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Friday, April 25, 2008

The Best Noise-Canceling Headphones

PC Magazine

Dampen the din with these devices that actively block background noise, letting you hear only what you want to.


It's hard to escape noise; the modern world is full of it. Whether it's the drone of jet engines, the low rumble and metallic screech of commuter trains, or merely the distracting muttering crowds, life can be pretty damn loud. You might try to dismiss the din by slapping on a set of regular headphones and cranking up the volume of music, movies, or podcasts. This tactic may get the job done, but you're really only adding extra noise to the equation, and are probably damaging your hearing at the same time.

The best solution to save your sanity and your ears is to invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones so you can enjoy your audio at much lower volumes. These devices, rather than merely covering up unwanted noise, actively block it.

We most recently reviewed Sony 's MDR-NC40. Despite this set's relatively low price of $100, it pumped out surprisingly good audio quality with satisfying low bass. If you prefer earphones to larger, more cumbersome headphones, Sony also makes another attractive, affordable option, the MDR-NC22, which is fairly compact and provides a good amount of active and passive noise canceling.

Bose's ubiquitous QuietComfort 3 headphones offer some of the best noise cancellation around—if you can afford the steep $349 price. For those who want to buy into the Bose brand but at a lower price, try the QuietComfort 2. This $299 circumaural model is bigger than the QC3 and uses one standard triple-A cell rather than the QC3's rechargeable battery. Still, the QC2 offers an amazing amount of active and passive noise cancellation along with great sound quality.

Another winner: Creative's Aurvana X-Fi Noise-Canceling Headphones. While these 'phones don't fit around the ears quite as well as the QC2, noise-canceling performance is just as pleasing, and they simply sound much better.

If you're willing to make an investment—and a fashion statement, check out the $450 PXC 450 NoiseGard from Sennheiser . With this silver behemoth strapped to your head, you will get noticed. But since NoiseGard trumps Bose when it comes to noise blocking and sound quality, you probably won't care.

In this roundup:

Bose QuietComfort 2Bose QuietComfort 2
This legendary set of Bose headphones work exceptionally well. Using a comfy circumaural (covering the ear) design, they provide very good active and passive noise canceling whether you're listening to music or not.


Bose QuietComfort 3Bose QuietComfort 3
The Bose QuietComfort 3 headphones are better than most noise-canceling models in that they're very comfortable, provide good sound and quality noise cancellation. In short: they make ears happy, but you pay through the nose.


Creative Aurvana X-Fi Noise-Canceling HeadphonesCreative Aurvana X-Fi Noise-Canceling Headphones
These chunky headphones from Creative could be a bit more cozy, but they eliminate as much noise as the Quiet Comfort 2, sound much better, can operate passively, and are louder.


Sennheiser PXC 450 NoiseGardSennheiser PXC 450 NoiseGard
Sennheiser's PXC 450 NoiseGard headphones outdo Bose in both killing ambient noise and providing excellent audio performance. They're also pretty dang big.


Sony MDR-NC22Sony MDR-NC22
A rarity among active noise-canceling headphones, Sony's MDR-NC22 model sits inside your ear, is relatively compact, and pumps out pretty good audio.


Sony MDR-NC40Sony MDR-NC40
Though not as effective in eliminating ambient noise as more expensive sets from Bose and Sennheiser, the MDR-NC40 delivers quality audio performance and noise cancellation that's impressive considering its $100 price tag.

21 Luxurious Living Room Inspirations

New Plan For Identifying Watery Earth-like Planets Emerges


Sunset_moon Twinkle, twinkle little star, goes the nursery rhyme, but what scientists are really wanting to find is planet’s with a particular twinkle. That’s because sunlight glinting off extraterrestrial oceans could help astronomers spot liquid surface water on other worlds.

Researchers have modeled the way a distant planet would reflect light towards Earth as it orbits its star. They found that when a watery planet appears as a crescent, light striking the smooth surface of large bodies of water would make it appear brighter. But light reflected off of the surface of a drier planet would not look brighter in this way.

Oceans cover over 70 percent of Earth's surface, and surely there are other watery worlds out there like ours surmise astronomers. The problem is that there are currently no telescopes capable of specifically identifying planets with water on their surfaces. However, this new method gives researchers a way to find water worlds like Earth solely by observing its “twinkle”. The method, reported in an upcoming issue of Icarus, relies on the specific reflective properties of water and sunlight.

"A planet like Venus, with a dense atmosphere, will scatter the sunlight in all directions," says Darren M. Williams, associate professor of physics and astronomy, Penn State Erie, the Behrend College. "If you look at Venus in phases, when it is full, it is brightest and when it is crescent, it is faintest."

But if a planet with water on its surface were full, in respect to its sun, with the whole disk illuminated, water would actually look darker than dirt. Conversely, when the planet is in crescent phase, with the sun glancing off of the watery surface, the reflection would be brightest.

By monitoring the light curve of a distant planet through an optical space telescope as the planet spins on its axis and moves around its star, researchers can observe the changes in brightness, correlated to the planet's phase, which should tell them precisely whether or not the planet has liquid oceans. If the temperatures match up, they can then be fairly certain that the liquid is water. It sounds simple enough, but if the research pans out it would represent a big step forward in finding Earthlike planets. It’s one thing to find a planet that lies in the “sweet spot” distance from it’s star, but to know whether or not there is water on the planet would take the search for extraterrestrial life to a whole new level.

"We are looking for Earth-like planets in the habitable zone of their star, a band not too hot nor too cold for life to exist," says Williams. "We also want to know if there is water on these planets."

For life as we know it to exist, planets must have habitable temperatures throughout a period long enough for life to evolve. As far as we know, it would also help our search to find a significant amount of water on the planet’s surface. Scientists already know how to determine the distance a planet orbits from its star, and analysis of light interacting with molecules in the atmosphere can indicate if water exists in some form. However, Williams and Eric Gaidos, associate professor of geobiology, University of Hawaii, want to specially identify truly Earthlike planets with liquid water on their surfaces.

The image of the Blue Marble, taken by Apollo 17 in December 1972, is striking because the Earth is mostly covered in water. The researchers believe that large enough amounts of water will provide a glint of light visible in the infrared and visible spectrum if they watch the planet for long enough.

"We are going to look at the planets for a long time," says Williams. "They reflect one billionth or one ten billionth of their sun. To gain enough light to see a dot requires observation over two weeks with the kinds of telescopes we are imagining. If we stare that long, unless the planet is rotating very slowly, different sides of the planet will come through our field of view. If the planet is a mix of water, we are going to see the mix travel around the planet."

Astronomers are hopeful that a terrestrial planet finder telescope will orbit the earth in the next 10 to 20 years, which will make the search much easier. But until then, Williams has arranged for the current Mars Express and Venus Express missions of the European Space Agency to look back at the Earth occasionally from great distances and observe what our watery planet looks like in various phases.

"Any time that the Earth is in a crescent phase as viewed by a distant space vehicle, we should take advantage of the situation and look back at the Earth," says Williams.

This will help researchers verify and fine-tune the method, and with any luck we’ll soon be able to identify planets truly worthy of the “Earth’s Twin” title.

Posted by Rebecca Sato. Image Credit: Dan Durida

Holy Sh*t - Amazing New Poster for The Dark Knight!


April 24, 2008
by Alex Billington

Amazing New Poster for The Dark Knight!

An absolutely phenomenal poster for The Dark Knight has been discovered as part of the on-going viral marketing game. You can check it out below but I guarantee you will be BLOWN AWAY. I have not seen a poster that brings out this much energy and excitement ever. I'm certain this isn't the last poster we'll see - but is the first full poster featuring Batman himself. I love the colors, I love Batman's pose, I love the flaming building - this poster kicks some serious ass! Now is everyone getting excited for The Dark Knight? We've got 85 days left until it hits theaters and I hope you're getting even more excited each and every day. Check out the awesome new poster below!

Click the poster for full-size version.

The Dark Knight

The poster was discovered by the Joker sent text messages to all cell phone holders that said "Guys, I wouldn't worry about Gordon. IT'S ALL PART OF THE PLAN." This point everyone to a new site located here: whysoserious.com/itsallpartoftheplan/. If you click the lever in the photo it will take you to the new poster page! The new website also has a tag that says "Four days." Everyone is guessing that this means we'll see the new trailer in four days on that website. Stay tuned for more updates!

The Dark Knight is again directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins, The Prestige) and co-written by Nolan, his brother Jonathan Nolan (The Prestige), and David S. Goyer (Blade, Batman Begins). The movie arrives in theaters worldwide on July 18th this summer!

The Ultimate Summer '08 Movie Guide (50+ Movies Previewed!)


With over 50 major movie releases coming out this summer—ranging from good to not-so-good to downright embarrassing —keeping track of what comes out when can become a chore, especially when you need to filter out all the crap. This exhaustive guide offers a comprehensive look, with release dates, trailer links, and commentary.

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Red Sox Ortiz Jersey Buried In New Yankee Stadium Sells For $175,000


MELISSA TRUJILLO | April 24, 2008 09:47 PM EST | AP


BOSTON — The Boston Red Sox jersey secretly buried under the new Yankee Stadium in a failed curse attempt sold Thursday for $175,100 in a charity auction.

The bid from Kevin Meehan, the owner of Imperialcars.com in Mendon, Mass., was the highest of 282 for the battered No. 34 David Ortiz jersey.

"I actually thought it was going to sell for more money," said Meehan, who bid only in the final moments of the weeklong eBay auction that ended at 12:30 p.m. "I have three young boys that I take to the games and they would have killed me if I didn't buy the shirt."

The Yankees jackhammered the jersey out from under two feet of concrete earlier this month, then donated it to the Jimmy Fund, the Red Sox's official charity that is affiliated with Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Mike Andrews, The Jimmy Fund chairman and former Red Sox second baseman, said the charity was "absolutely thrilled."

"We are grateful for the generous bid, and extend our deep gratitude to the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox for coming together again in the fight against cancer," he said in a statement.

Meehan said he was eager to give to the Jimmy Fund because his father died of cancer and his stepfather has the disease.

"It's personal," he said. "It's a lot deeper than just the shirt."

Meehan plans to eventually display the jersey from his favorite Red Sox player in one of his car dealerships. He said he has no intention of selling it.

"It was just a win-win all the way around," said Meehan, who also will receive a new Ortiz jersey, a Yankees Universe T-shirt and two tickets to a Red Sox game where he will be presented with the unusual piece of sports memorabilia.

Construction worker Gino Castignoli, a Red Sox fan from the Bronx, dropped the jersey in wet concrete during construction of the new stadium, hoping to hex the Yankees. The team found the jersey after receiving information from anonymous tipsters.

"As we said, what was intended to be a dastardly act has turned into something very beautiful, and we hope that these funds will play a small part in the fight against pediatric cancer," the Yankees said in a statement.

Shopping is Cool!

Chismillionaire's movie pick of the weekend- Baby Mama

Baby Mama
In a comedy that brings together some of today's sharpest talent, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler team with writer/director Michael McCullers and producers Lorne Michaels and John Goldwyn to tell the story of two women, one apartment and the nine months that will change their lives: Baby Mama. Successful and single businesswoman Kate Holbrook (Tina Fey) has long put her career ahead of a personal life. Now 37, she's finally determined to have a kid on her own. But her plan is thrown a curve ball after she discovers she has only a million-to-one chance of getting pregnant. Undaunted, the driven Kate allows South Philly working girl Angie Ostrowiski (Amy Poehler) to become her unlikely surrogate. Simple enough... After learning from the steely head (Sigourney Weaver) of their surrogacy center that Angie is pregnant, Kate goes into precision nesting mode: reading childcare books, baby-proofing the apartment and researching top pre-schools. But the executive's well-organized strategy is turned upside down when her Baby Mama shows up at her doorstep with no place to live. An unstoppable force meets an immovable object as structured Kate tries to turn vibrant Angie into the perfect expectant mom. In a comic battle of wills, they will struggle their way through preparation for the baby's arrival. And in the middle of this tug-of-war, they'll discover two kinds of family: the one you're born to and the one you make. --© Universal [Less]

Harold and Kumar escape Guantanamo

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay marks the triumphant return of these two hilarious, slacker anti-heroes. The movie stars John Cho (American Pie I & II, American Dreamz) as Harold and Kal Penn (Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj, Epic Movie) as Kumar, two stoners who can’t seem to get a break. Their last adventure found them traveling across country to find a White Castle hamburger in order to satisfy a weed-induced case of “the munchies.”

This time, the boys get themselves in trouble trying to sneak a bong on board a flight to Amsterdam. Now, being suspected of terrorism, they are forced to run from the law and try to find a way to prove their innocence. What follows is an irreverent and epic journey of deep thoughts, deeper inhaling and a wild trip around the world that is as “un-PC” as it gets.

Second Runner up is Deception with Ewen MacGregor and Hugh Jackman. Somehow seems like a big miss for these two.

Chismillionaire recipe of the week

Life just doesn't get better than Bacon Bowls- use turkey bacon if you give a crap about living past 75.

For an Edible Container, Try Bacon Bowls

baconbowls.jpg

Megan of Not Martha made these useful bacon cups by baking woven bacon strips around the bottom of a muffin pan. Guaranteed to be delicious and increase the unhealthiness of anything you put in it!

Miley Cyrus franchise worth $1 billion

Miley Cyrus is already way richer than her dad, Billy Ray, and she's only 15.

People magazine reports that the Miley Cyrus franchise will be worth a projected $1 billion by the end of the year. She tops the magazine's list of the richest teen celebrities.

Not that Miley is seeing much of the money. Her mom says most is invested and Miley can't touch it until she's 18.

The Jonas Brothers are also on the list, making $12 million a year. Fourteen-year-old Dakota Fanning makes $4 million a movie.

Twelve-year-old Abigail Breslin makes $2 million a film, but has to live on an allowance of $11 a week.

Thirteen-year-old Mark Indelicato makes nearly a half million dollars for a season of "Ugly Betty," but he has an allowance of $50 a week.

Korean Supercar

First Look: 2008 Spirra S

Korea's first supercar

By Angus MacKenzie

It has a mid-mounted, quad cam supercharged engine, forged alloy wheels, carbon fiber body panels and Brembo brakes. Claimed top speed is 190mph. It's a fast, good looking supercar with the sort of spec sheet you'd expect to find on something made in Italy. But the Spirra S is built near Seoul. Yup, meet Korea's first ever production supercar. It was only a matter of time.

The Spirra S is powered by a supercharged version of Hyundai's 2.7-liter V-6. Claimed output is 391hp at 6000rpm, with 256lb ft of torque available at 4500rpm. The engine drives the rear wheels through a six speed manual transmission. Claimed 0-60mph acceleration time is about 4.6 seconds.

The Spirra's race car-style space frame chassis is fairly conventional, with double wishbones and coil-over shocks at each corner. The five spoke forged alloys are 18in diameter front and rear; front tires are 235/40ZR18, while the rears are 275/40ZR18. Front brake rotors are 14in, gripped by six piston Brembo calipers, while the rears are 13.8in with four piston calipers.

Carbon fiber body panels help keep the Spirra's claimed weight to just 2376lb. The body design is relatively generic mid-engined supercar stuff, but that's no bad thing - the Spirra S looks neat and handsome. The interior is also fairly conventional, although the center console boasts a sophisticated touch screen on-board computer system.

That's because Oullim Motors is part of Korean IT and electronics giant Oullim Group, which got into the auto business when it acquired Protomotors in 2007, the company which has been developing the Spirra for almost a decade. A concept version of the Spirra, the PS2, was first shown in 2001, and subsequent protoypes were revealed in 2003 and 2005.

Oullim sources say production of the Spirra S is scheduled to start next month. As the car will be hand-built, volume will be limited to 300 vehicles a year.

Even so, Oullim has plans to release even hotter versions of the Spirra, including a Turbo with 591hp and 350lb ft of torque, and a Bi Turbo model which retains 591hp, but churns out 401lb ft. The Spirra Turbo will be available with the choice of a conventional six speed manual, or a sequential shift transmission, which Oullim insiders claim will cut the 0-60mph time to just 3.4 seconds. The Spirra Bi Turbo will only be available with the sequential transmission, and will hit 60mph in 3.2sec.

Corvette ZR1 makes 638hp

DETROIT — The 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, which will go on sale this fall for around $100,000, will pack 638 horsepower.

That makes the ZR1 easily the most powerful vehicle General Motors has ever produced and puts the king of Corvettes into a mighty exclusive club. The ZR1 essentially matches the output of the Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 and trails the extra-extreme limited-edition Ferrari Enzo by only a smidge. Perhaps, just as important to Chevrolet, is that the ZR1 brings 38 hp more to the American-car smackdown than the new Dodge Viper.

And at an estimated weight of 3,350 pounds, each of the ZR1's horses will have only 5.25 pounds of Vette to carry around. That weight-to-power ratio is closer to the Enzo (5 pounds) than the Viper (5.75 pounds). The Murcielago LP640 saddles each of its horses with almost 6.5 pounds. The ZR1's hp peak comes at 6,500 rpm. Its torque peak of 604 pound-feet comes at a low 3,800 rpm. Passing should not present a problem in the ZR1.

When it was unveiled at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show, General Motors estimated that the supercharged, 6.2-liter LS9 V8 would make at least 620 hp. The company has learned a thing or two about under-promising and over-delivering. The LS9 is a strengthened version of the tried-and-true small-block pushrod design, with an Eaton TVS (four-lobe) Roots-type supercharger and twin intercooler unit crammed in the V. Maximum boost is set at 10.5 psi and all of the engine's internals have been upgraded to more robust and/or lightweight parts, including a forged steel crank, titanium connecting rods and forged aluminum pistons. It's fitted with a dry sump oil system and is mated to a stout six-speed manual through a twin-disc clutch.

In the most curious press release line we've read in some time, Chevrolet claims the ZR1 will be the most fuel-efficient 600-plus-hp car on the market today. Um, OK. Guess those upcoming CAFE standards have GM really spooked. In related news: My great grandmother won the national nursing home ultimate fighting championship.

Notably absent from the press release was any boasting about the ZR1 being able to take the production-car lap record at the Nürburgring — something GM had earlier claimed.

What this means to you: With the Viper on the chopping block and the Ford GT but a memory, the Corvette ZR1 will be the undisputed king of American sports cars. — Daniel Pund, Senior Editor, Detroit

When All Drugs Were Legal....There Wasn't a Drug Problem


Images from the preprohibition era when many psychotropic substances were legally available in America and Europe - Few people are aware that before World War I, a 9-year-old girl could walk into a drug store and buy heroin.

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Snipes gets the max -- 3 years -- in tax case

art.snipes.ap.jpg

Wesley Snipes leaves federal court after being sentenced to threes years in prison Thursday.


From Rich Phillips
CNN

OCALA, Florida (CNN) -- Actor Wesley Snipes was sentenced Thursday to three years in prison for three misdemeanor counts of failing to file tax returns -- the maximum requested by federal prosecutors.

"Snipes' long prison sentence should send a loud and crystal clear message to all tax defiers that if they engage in similar tax defier conduct, they face joining him," said Assistant Attorney General Nathan J. Hochman of the Justice Department's Tax Division.

Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Douglas Shulman said the law is clear on taxes.

"There is no secret formula that eliminates a person's tax obligations, nor are there any special exceptions," he said.

"The majority of Americans pay their taxes timely and accurately. Those who willfully violate the law must be held accountable."

In a civil suit, the IRS is seeking repayment of all taxes and interest from Snipes.

Federal prosecutors said the actor for nearly a decade escaped paying more than $15 million in income tax returns by sending money to overseas accounts, though they acknowledged in court that the amount is in dispute.

Before the sentencing, the actor asked the court to show mercy and offered three checks totaling $5 million as a gesture of good will.

Federal prosecutors diverted the checks to the U.S. Treasury -- which accepted the payment -- but it wasn't enough.

"It's essentially a down payment, but a fraction of what he owes," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Scotland Morris.

Snipes' attorneys -- who had argued he should get probation or house arrest -- said they will appeal the sentence.

The actor, who showed little reaction, gave a loud "wow" to the crowd as he exited the courtroom. VideoWatch Snipes leave the court »

A jury convicted Snipes on the misdemeanor charges February 1, but he was acquitted of more serious felony charges of tax fraud and conspiracy. Jurors accepted his argument that he was innocently duped by errant tax advisers.

Defense attorneys in court documents suggested that to sentence Snipes harshly would be to disregard the jury's verdict.

But prosecutors, in their sentencing recommendation, said the jurors' decision "has been portrayed in the mainstream media as a 'victory' for Snipes. The troubling implication of such coverage for the millions of average citizens who are aware of this case is that the rich and famous Wesley Snipes has 'gotten away with it.' In the end the criminal conduct of Snipes must not be seen in such a light."

Snipes, who has starred in dozens of movies, including the "Blade" trilogy, "Major League" and "Murder at 1600" had received the support of many of Hollywood friends. Defense attorneys filed 39 pages of testimonials, letters from a Hollywood "Who's Who" list and also high school friends and his employees.

Actors Denzel Washington and Woody Harrelson, as well as television judges Joe Brown and Greg Mathis, submitted letters to the judge on Snipes' behalf.

In his letter, Washington said Snipes was "like a tree -- a mighty oak ... Many who know him have witnessed the fruit of his labors, have sat in his shade and even been protected by his presence. I am proud of him, proud to call him a fellow thespian and most importantly, proud to call him a friend."

Brown, who addressed the court on Thursday, likened Snipes to legendary actors, including Sidney Poitier, and said, "I have been something of a mentor to the young man."

Another witness described how Snipes had helped train personnel from 33 airlines on safety techniques after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, without seeking pay or media attention.

"This man is one of the most honorable men of character," said Robert Wall, CEO and president of World Black Belt, a martial arts training firm. "He's made mistakes, but I'm so impressed with the depth of his character."

Russian billionaire to set up magazine for snobs

CHISMILLIONAIRE, what you think...

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov listens to a question during a news conference in Moscow, May 31, 2007. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
Reuters Photo: Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov listens to a question during a news conference in Moscow, May...


By James KilnerWed Apr 23, 11:51 AM ET

Russia's super-rich love to flaunt their wealth. Soon they will have a magazine called Snob to help them.

Mikhail Prokhorov -- whose wealth is estimated at around $22 billion -- plans to spend $150 million setting up a magazine, website and television station called Snob, the general director of the new venture told Reuters on Wednesday.

"It's for people who are successful and those who want to be successful," said Andrei Shmarov, who will run Snob.

Prokhorov, 42, made his fortune in the chaotic 1990s when businessmen bought up parts of former Soviet industries for a fraction of their real value.

The Forbes Rich List ranked Prokhorov as the 24th richest person in the world. He is one of the owners of Norilsk Nickel, the world's biggest nickel producer, and Polyus Gold, Russia's biggest gold producer.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary's online edition, www.askoxford.com, a snob is: "A person who has an exaggerated respect for high social position or wealth and who looks down on those regarded as socially inferior".

Shmarov said Russians attach a different meaning to the word,

"Snob to us means a person who is a 'self-made man', a person who has gained a right to snobbishness," he said emphasising the main difference with the British meaning which he said referred to inherited wealth.

Russia has become rich over the last few years due to a boom in commodity and energy prices. No extravagance is too much in Moscow where the super-rich hold wild caviar and champagne parties in exclusive nightclubs behind fur-lined curtains.

Their chauffeurs loiter on street corners smoking cigarettes and polishing European and American luxury cars at the same time that about 20 percent of Russia's population live below the poverty line and many grumble about the growing divide.

"It's not pleasant to boast about your wealth when you have inherited it but when you have made it yourself, well it is still not very nice, but it is justified," Shmarov said.

The unmarried Prokhorov attracted headlines in 2007 when French police detained him in the ski resort of Courchevel. They detained him briefly as part of probe into prostitution. The police later released him without charges.

Snob's magazine and website, which will focus on lifestyle features, business news and travel, will be available from this summer, Shmarov said, with the cable television channel following shortly.

(Editing by Matthew Jones)

Giant Undersea Volcano Found Off Iceland




Richard A. Lovett
for National Geographic News
April 22, 2008
A giant and unusual underwater volcano lies just offshore of Iceland on the Reykjanes Ridge, volcanologists have announced.

The Reykjanes formation is a section of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which bisects the Atlantic Ocean where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart.

As magma wells up from the rift between the plates, it cools to form ridges.

But it doesn't generally form giant volcanoes, said Ármann Höskuldsson, a University of Iceland volcanologist who was part of the international team that discovered the volcano last summer.

That's because mid-ocean ridges are constantly pulling apart, making it harder for large volcanoes to form without being torn asunder.

"We were doing a normal oceangoing mission, and we found a big edifice" about 90 miles (150 kilometers) south of Iceland, Höskuldsson said.

The structure turned out to be an active volcano that rises about 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) above the surrounding sections of the ridge, coming within 1,300 feet (400 meters) of the surface.

At its base the volcano is approximately 30 miles (50 kilometers) across. The peak contains a depression known as a caldera that is 6 miles (10 kilometers) wide.

That indicates that the mountain is being fed by its own magma chamber, Höskuldsson said.

"It's a higher magma production that generates the edifice."

Seafloor Mapping

The underwater mountain resembles Krafla, an active aboveground volcano in northeastern Iceland that contains a similar-size caldera, according to Höskuldsson.

Krafla has erupted 29 times in recorded history, most recently in 1984.

Nobody knows when the undersea volcano might next erupt, but Höskuldsson thinks it is only a matter of time.

Still, the people of Iceland are in no danger, he said, because the volcano is so deep under water.

"We wouldn't expect much to happen on the surface."

Mostly, the find indicates how little is known about the seafloor, Höskuldsson said.

"We are getting better techniques, but the oceans of the world are huge."

In the United States, for example, ocean scientists studying a swarm of earthquakes off the Oregon coast are having a hard time pinning down the temblors' source, because much of the seabed is poorly mapped.

"There are all kinds of things on the seafloor we don't know about," said Robert Embley, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist involved in the Oregon project.

Embley, who was not part of Höskuldsson's team, noted that satellite maps of Earth's gravitational field can be used to map out undersea structures.

But these maps don't provide the type of detail found by Höskuldsson. "Even though … you can see big features, you can't really tell what they are. All you can say is its a big feature," Embley said.

Höskuldsson will present his results this summer at the annual conference of the International Association of Volcanologists, to be held in Iceland.

Next year, he told the Icelandic press, his team plans to dive to the mountain with a small submarine to gather more clues as to why such a large volcano exists along the ridge.

© 1996-2008 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved.

Midwife gives birth to identical triplets


By Tom Peterkin
Last Updated: 2:50am BST 25/04/2008

A midwife has beaten odds of a million to one to give birth to identical triplets.

Carmela Testa, 23, gave birth to Gabriella, Alessia and Olivia, who were all naturally conceived, seven week prematurely.

Identical triplets are so unusual that doctors are divided over how often they occur.

Some research has even suggested that the odds are as high as 200 million to one, but the UK’ s Twins and Multiple Births Association said one in a million was a more realistic figure.

The girls were kept on an incubator in Peterborough Maternity Unit where they built up their strength until they were taken home to the house Miss Testa shares with the proud father, her fiancé Richard Rees, 22.

As a midwife, Miss Testa was aware just how exceptional her pregnancy was. ”I found out at my 12-week scan I was having triplets,” Miss Testa said.

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"I knew they would be identical because there was just one placenta, so they were from the same egg.

"I was very shocked. They weren’t planned. They were born on January 9, two days after my birthday so they were a lovely present.”

There was a family history of multiple births, but her were the first triplets.

"I’m quite small - only 5ft - so at the unit, they joked that out of all the midwives, it would have to be me that gave birth to triplets,” she said.

"Everyone was great there. My three close friends delivered each of the babies.”

Non-identical triplets are far more common than identical ones with around 160 born in Britain each year. Non-identical triplets occur when two or three different eggs are fertilized by different sperm.

Identical triplets are caused by one fertilized egg splitting into three genetically indistinguishable eggs.

Another method of producing non-identical triplets is when three separate sperm fertilise three different eggs.

Triplets of this type became increasingly common during IVF.

The 15-week old triplets were tiny when they were born in January weighing between 3lb 4 and 3lb 10.

Telling them apart is a challenge.

Mr Rees, a vocational coach, said: “Olivia has a strawberry birthmark on her neck, Gabriella is a little bit smaller and Alessia has a sharper cry.”

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Woo Hah - Stimulus checks on the way

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The federal government, eager to boost the flagging economy, will start distributing special stimulus payments Monday - four days earlier than expected.

"Beginning Monday, the effects of the stimulus will begin to reach households," President Bush said Friday. "This money is going to help Americans offset the high prices we're seeing at the gas pump and at the grocery store."

The department announced the early arrival of the payments Thursday after saying last month that it would begin sending out the money on May 2.

As of next week, 800,000 tax filers daily will begin to have their checks directly deposited Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. No checks will be distributed Thursday, and 5 million payments will be made Friday.

The payments will go out ahead of schedule because of a new computer program that updates records daily - faster than an older program that updates weekly, according to Andrew DeSouza, a Treasury spokesman.

Overall, the Treasury will distribute more than $110 billion to 130 million taxpayers by July and hopes to get the first $50 billion out by the end of May, DeSouza said.

The checks are the centerpiece of an economic stimulus program signed into law by President Bush in February. The aim is to boost consumer spending and help mitigate problems caused by the slowing economy.

Checks are being distributed to people who file 2007 tax returns. Those who opt for direct deposit with the Internal Revenue Service will start getting payments before those who use the mail.

The program calls for rebates of up to $600 for single filers making less than $75,000. Couples making less than $150,000 would receive rebates of up to $1,200. In addition, parents would receive $300 rebates per child. Filers who do not owe income taxes but have at least $3,000 in income would get a $300 payment.

Payments to taxpayers slated to get paper checks will start to go out May 9 - one week earlier than originally planned.

The order in which tax filers will receive their payments will be based on the last two digits of their Social Security numbers.

Tips for improving gas mileage 30% or more

Benjamin Jones with his Honda at Dartmouth College. Jones runs ecomodder.com, a site dedicated to high fuel efficiency.
JOE MEHLING / Special to the Inquirer
Benjamin Jones with his Honda at Dartmouth College. Jones runs ecomodder.com, a site dedicated to high fuel efficiency.


Area gas prices reached record highs again yesterday, and crude oil neared $120 a barrel. So, how would you like to improve your fuel economy by 30 percent or more without buying a new car?

Try hypermiling.

Or ecodriving.

They both involve a radical approach to driving in a society that seems to view speed limits as minimums. The approach involves slowing down, though some extreme hypermilers use techniques that are fast and risky.

Take your foot off the gas and coast to that red light. When the light turns green, go easy on the gas pedal. On the highway, set the cruise control to the speed limit - maybe even a little lower, if you dare.

Such techniques have been known and largely ignored by the motoring public for decades, but they are getting new disciples thanks to connections forged by the Internet and the harsh reality of $50 fill-ups.

The techniques of the hypermilers and ecodrivers are shared and honed on Web sites such as cleanmpg.com, ecodrive.org, greenmpg.com and hypermiling.com. Their advocates insist they will work for hybrid or conventionally powered cars, from tiny Smarts to hulking Hummers. Many of these disciples speak of rewards beyond higher mileage and lower emissions.

"You really get a whole different feeling when you drive this way . . . It's very Zen-like," said Eric Powers, a 39-year-old former hospital administrator from Wisconsin. When the weather is warm (cold weather is bad for mileage), he routinely gets more than 80 miles per gallon in his 2001 Honda Insight, a hybrid rated at 53 miles per gallon by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Powers and other practitioners of these gas-saving techniques share tips at a handful of eco-friendly Web sites. One site, ecomodder.com, aimed at people who modify their cars to improve mileage, is run by 19-year-old Benjamin Jones of Mount Holly and a partner. A sophomore at Dartmouth College, Jones gets more than 50 miles per gallon from his conventionally powered 1991 Honda CRX, a car that the EPA says should get about 31.

Most boys buying their first car at age 17 would care more about horsepower than mileage. But Jones' environmental consciousness led him to seek "the most fuel-efficient car I could" when he went shopping for his first car in 2005.

Hybrids, still relatively new on the market, were beyond his financial reach. He settled on the then 14-year-old CRX.

He quickly began working the Net in search of tips for getting better mileage. That is where he discovered the ecomodders.

Jones says that one of the easiest modifications he made was also the most effective: Installing a dashboard-mounted computer that provides a real-time display of current and average gas mileage. Hooking up the $170 ScanGauge (www.ScanGauge.com) would seem like a complex undertaking, but it can easily plug into a data port under the dashboard in most automobiles manufactured since 1996, he said.

"I was never a very aggressive driver," Jones said this week, but he saw a "huge difference" in his fuel economy as he kept trying to improve the numbers on that gauge.

Such displays are standard equipment in most hybrids and in some conventionally powered cars. Indeed, many ecodrivers say their obsession with fuel economy began when they first encountered the huge mileage display that is the most prominent feature on the dashboard of the Toyota Prius.

If the EPA really wants to reduce fuel consumption, says a post on one of the Web sites, it should mandate mileage displays as standard equipment on all cars.

Prius, Insight and Honda Civic Hybrid owners have compared their mileage numbers on Web sites such as greenhybrid.com since the early days of the hybrid market. Naturally, competition ensued.

Powers recently quit his comfortable job to devote full attention - at one third the pay - to the annual Hybridfest that he helped found in 2006. The event includes an "MPG Challenge" that attracts hypermilers from around the country. The winner in the most competitive division was William Kinney of Kennewick, Wash., who achieved 168 miles per gallon in a Honda Insight.

That kind of mileage requires extreme hypermiling techniques, some of which can get a driver in trouble with other motorists - or the police.

Those techniques include drafting behind big rigs with the engine in neutral, or off, and declining to use brakes when entering a sharply curving ramp from a limited-access highway.

"My litmus test," Powers said, "is to ask myself if this is something I would do in a driver-training test. There are things I would do if I'm the only person on the road or if I'm in a competition that I wouldn't do otherwise.

"I wouldn't draft a big-rig in a driving test," he said.

"I think it's important to be courteous," Jones said. "I usually drive at 55 or 60, but I'll go faster if that doesn't feel safe."

And, he said, "I know that using these techniques make me a better driver because I'm much more aware of my surroundings and I have to anticipate what's down the road."

The regional gas price records set yesterday were $3.50 on the Pennsylvania side of the Philadelphia area, and $3.35 in South Jersey, according to the AAA, which has been tracking local prices since 2000.

In that kind of economic environment, could these slower, gentler driving techniques catch on?

"Extremely unlikely," said Leon James, who for decades has been studying road rage and other aspects of the driving psyche at the University of Hawaii.

"We're trained from our socialization to be very regimented by time," he said. So driving fast and even discourteously "is a completely natural way of dealing with the environment."

People in a time-pressed society are unlikely to stop pressing the gas pedal, he said.

But while ecodrivers and hypermilers would like to see more people follow their lead, they're happy to just enjoy the benefits they've discovered.

And though Jones still spends about 10 hours a week tending to the ecomodder Web site, he spends little time in his car.

"I commute by bike most of the time now."


Driving for Mileage

Some driving practices recommended by Ecodriving groups, AAA and the EPA:

Observe the speed limit. 55 to 60 m.p.h. is the optimum speed for fuel-efficient highway driving. Every 5 m.p.h. above that reduces fuel economy about 5 percent to 7 percent.

Remove excess weight and roof racks when they are not being used. Store your bowling ball or other unnecessary gear in a closet, not the trunk. Roof racks increase drag.

Coast to a stop sign or traffic signal. Keeping a foot on the gas and braking abruptly wastes gas.

Keep tires fully inflated. Underinflated tires increase rolling resistance. But do not overinflate.

Use cruise control on the open road. Acceleration is the enemy of fuel economy. Avoid cruise control on hilly roads.

More Driving Tips

www.fueleconomy.gov lists official EPA mileage ratings for most cars and trucks from the 1985 model year on.

www.cleanmpg.com has detailed tips from top hypermilers, including Wayne Gerdes, who is widely credited with coining the term.

www.ecomodder.com, Benjamin Jones' how-to site for people willing to modify their cars to boost mileage.

www.ecodrive.org takes a global look at driving for mileage, and points to European countries that now require ecodriving instruction.


Contact staff writer Tony Gnoffo at 215-854-2466 or tgnoffo@phillynews.com.

Runawaybox.com

Check it out.

What's the deal with Rice???

Despite bumper crops in Vietnam and India, export limits and bans have created a global shortage and driven up prices


At the Costco in San Francisco, rice is all the rage. Not long after the 10 a.m. opening on Apr. 24, the warehouse club was well on its way to selling out the day's supply of Thai jasmine rice. Within an hour, customers cleared three pallets loaded with 50-lb. bags of Super Lucky Elephant brand jasmine rice from Thailand. Real estate broker Mary Jane Galviso snapped up two bags—the limit imposed by this particular store. "This is very frightening," says Galviso, who hails from Orosi, a rural community in California's Central Valley, more than 200 miles southeast of San Francisco. Her local grocery, which specializes in Filipino foods, has run out of Thai jasmine.

In a dramatic development for U.S. consumers this month, shoppers and Asian and Indian restaurant owners started panic-buying two of the highest-premium varieties of rice—Thai jasmine and Indian basmati. That led many grocers to run out of the rice, and warehouse clubs including Costco and Sam's Club imposed limits on how much rice shoppers can buy.

The restrictions placed by Issaquah (Wash.)-based Costco (COST) vary across the country, while Sam's Club, a division of Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), limited its customers to four 20-lb. bags of rice. "We've heard of cases where restaurant owners are hoarding three weeks' supply of rice in their basement, which is obviously more than they currently need, which makes the situation even worse," says Richard Galanti, Costco's chief financial officer.

Record High Prices for Rice

In a statement Apr. 24, Sam's Club said its rice limits "are designed to prevent large distributors or wholesalers from depleting our stock. We believe limiting rice purchases to four bags per visit is consistent with the needs of the majority of our members, including many restaurants…. We will continue to work with our suppliers to manage inventories to meet demand."

The rice rationing in the U.S. comes as the torrid pace of commodity price increases has led to violence over food supplies and costs in several nations. Globally, rice prices are starting to hit record highs, following a host of other commodities. However, experts are clear: There's currently no shortage of rice. "Vietnam and Thailand have had record rice crops in the past year, and India too has had bumper crops," says Nathan Childs, a senior economist who follows the global rice market at the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Agriculture Dept.

Instead, what's driving the price of rice so high are widespread worries about food inflation in many rice-growing nations. "In poorer nations, a large share of people's earnings is spent on food, and big price increases in other kinds of food are harming consumers," Childs says. So to protect their supplies of rice—a staple food in much of the world—several countries have imposed export bans or sharp limits. That has led to a sharp reduction of rice available for trade in the global market. In 2007, India and Vietnam, two of the world's biggest rice exporters, reduced their rice shipments. Since then, Cambodia, Egypt, and Brazil have all halted rice exports. And many observers worry that Thailand, the world's largest rice exporter, might jump on the bandwagon.

Lots of Action in Rice Futures

Prices have soared to eye-popping levels in recent weeks: U.S. long grain rice has doubled, to $800 per ton. Indian basmati rice prices are up 182%, to $2,400 a ton, so far in April, compared to $850 per ton a year ago, while Thai jasmine has more than doubled in price since last year, from $559 per ton to $1,125.

The runup has been especially sharp since January, when Thai jasmine rice was trading at $625 and basmati at $1,300 per ton, respectively. At the Chicago Board of Trade, rice futures have historically been one of the most thinly traded contracts.

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