwent recent renovations following the 2006 birth of Trump's fifth child, this one by his third wife, Melania. Little Barron secured an entire floor for himself, with décor inspired by — who else? — Louis XIV. The Donald need only hop on the elevator to get to his offices, housed in the same skyscraper, making his perhaps the shortest commute of any billionaire.


Every South Park Ever for Online for Free (Legally!)

Taking a page out of the Hulu playbook, but awesomer, the South Park guys are streaming every single South Park episode in full at their official site, South Park Studios. What they get right: Streams are fast and vid quality is solid; every episode, from first to most recent is available (with one exception); and newer ones are uncensored. Yep, you actually get to hear your favorite childrens scream "What the fuck is going on?" in the Britney ep. Major point of suck: ads.

They're mercifully short, but you get hit with about three per episode (marked by the little white lines in the timeline), though you have a limited ability to jump around the ep to sorta avoid them. Still, they're less intrusive than the pop-ups that assault you at or the like. Which is probably a big part of why they're doing this—the online audience for South Park is huge, with lots of sites streaming eps and major torrent traffic. So why not get a slice of that ad revenue?

Ads are going to be a part of any free TV online equation, unfortunately. So are rights issues—for some reason the Britney ep is already available, but the first episode of the current season won't be up until April. WTF? But all in all, they get it as right as an official channel can for the time being, which looks startlingly like a glimpse at the future of TV. Update: Another reason living in Canada sucks: No access for Canadians. [South Park Studios]

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