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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Farming subsidies putting the bite on America

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Lawmakers heaped blame on farmers - and the subsidies they receive - for pushing up food costs at a Congressional hearing Thursday scrutinizing the impact of soaring food and gas prices on American consumers.

The criticism levied by the Joint Economic Committee, led by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., transcended party lines. Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., a ranking member of the committee, called for "genuine reform" of the "nightmare of wasteful, outdated [farm] subsidies."

Richard Reinwald, a bakery owner from Huntington, N.Y., blamed rising wheat prices on farmers "growing crops for fuel and not food."

The meeting of the Joint Economic Committee followed comments on Tuesday from President Bush, who referred to a farm bill currently in legislation as "bloated" and incapable of significantly reducing food prices.

The farm bill would cut the 51-cent-per-gallon ethanol subsidy to 45 cents, according to news reports. Farmers who make up to $2.5 million are eligible for subsidies, but the bill would drop those eligible to farmers who earn $1 million or less.

The meeting occurred as Bush called on Congress to approve $770 million for the alleviation of food shortages and rising prices worldwide. This is in addition to the $200 million Bush ordered two weeks ago for emergency food aid to address the global crisis.

Tom Buis, president of the National Farmer's Union and a former corn farmer from Indiana, defended farmers before the committee.

"Everybody seems to be wanting to blame the farmer for everything bad happening in America and around the world," said Buis, in Congressional testimony. "Some people think that profit should be a dirty word only for American farmers."

Buis said that corn farmers have been blamed for everything from the rising price of beer in the United States to pasta riots in Italy. But he added that, historically, half of all corn goes to cattle feed, and much of it is used for soda syrup, so "to make the equation that corn is taking food out of people's mouths is a real stretch."

Buis blamed oil prices as "the real culprit," and said the situation had been exacerbated by weather conditions affecting wheat growers around the world.

Schumer pointed to a number of factors for rising food costs. Surging energy and commodities were the "main culprits" in driving up food prices, he said, while also pointing the finger at the rising cost of corn grown for ethanol production.

"High gasoline prices don't just raise transportation costs - they increase demand for gasoline substitutes, mainly ethanol derived from corn," said Schumer.

Food costs hit middle America. Americans spent an average of $1,926 on groceries per person in 2007, a 4.2% increase from the prior year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The department projects another 4.5% increase in 2008, to $2,013.

Certain foods have spiked dramatically over the past year. The price of eggs surged nearly 30%, while milk and flour jumped more than 13% and rice rose nearly 10%, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Food inflation has become a global problem. This year, food riots have broken out in Egypt, Haiti, Yemen, Bangladesh and other nations. On Tuesday, the United Nations formed a task force to deal with the problem.

Even in America, the specter of hunger is growing for many low-income families, including former high-income earners who recently lost their jobs. George Braley, senior vice-president of America's Second Harvest, the largest hunger-relief organization in the U.S., testified that the rising prices are taking their toll, as annual donations to the organization "remain frozen" at $140 million.

"Costs are eating up our surpluses," said Braley. "We need to buy more food, but the money is not there. These are very discouraging times."

Many factors pushing up the price of food. Dr. Joseph Glauber, chief economist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said the price increase in 2007 for all food was the largest annual jump since 1990. He blamed it on worldwide economic growth, weather factors in parts of the world, restrictions on food exports and the relatively new biofuel industry.

In particular, he said the two-year drought in Australia has pushed up wheat prices, and said there have also been poor crops in Canada, Europe and the Ukraine.

Corn production has increased, with 93.6 million acres planted in 2007 - the biggest crop since the wartime harvest of 1944. Despite that, prices are projected to reach a record of between $4.10 to $4.50 a bushel in 2007-2008, up from $3.04 in the prior 12-month period, according to Glauber.

"Demand is expected to remain strong, supported by expanding use for ethanol," said Glauber, noting that 24% of the corn grown in the U.S. is being converted to ethanol.

Rising oil prices are feeding the demand for alternative sources of fuel. Oil prices were $111 a barrel on Thursday, up 75% from a year ago. Gasoline, at a nationwide average of $3.62 a gallon, is up 20% from a year ago, according to motorist organization AAA. To top of page

Nissan GTR- fastest production car ever around the Nurburgring

CASCAIS, Portugal — Carlos Ghosn, Nissan president and CEO, announced today that at Germany's famed Nürburgring, on April 16-17, 2008, a production Nissan GT-R achieved a lap time of 7 minutes, 29 seconds, making it the fastest production car ever to lap the Nürburgring circuit. (Earlier, a GT-R posted a 7-minute, 38-second lap time, establishing it as one of the world's fastest production cars.)

Previously, according to Ghosn, the Porsche GT2 and the Porsche Carrera achieved 7-minute 32-second lap times at the Nürburgring. Nissan's GT-R is now officially some 3 seconds quicker around the Nürburgring than Porsche.

In its first Super GT race at Japan's Suzuka Circuit, in March 2008, the GT-R finished 1st and 2nd.

"This car shows that Nissan is capable of bringing great technology to market, against anyone, in any niche," said Ghosn.

The all-wheel-drive GT-R, Nissan's technological flagship, is powered by a 480-horsepower, twin-turbo V6. It has a coefficient of drag of just 0.27. Built on Nissan's Premium Mid-ship platform, it features die-cast aluminum, steel and carbon-fiber construction. The brakes are Brembo monoblock multipiston calipers with 15-inch floating, drilled and ventilated disc brakes. Driver-adjustable shocks, gear-shift speed and VDC-R stability control are included, along with a dual-clutch six-speed paddle shift gearbox (transaxle) with quick shifts or full automatic operation.

The base Nissan GT-R will be priced at $69,850 when it goes on sale in the U.S. at selected Nissan dealers in June 2008.

What does this mean to you: If you're considering a Porsche 911 or a Corvette Z06, Nissan offers a faster car for less money. — Ken Gross, Correspondent

The man who grew a finger


By Matthew Price
BBC News, Ohio

Advertisement

The man who grew a finger

In every town in every part of this sprawling country you can find a faceless sprawling strip mall in which to do the shopping.

Rarely though would you expect to find a medical miracle working behind the counter of the mall's hobby shop.

That however is what Lee Spievak considers himself to be.

"I put my finger in," Mr Spievak says, pointing towards the propeller of a model airplane, "and that's when I sliced my finger off."

I think that within ten years that we will have strategies that will re-grow the bones, and promote the growth of functional tissue around those bones
Dr Dr Stephen Badylak
University of Pittsburgh

It took the end right off, down to the bone, about half an inch.

"We don't know where the piece went."

The photos of his severed finger tip are pretty graphic. You can understand why doctors said he'd lost it for good.

Today though, you wouldn't know it. Mr Spievak, who is 69 years old, shows off his finger, and it's all there, tissue, nerves, nail, skin, even his finger print.

'Pixie dust'

How? Well that's the truly remarkable part. It wasn't a transplant. Mr Spievak re-grew his finger tip. He used a powder - or pixie dust as he sometimes refers to it while telling his story.

Mr Speivak's brother Alan - who was working in the field of regenerative medicine - sent him the powder.

For ten days Mr Spievak put a little on his finger.

"The second time I put it on I already could see growth. Each day it was up further. Finally it closed up and was a finger.

"It took about four weeks before it was sealed."

Now he says he has "complete feeling, complete movement."

The "pixie dust" comes from the University of Pittsburgh, though in the lab Dr Stephen Badylak prefers to call it extra cellular matrix.

Pig's bladder

The process he has been pioneering over the last few years involves scraping the cells from the lining of a pig's bladder.

The remaining tissue is then placed into acid, "cleaned" of all cells, and dried out.

It can be turned into sheets, or a powder.

How it works in detail

It looks like a simple process, but of course the science is complex.

"There are all sorts of signals in the body," explains Dr Badylak.

"We have got signals that are good for forming scar, and others that are good for regenerating tissues.

"One way to think about these matrices is that we have taken out many of the stimuli for scar tissue formation and left those signals that were always there anyway for constructive remodelling."

In other words when the extra cellular matrix is put on a wound, scientists believe it stimulates cells in the tissue to grow rather than scar.

If they can perfect the technique, it might mean one day they could repair not just a severed finger, but severely burnt skin, or even damaged organs.

Clinical trial

They hope soon to start a clinical trial in Buenos Aires on a woman who has cancer of the oesophagus.

The normal procedure in such cases is often deadly. Doctors remove the cancerous portion and try to stretch the stomach lining up to meet the shortened oesophagus.

In the trial they will place the extra cellular matrix inside the body from where the portion of oesophagus has been removed, and hope to stimulate the cells around it to re-grow the missing portion.

So could limbs be re-grown? Dr Badylak is cautious, but believes the technology is potentially revolutionary.

"I think that within ten years that we will have strategies that will re-grow the bones, and promote the growth of functional tissue around those bones. And that is a major step towards eventually doing the entire limb."

That kind of talk has got the US military interested.

They are just about to start trials to re-grow parts of the fingers of injured soldiers.

Skin burns

They also hope the matrix might help veterans like Robert Henline re-grow burnt skin.

He was almost killed in an explosion while serving in Iraq. His four colleagues travelling with him in the army Humvee were all killed.

He suffered 35% burns to his head and upper body. His ears are almost totally gone, the skin on his head has been burnt to the bone, his face is a swollen raw mess.

So far he has undergone surgery 25 times. He reckons he has got another 30 to go.

Anything that could be done in terms of regeneration would be great he says.

"Life changing! I think I'm more scared of hospitals than I am of going back to Iraq again."

Like any developing technology there are many unknowns. There are worries about encouraging cancerous growths by using the matrix.

Doctors though believe that within the so called pixie dust lies an amazing medical discovery.

Brilliant Pics of African Wildlife. Elephants, Leopards, Etc


Really nice stuff. Some gorgeous wide scenes (sunsets, mtns, animals), as well as close ups: elephants, leopards, lions, cheetahs, hippos, etc. Photog knows what he's doing; beautiful work.

read more | digg story

Blowing the Tetris Theme

See more funny videos at CollegeHumor

Study Finds No Cancer-Marijuana Connection



By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 26, 2006; A03

The largest study of its kind has unexpectedly concluded that smoking marijuana, even regularly and heavily, does not lead to lung cancer.

The new findings "were against our expectations," said Donald Tashkin of the University of California at Los Angeles, a pulmonologist who has studied marijuana for 30 years.

"We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use," he said. "What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect."

Federal health and drug enforcement officials have widely used Tashkin's previous work on marijuana to make the case that the drug is dangerous. Tashkin said that while he still believes marijuana is potentially harmful, its cancer-causing effects appear to be of less concern than previously thought.

Earlier work established that marijuana does contain cancer-causing chemicals as potentially harmful as those in tobacco, he said. However, marijuana also contains the chemical THC, which he said may kill aging cells and keep them from becoming cancerous.

Tashkin's study, funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Drug Abuse, involved 1,200 people in Los Angeles who had lung, neck or head cancer and an additional 1,040 people without cancer matched by age, sex and neighborhood.

They were all asked about their lifetime use of marijuana, tobacco and alcohol. The heaviest marijuana smokers had lighted up more than 22,000 times, while moderately heavy usage was defined as smoking 11,000 to 22,000 marijuana cigarettes. Tashkin found that even the very heavy marijuana smokers showed no increased incidence of the three cancers studied.

"This is the largest case-control study ever done, and everyone had to fill out a very extensive questionnaire about marijuana use," he said. "Bias can creep into any research, but we controlled for as many confounding factors as we could, and so I believe these results have real meaning."

Tashkin's group at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA had hypothesized that marijuana would raise the risk of cancer on the basis of earlier small human studies, lab studies of animals, and the fact that marijuana users inhale more deeply and generally hold smoke in their lungs longer than tobacco smokers -- exposing them to the dangerous chemicals for a longer time. In addition, Tashkin said, previous studies found that marijuana tar has 50 percent higher concentrations of chemicals linked to cancer than tobacco cigarette tar.

While no association between marijuana smoking and cancer was found, the study findings, presented to the American Thoracic Society International Conference this week, did find a 20-fold increase in lung cancer among people who smoked two or more packs of cigarettes a day.

The study was limited to people younger than 60 because those older than that were generally not exposed to marijuana in their youth, when it is most often tried.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

Weird Fishes/Arpeggi by Robert Hodgin



Watch more cool animation and creative cartoons at aniBoom

http://www.aniboom.com/radiohead/stage1

this is aco0ntest for animators to create music videos.

D.A.R.E

Ballmer given green light on Yahoo by board of directors

The Microsoft board Wednesday gave CEO Steve Ballmer “broad discretion to either go hostile or abandon the Yahoo pursuit” but the company’s decision will probably not be made and announced until later this week, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The WSJ, quoting “people familiar with the matter,” says price remains the issue. Microsoft’s original and only offer is now valued at about $29. Major Yahoo shareholders, management and the board are looking for at least $35 a share, the WSJ quotes it sources as saying.

Each dollar above $29 increases the total cost of the deal by about $1.3 billion.

Spoiler Alert: Iron Man review

Review: Iron Man a New High for Robert Downey Jr.

By Hugh Hart EmailApril 30, 2008 | 4:58:11 PMCategories: Film, Movies, Sci-Fi

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High-tech slapstick, wicked banter and a somber "war on terror" subtext set the stage for Robert Downey Jr.'s super-watchable superhero debut in Iron Man.

Downey wears the 90-pound suit of booster-rocket armor well, as he dramatizes the awkward transition of inventor Tony Stark from self-obsessed playboy to scientist on a mission. More importantly, the 43-year-old actor makes the man inside the heavy-metal jacket compelling in his own right.

Unlike blockbuster characters X-Men, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, Iron Man never dominated Marvel Comics' pantheon of heroes. In locking down the first weekend in May for the film's launch, Paramount Pictures is betting big that Downey's charm and a steady stream of online teasers will galvanize a broad audience and match the box-office numbers of last summer's Middle East-themed Transformers. The plan could spawn a lucrative new superhero franchise: Some box-office experts predict Iron Man will be one of the top five hits of the season.

About those adrenaline-charged Iron Man trailers, which made the rounds online in the run-up to the film's Friday release: Have all the movie's cool bits been shown already?

Nope. You'll have to pay to get an eyeful of Iron Man's foe, the massive Iron Monger. Also missing from trailer action is a wishful-thinking revenge fantasy that plays out on the big screen: Iron Man shoots down yammering, hostage-holding terrorists with repulsor beams to save the lives of innocent women and children.

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Iron Man's big set pieces lack Michael Bay's epic Transformers scope but feel more real than Spider-Man's movie escapades. And Iron Man has plenty going on between the special effects. First and foremost, Iron Man displays a sense of humor. Compared to the brooding Batman of recent vintage, Superman's plain-vanilla virtue and Peter Parker's borderline-cornball sincerity, Downey's wise-cracking superhero keeps the onscreen action snappy.

Director Jon Favreau (Elf, Swingers) plays to Downey's hyperkinetic, improvisational strengths from the outset, kicking off this origins story with a pre-trauma portrait of brilliant inventor Stark, a Scotch-swigging, fast-talking womanizer who's made a fortune selling weapons. Hours after sleeping with a reporter (Leslie Bibb) in his Malibu smart house, Stark checks in with steadfast executive assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and jets to Afghanistan in a private plane with Air Force liaison James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Terrence Howard). There, Stark demonstrates his latest exercise in mass destruction, the Jericho Missile, for U.S. military brass.

A roadside bomb changes everything. Glib no more, Stark wakes up in a cave with an electro-magneto disc carved into his chest that prevents shrapnel from piercing his heart. Eventually, he escapes warlord Raza (Faran Tahir) after forging the first crude Iron Man suit. The politics here are vague, and though Tahir glowers menacingly, the southwest Asian captors are a weak link in the movie. Stripped of the memorable one-liners, seductive charm or lopsided logic that a juicy villain brings to the table, Iron Man's enemies are a predictable, two-dimensional lot.

Back in California, the conscience-stricken Stark announces that his company is quitting the munitions business, which is bad news for stockholders and Tony's longtime partner, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges).

Ironmanbridges660_2

Toiling with robots in his 3-D modeling workshop to build a bigger, better Iron Man suit, gearhead Stark submerges himself in don't-bother-me-I'm-saving-the-world mode, which is good for some broad laughs when his out-of-control beta suit flings him against the wall.

After Iron Man rockets himself overseas in an upgraded, repulsor-powered suit to get payback from his former tormentors, corporate skulduggery leads to an earth-shuddering smackdown in the night skies over Los Angeles between Iron Man and his new nemesis, the bloated Iron Monger.

The fight and flight scenes blend live-action stunt work with CGI effects from Industrial Light and Magic with reasonably convincing results, but it's the actors who bring out the soul in Iron Man. Oscar-winner Paltrow endears as Pepper, the shy-yet-feisty sidekick who's not so secretly in love with her boss. Playing the wily Obadiah -- in shaved head and beard -- Bridges radiates smarmy gravitas and challenges Stark's newfound idealism at every turn.

But Downey's the driving force here. Sincere yet never sappy, he retains a rascal's charm to the end, and Iron Man finds a heart without losing his brainy edge.

Wired: Gadgets, humor, heart and a whip-smart leading man channel the high-tech flights of fancy into a genuinely affecting character study.

Tired: Music by Ramin Djawadi relies on crunchy heavy-metal guitars and other familiar tricks of the trade to drive the action. Evil terrorist? Cue the cellos.

$160 Billion Robotic Army Network Passes First Big Test. Kinda

By David Axe Email 04.30.08 | 12:00 PM
USAF Airman working on network connections at Nevada Test Center during JEFX 08.
Photo: U.S. Army

A van full of insurgents speeds through the desert. They do not notice a series of networked ground sensors that have begun tracking their every move.

Hovering somewhere overhead, a tiny robot points its camera at the van and takes note of its color scheme and markings. An even bigger drone, thousands of feet above its hovering kin, maintains a God’s-eye vigil on the whole hunt.

Everything these robots see is radioed to monitors thousands of miles away -- and into the targeting systems of a B-52 bomber winging, silent and nearly invisible, several miles overhead.

This scenario, played out at a remote Nevada facility last week, was the first major test of the Army’s $160-billion, 20-year plan to build a high-tech family of networked robots and hybrid-electric armored vehicles. The “Future Combat Systems” program, co-managed by Boeing and consultants SAIC, aims to equip roughly a third of the Army with 14 new vehicle types that are connected constantly to a vast communications net.

The theory behind the FCS is that dispersed, intelligent robotic systems plugged into a universal communications network can help small numbers of U.S. troops riding in new vehicles to control huge swaths of terrain. Any ship, airplane or tank fitted with the FCS network devices will be able to see everything the others see.

The SkyNet-like network and dynamic coordination “is the most important thing,” Brigadier General James Terry says.

This is “a big deal for joint fires,” Army spokesman Paul Mehney told Wired.com.

“Joint fires” is mil-speak for getting all the military services to share info and coordinate their attacks. That kind of teamwork is a big factor in the U.S. military’s combat prowess. And if FCS works out as planned, the five U.S. military branches will team up better than ever.

Did the test work? Kinda.

The robots spotted the van; their targeting data bounced to a nearby unit of specially-equipped Humvees, then across the network to an Air Force intelligence cell in Langley, Virginia, then back to the B-52 -- all in just seconds. The bomber simulated dropping a guided bomb to “destroy” the van.

The Nevada test proved it was possible, according to Mehney.

But one critic says the test essentially was rigged -- that the conditions were too easy.

“There is ‘works’ and then there is ‘works,’” John Pike, an analyst with Globalsecurity,org, told Wired.com.

“A considerable fraction of the FCS network hardware does not currently exist,” Pike said. And the integration of that hardware that does exist has been touch-and-go.

In February, when testers “flipped the switch” for the first time on the network radios, there was a collective sigh of relief that the radios even worked -- this according to one FCS insider who spoke on background.

Last week’s desert test comes at a critical time for Future Combat Systems. Mounting criticism from the GAO plus the growing cost of fixing and upgrading the Army’s current war-weary vehicle fleet -- $120 billion over 10 years, according to the GAO -– has put the squeeze on the futuristic program. “It is not yet clear if or when the Army and [its contractors] can develop, build, and demonstrate the … network,” the Government Accountability Office reported in March.

One powerful congressman, nominally a supporter of FCS, has proposed injecting extra money into the program in order to rescue some of its technologies before canceling the rest.

Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), chair of the defense appropriations subcommittee, promised an extra $20 billion this year for FCS, provided the Army could use the money to wrap up the program quickly. “We need to accelerate FCS if we ever want to see anything accomplished,” Matt Mazonkey, a Murtha staffer, told Wired.com.

The Army is still preparing its response to Murtha’s query, Mehney said. Regardless, the service’s position on FCS has never wavered. The Army says that FCS is on-budget, on-schedule, and with continued funding will deliver on its promises to connect the ground service to itself and to all the other military branches.

And to ensure smooth progress despite a combined $900 million budget cut last year, the Army this month asked Congress to “re-appropriate” $250 million of other Army funds into FCS coffers.

Great debate- Alpina B7 or Audi S8

Chismillionaire's vote is for the S8.


words: Stu Fowle

For the wealthy enthusiast, options for roomy and lavish top-end sports sedans are more plentiful than ever, with no signs of that trend reversing — both Porsche and Aston Martin will have sleek executive cruisers by the end of the decade. Exclusivity is just as important as performance for these buyers, because who wants to be driving the same sled as that no-good lawyer down the street? But what's the best buy? Maserati's Quattroporte might be the quick answer, but that may be a little too obvious. The Bentley Continental Flying Spur? Sure, if you want it to get egged on a daily basis. And so many people line up to buy Mercedes-Benz S-classes that the company offers a downright ridiculous three models churning out over 500 hp. That leaves two elite machines that fit the bill perfectly: the Audi S8 and the BMW Alpina B7. Both are spacious, both are luxurious, both are plenty powerful, and best of all, they're incredibly rare. BMW has cut Alpina imports off at 750 units total and Audi delivers less than 1000 S8s to U.S. dealerships each year. Lamborghini sold more cars here last year — 1001 to be exact.

The thing is, while B7 and S8 have so much in common, there's a larger gap between them than a few letters and one number. Getting the two together for a day's drive made us notice how Coke-versus-Pepsi these cars truly are.

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One look at each sedan hints at the personality split between the two. The Alpina wears 21-inch rubber — staggered with 245/35ZR21s at the front and wide 285/30ZR21s at the rear — wrapping the largest-ever iteration of Alpina's classic radial spoke wheels. Our sport-package S8 wears smaller 20-inch tires measuring 275/35R20 at all four corners, and its alloys are less in-your-face than the B7's.

Further up from the pavement, the Audi follows the same rules of understatement. Only brushed mirror covers, a more prominent vertical-slat grille, and tiny V10 badges on the fenders differentiate our silver beast from its lesser stablemates. It fades into traffic as if it were nothing more than an oversized A4. But not even Paul Walker would call the B7 understated. Its integrated rear spoiler looks like something borrowed from the Batmobile and the front wears a similarly cartoonish lower valence. Paint those parts, along with the rest of the body, signature Alpina blue, and the result is as subtle as a Michael Bay movie.

Either cabin is a lovely place to spend an afternoon, but the S8's is a contemporary masterpiece awash in carbon fiber, brushed aluminum, chocolate-dyed leather, and soft Alcantara. If Rolls-Royce or Bentley weren't so stuck in tradition, their interiors would look like this. Small Bang & Olufsen tweeters that rise out of the dash when activated — part of a $6300 audio package — are the cherries atop this glamorous sundae. Still, the S8 is in need of a minor equipment update to get on par with the competition. Does Audi really expect us to go without cooled and massaging seats in this day and age?

The B7's seats have both of those functions, but the rest of the cabin is worse than the Audi's. Sure, the Myrtle wood trim, Alcantara headliner, and Lavalina leather-wrapped wheel are all nice, but operating anything electronic is, as has been stated about the current 7-series a thousand times, a nightmare. With 500 tire-shredding horsepower under the hood, digging through menus to deactivate stability control has never been so frustrating.

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But those 500 horses are oh-so-rewarding. The Alpina swaps out the standard 750i's 4.8-liter V-8 for a smaller 4.4-liter (from the pre-facelift 745i) featuring a radial-style supercharger. A first for a passenger car, the radial blower eschews the familiar screws for a turbine compressor wheel — just like a turbocharger. Spun through a 17.6:1 gearset that's lubricated with the engine's supply of oil, the supercharger produces a maximum 11.6 pounds of boost. Along with the horsepower, the engine makes an even more impressive 516 lb-ft of torque at 4250 rpm, though it feels like 90 percent of that is available through the full rev range. That power's routed through a 6-speed automatic with Alpina's Switch-tronic tuning. The waste from the engine is let loose in a glorious growl that the S8's extra two cylinders can't match.

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With 450 hp and 398 lb-ft of torque, the S8's V-10 can't match the Alpina's acceleration, either, especially with a 110-pound weight penalty versus the BMW's 4476 pounds. BMW and Audi quote 0-60 mph times of 4.8 and 4.9 seconds, respectively, but our uncorrected test on a 70-degree day in Chicago returned times of 5.1 seconds for the BMW and 5.5 for the Audi. The rear-drive B7 has a harder time laying power down initially, while the all-wheel-drive S8 leaps into motion but has to dig deeper to draw out the Lamborghini-sourced engine. The Alpina always has plenty on tap. To Audi's credit, engineers have done an excellent job integrating an aggressive throttle tip-in and eager downshifts into the car's gear-selector-based sport mode, making the engine seem more powerful than it is in this heavy car. Just don't leave "S" selected if you're trying to show off your smooth driving style — relaxed starts from stoplights are impossible.

b7s85_left.jpg The Alpina B7 reveals itself to be as a sport sedan all grown up, while the S8 feels more like a luxury sedan with sporting overtones. The Audi's throttle tip-in trickery is only the first sign of that. In contrast to the Alpina's natural and direct steering, the Audi's feels as overboosted as a vintage Cadillac's. Bumps from the road assert themselves through the wheel and it's sometimes hard to keep a steady line through a rough corner. Likewise, the brake pedal feels soft and sinks too far down before any real squeeze begins, despite the outrageously large 15.2-inch front calipers and 13.2-inch rear rotors. The Alpina's, borrowed from the V-12-powered 760i, split those numbers and deliver excellent feedback, wearing 14.7- and 14.6-inch rotors front and rear.

It's odd that there's so little similarity between the controls and dynamics of two cars that are so alike in size and price (each of our test cars came in at just around $115,000). Beyond their divergence in braking and steering feels, their handling characteristics are complete opposites: the Alpina is well-damped, sorting out larger dips, bumps, and side-to-side motions without transmitting the movement to the passengers, but small potholes, expansion joints, and that dime someone dropped in the road all send quick shocks through the car. The Audi soaks up that small stuff, but the ride goes Buick-y in those conditions where the Alpina is taut and composed.

We'd love to give the Alpina the win and call it a day. It has more power, better straight-line performance, better steering, better brakes, and a more compliant suspension. But getting out of the B7 and into the S8 isn't unlike coming home from work, throwing on some sweat pants, and enjoying a cold beer over a baseball game. The Audi's just such a comfortable, inviting car. It doesn't beg for attention the way the B7 does, and the controls — yes, those same ones we criticized for being too soft to warrant an "S" badge — are relaxed enough for the daily commute. The B7 begs to be pushed and it's easy to open up the floodgate of power. It's fun, sure, but not necessarily what we require in a daily cruiser. Which brings us to the question you've probably been thinking about for the last ten paragraphs or so: Do you want your big, ultra-rare sedan to behave like a sports car, or do you want a traditional big car that just happens to be surprisingly fast? We'll call the former a Type B7 personality. The latter, that's a Type S8. Either is rare and respectable.

Audi RS8 for 2010

Gotta Have Cars: Audi RS8

Supercar Territory: And now for the V-10 version - and more

By Angus MacKenzie

Audi has completed development of a 530-horse V-10-powered R8. But demand for the regular R8 is so strong here in the United States (we hear dealers are asking astronomical premiums) the company has pushed back the launch of the car until well into 2009. No point undermining a sales success.

With more power-at least 110 horses extra-plus upgraded suspension, wheels, tires, and brakes, the V-10 will move the R8 into genuine supercar territory. The easy way to pick the V-10 version from the regular R8 is the extended scoops on the car's distinctive side blades, needed to get more cooling air into the engine compartment.

Is parent company VW Group worried the V-10 encroaches on Lamborghini Gallardo territory? Not really. The Audi will be a quite different proposition, with more room inside and a different price point.

The new V-10 will be the first of a wave of R8 variants coming over the next few years. First to follow will be a roadster version of the V-8, succeeded by a roadster V-10. For packaging reasons, the R8 roadsters will likely feature a retractable softtop similar to those used on convertible versions of the Gallardo and Ferrari F430.

What about the V-12 diesel version (the recently-shown concept version is pictured)? Audi would like to build it, as it links directly to the Le Mans-winning diesel-powered R10 race car. But Audi engineers are having trouble packaging the particulate trap-required to meet stringent U.S. emissions standards-and the bumper beam needed to meet U.S. crash standards at the rear of the car. One solution being looked at is lengthening the rear of the car, but cost is a problem.

Engineers have considered installing a 4.2-liter V-8 diesel, but reportedly can't get the power they want. The problem is this: If Audi were to build an R8 diesel-the world's first diesel-powered supercar-it would need to deliver more performance than the V-10. And without the 500-horsepower, 737-pound-foot V-12 TDI engine, that's a tall order.

Chismillionaire's Recipe of the week- Finnish May Day Fritters


Although similar to American funnel cakes, Finnish May Day Fritters pack far less of a fat and sugar load. As small and as light as a sparrow's nest, they are a justifiable indulgence on a sunny Spring day.

INGREDIENTS:

  • Canola oil for frying
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt

PREPARATION:

In a heavy pot or deep fryer, bring cooking oil to 375º (the level of the oil should be about 6" from the bottom of the pot).

Whisk together eggs and sugar lightly, then stir in milk. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt and stir into the batter until any lumps are removed. Transfer batter to a gallon-sized freezer bag (or, if you prefer, a pastry tube with a small tip); seal bag and then snip off one corner within 1/8" of the edge (the hole should be about the size of a skewer).

When the oil has reached heat, use your non-dominant hand to lower a metal soup ladle into the oil until the ladle is about half-way filled with oil. Use your dominant hand to swiftly pipe the batter in a swirly, criss-crossed lattice pattern into the ladle until the "bird's nest" half fills the ladle. Lower the ladle completely into the oil; the fritter will float immediately to the top of the pot or fryer. Allow to brown until golden and then flip over to brown the other sides (about 15 seconds per side). Remove the fritter and drain on a plate lined with paper towels.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm.

Yield: 20 fritters

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