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Monday, June 2, 2008

Rallying in a Ferrari 250

One of the easiest ways to start an argument is to contend that any Ferrari is the most beautiful of them all. But every Ferrari fanatic will agree that the 250 GT Berlinetta SWB (short wheelbase) of the late '50s and early '60s is on the short list. And as if the looks weren't enough, it was also a hugely successful racer.

Ferrari only made 176 steel- and aluminum-bodied 250 GT Berlinetta SWBs and virtually all the survivors today are stored in museums safe from damage. But that's not all of them.

The clip is a ride-along aboard a 250 GT Berlinetta SWB as it competes in a rally along the Beaujolais countryside in France. It's great to look at, but you could close your eyes and the sound of that 3.0-liter V12 should be enough to send shivers up your spine

MTV Movie Awards: Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black and Ben Stiller make a viral video

June 2nd, 2008 | Return Home
This was a great spoof from the MTV Movie Awards where all the actors take shots at themselves, especially Downey Jr. The clip includes Jack Black having his testicles repeatedly abused by Robert Downey Jr. all the while Ben Stiller relishes in the fact that they're making a "viral video".

Bear: Man vs. Wild

Check out Bear's Official MySpace Page:
and his Official fansite:

Official Discovery Channel Site: Man vs. Wild

Phoenix to Earthlings: I’ve Landed! Awesome!

Whoever thought a NASA spacecraft could be so adept at social networking and Web 2.0? For users of Twitter, a Web microblogging service, the Phoenix Mars lander has been sending pithy news “tweets” to the cellphones and computers of interested “followers.” As of late Friday, the Phoenix lander had 9,636 followers at Twitter, more than triple...

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Drink This, Not That! 16 Beverage Swaps For Healthy Living

From left, Michael Venera/Cavallo Point; Kevin Moloney for The New York Times; Matt Furbert for The New York Times

The Golden Gate Bridge, Monument Valley and the White Mountains.

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to liquid calories. The bad news is they are the most difficult calories for us to gauge, because we have none of the greasy, cheesy visual cues we get when we go face-to-face with a plate of loaded nachos or a triple cheeseburger. The good news is that they are the easiest calories to cut from your diet

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Ancient Egyptian City Unearthed in Sinai

Thursday, May. 29, 2008

(CAIRO, Egypt) — Archaeologists exploring an old military road in the Sinai have unearthed 3,000-year-old remains from an ancient fortified city, the largest yet found in Egypt, antiquities authorities announced Wednesday.

Among the discoveries at the site was a relief of King Thutmose II (1516-1504 B.C.), thought to be the first such royal monument discovered in Sinai, said Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. It indicates that Thutmose II may have built a fort near the ancient city, located about two miles northeast of present day Qantara and known historically as Tharu.

A 550-by-275-yard mud brick fort with several 13-foot-high towers dating to King Ramses II (1304-1237 B.C.) was unearthed in the same area, he said.

Hawass said early studies suggested the fort had been Egypt's military headquarters from the New Kingdom (1569-1081 B.C.) until the Ptolemaic era, a period of about 1500 years.

The ancient military road, known as "Way of Horus," once connected Egypt to Palestine and is close to present-day Rafah, which borders the Palestinian territory of Gaza.

Archaeologist Mohammed Abdel-Maqsoud, chief of the excavation team, said the discovery was part of a joint project with the Culture Ministry that started in 1986 to find fortresses along that military road.

Abdel-Maqsoud said the mission also located the first ever New Kingdom temple to be found in northern Sinai, which earlier studies indicated was built on top of an 18th Dynasty fort (1569-1315 B.C.).

A collection of reliefs belonging to King Ramses II and King Seti I (1314-1304 B.C.) were also unearthed with rows of warehouses used by the ancient Egyptian army during the New Kingdom era to store wheat and weapons, he said.

Abdel-Maqsoud said the new discoveries corresponded to the inscriptions of the Way of Horus found on the walls of the Karnak Temple in Luxor which illustrated the features of 11 military fortresses that protected Egypt's eastern borders. Only five of them have been discovered to date.

8 Ways to Sell Your Body Parts & Fluids For Cash

By: Jacinta O’Halloran

Somehow a stimulus check just doesn’t seem stimulating enough to jumpstart my flatlining bank account. I’m thinking I need to make a little extra dough on the side before I can start feeding any to our flagging economy, but I don’t have any skills. I’ve thought about growing vegetables, building furniture, or washing windows to pad my pockets, but I don’t have a garden, I’m useless with a hammer, and … well, I don’t want to work that hard. So instead I’m looking to make the most (money) using what I’ve got at my fingertips. After doing a little research, here are the resources I discovered, some of which I never even knew were valuable:

Hairy Business
Real hair is in huge demand for use as hair extensions, hairpieces, and wigs. So, if (like me) you can’t grow weeds, but you can grow a mean head of hair, then check out the world’s largest independent hair sale site, Hairtrader. Now, you can’t just sell any old head of hair: hair must be naturally beautiful—that means it’s never been bleached, permed, tinted, highlighted, chemically straightened, or otherwise subjected to the demands of modern life. That rules out me and most of the western world too. To date, the record sale was $2,500 for 25” of light brown hair. (Photo source: Shevy wigs)

Pissing Away Poverty
If your urine is drug and alcohol-free, you might be able to strike (liquid) gold.

Thanks to the scads of people addicted to drugs and alcohol, there’s a market for good, clean urine to help people ace their drug test. Granted, you could go to jail for selling your pee, but as someone wise and famous once said (probably someone who never attempted to sell their urine), without risk, there is no reward. Urea Sample sells synthetic urine kits to folks looking to beat drug tests for up to $139.95. If you cut out the middle man and go straight to the source, you can make around $200, according to arrest reports.

If risk is your thing and potential jail time isn’t too daunting, you could also consider selling your corneas, worth roughly $7000. Or if your pee isn’t pure, you can always just take it to the next level and opt to sell a kidney.

It’s Written All Over Your Face (and Neck, Biceps, and Back)
The advertising industry is desperate to find clever new ways to reach people. They’ve already placed ads at eye level on the back of the bathroom stall door, in school buses, on your favorite TV show, your laptop, iPod, and in video games. Now they’re eager to score new real estate—you! In 2006, Web-hosting company Globat purchased ad space on the back of a Lancaster, Pennsylvania man’s neck for an undisclosed sum of money. Robert Reames, III, age twenty-seven, had a ad tattooed on the back of his neck so he could buy a new car. I’ve often said, “I have eyes on the back of my head,” so I’m thinking I should offer the back of my head to Lenscrafters …

Got Milk?
I’ve heard many a lactating mother cry that throwing away expressed breast milk feels like throwing away liquid gold—and they’re right. While there are plenty of banks where you can sell/donate breast milk (once you’ve been screened of course), there’s also a thriving black market of men—or couples—with a breast milk fetish. (Maybe I’m just lactose intolerant, but eew!) Still, I guess if guys can make money selling sperm, why can’t we put the old mammaries to work? Another way to go is to answer this classified ad: “Got Milk? Earn $2000 per photo shoot modeling for, the only pregnancy/lactation site that has a touch of class.”

It’s a Bloody Jungle Out There
It’s actually illegal to sell human organs or tissues, but that doesn’t mean they’re entirely worthless. Many companies will “compensate” you for your time, and more specifically for your plasma—the water and protein-packed portion of your blood—which is easily replaced by the body. To find a donation site in your area, visit Blood Banker. Not only do they have a listing of blood banks that pay cash for your plasma, but they also list additional information about how often you can donate. Note: a donor burns about 650 calories by donating one pint of blood!

Womb for Rent
Why get $2500 or more for donating a little old egg (okay, it’s not so old, you need to be thirty-five or under) when you can get more than $25,000 for delivering a fully hatched chick? If you need more than a little extra cash, surrogate pregnancy may be the way to go. On top of the carrying fee, you get all your medical bills, travel expenses, and maternity clothes for free. (And then you can keep that really cute pair of “fat pants” for a future non-pregnant time when you’re feeling extra bloated.) For all those older couples wanting to have children, infertile couples, or two-dad families out there, you won’t be just putting your uterus on the market for some fast cash, you’ll be giving the gift of family. (photo source: sharynmorrow on flickr (CC)

Let’s Get Clinical
No need to wait until you’re dead to donate your body to science. You can do so now, while you’re still alive and kicking, to the tune of several hundred dollars a day, depending on the study. Healthy as a horse? Great! You’re needed. You’re also needed if you smoke, have diabetes, are post-menopausal, have high blood pressure, suffer from insomnia, or have a history of depression. And if you hate drugs, but love shopping, there are clinical trials just for you. Even though drug studies are the most lucrative, research participants are also constantly needed for consumer product testing and mystery shopping sprees, where you can get paid to go to the movies, eat out, buy products, and even drink beer at pubs!

Cry Me a River
If all else fails and you’re left with nothing of your own to sell, you can always look to Hollywood for a little assistance. If you’re especially enterprising, you can follow starlets around paparazzi-style, wait for the inevitable heartbreak, then capture their tears in a vial, and sell them on eBay like one enterprising young man did recently with Paris Hilton’s tears. It’s more of a long-term commitment, but you’d be getting in on the ground floor of something unique.

Don't be too happy if you want to be Rich!

(Money Magazine) -- Checked out the bestseller lists lately? In February you would have spotted motivational expert Marci Shimoff's "Happy for No Reason," which claims to teach you "how to experience sustained happiness for the rest of your life." In March came "The Geography of Bliss" by journalist Eric Weiner, a travelogue of places on Earth where people are the happiest. Both of these follow on the heels of "Stumbling on Happiness" by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert, which has been translated into 20 languages.

Clearly, for a lot of people, finding happiness is the ultimate goal. But should it be? New research suggests maybe not - at least if wealth and success are also at the top of your list.

University of Illinois psychology professor Ed Diener and others have established that while money won't buy happiness, happy people tend to earn more than sad people. A few years ago, however, investing legend John Templeton wrote Diener a letter that had the professor scratching his head. "Is life satisfaction always great?" Templeton asked. "Maybe a little bit of dissatisfaction is okay."

"I started wondering," Diener recalls, "do you have to be happier and happier? How happy is happy enough?"

Thus, a new study was born. Diener and his colleagues used data from the World Values Survey, which measures the happiness of respondents on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 the happiest). They found that income did indeed increase along with happiness but not at the very top. The 10s earned significantly less than the 8s and the 9s. The latter were also more likely to have gone to college, have engaged in the political process and have saved money.

Don't worry, spend money

Why is it better to be happy but not euphoric? Diener's take is that happy - but not too happy - people are strivers. They're interested in making the sorts of changes necessary to get ahead in life, including engaging in competition (not always a happy pursuit), obtaining more education and changing their behavior when what they're doing now isn't working. The 10s, on the other hand, are too complacent to adjust enough.

Diener isn't the only dog on this trail. When Duke University finance scholars undertook an examination of optimists using the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances, they also found that people who saw the glass as filled to the brim (classified as those who overestimated their own life spans by 20 years or more) behaved in ways that weren't good for their future.

"When you compare moderate optimists with extreme ones, one of the biggest areas of difference is in self-control," says David Robinson, a lead researcher on the Duke study. The extreme optimists overspent. They accumulated debt. They didn't save. They were more likely to be day-traders. On the other hand, moderate optimists, recognizing the possibility of a run of bad luck, saved more than extreme optimists did.

The idea that you can be too happy applies in other areas of life besides finance. Academic success, for example, went up as happiness increased, Diener found. But it peaked at people classified as "happy" and then fell back for the "very happy."

There are some circumstances in which the very happy have an edge. They're more likely to be successful as volunteers, and they're better at dating and at maintaining close friendships. All keys to life satisfaction, but not necessarily wealth boosters. Eventually the boss notices that his cherished staffers spend all their time socializing rather than getting work done.

So what are the takeaways from this research? To be sure, it's better to be generally happy than sad when it comes to your finances. But sheer bliss isn't all it's cracked up to be. To keep yourself a bit more balanced, try these two courses of action.

Surround yourself with the right people. Take the optimism test above. If you scored at the top or bottom, maybe you need to find a few new friends. "If you're looking to get happier, hang out with the optimists and avoid pessimists," says Frederick G. Crane, executive professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at Northeastern University. If you're too happy, pessimists are the order of the day for you.

Challenge yourself. Even if you're not constantly floating on a cloud, super-happiness can make you complacent, says Diener. As long as your approach to life and its tribulations is working, after all, why should you try anything new? The problem with such thinking is that when your way of doing things falls short, you may not realize it.

The solution: Alter your typical tack to problem solving. In my case, for years the only way I knew to get more work done was to put in longer hours. I had to learn to delegate. Once I did, I gained others' perspective, not to mention my own time. So push yourself in a new direction. You'll be richer for it.

Universal Studios Fire

Studio Fire
Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times
Fire engulfs the Universal Studios back lot.

Fast-moving blaze at the studio's back lot destroys 'King Kong' tour and burns the sets of iconic films.
By Bettina Boxall, Ari B. Bloomekatz and Joe Mozingo, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
June 2, 2008

Low water pressure and an overwhelmed sprinkler system hampered the fight against a fast-moving fire that tore through two city blocks at the Universal Studios Hollywood back lot Sunday, destroying the "King Kong" tour and burning the sets for such blockbuster movies as "Back to the Future" and "Bruce Almighty."

The fire raged and smoldered for much of the day, sending up a huge cloud of smoke visible for miles. Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and county Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman ordered an inquiry into whether the lack of water pressure in Universal's fire protection system allowed the blaze to get out of control at the world-famous studio and theme park.

"The water came out of hoses anemically," Yaroslavsky said. "The water-pressure issue is going to be the postmortem issue of this fire."

Some firefighters on the scene could get only a 10-foot spray from park hydrants and were unable to reach the vaulting flames.

The fire, fueled by highly combustible facades and lumber, rendered a sprinkler system on outdoor sets nearly useless, Freeman said.

Firefighters resorted to pumping water from two man-made studio ponds, including one that is home to the animatronic "Jaws" attraction. They also snaked hundreds of yards of hoses to street hydrants outside the park.

Nine firefighters and a sheriff's deputy were injured in the blaze, which was punctuated with 100-foot flames, early-morning explosions and then a second afternoon explosion as it consumed a cavernous video warehouse.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, Freeman said. Universal representatives declined to comment about the cause and the water-pressure issues.

The blaze erupted at 4:45 a.m. on New York Street -- a location that has played host to scenes for such films as "Batman and Robin" and "Austin Powers."

The flames churned through the open-air wood and plastic construction and to the adjacent sets, incinerating the 30-foot animatronic King Kong and damaging Courthouse Square, which played a prominent role in "Back to the Future," "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Inherit the Wind."

Calm winds and a light marine layer kept the fire from spreading into the brush-covered hills nearby.

Yet the blaze engulfed the videotape warehouse, containing archives of television shows and movies dating to the 1920s. NBC Universal Chief Executive Ron Meyer said the tapes were copies and could be replaced.

By dawn, the towering cloud of black smoke made it look as if Hollywood was producing a film about its own doomsday.

The first 30 firefighters responding to the blaze showered the sets from three ladder trucks, said Daryl Jacobs, a county Fire Department spokesman. At that time, the water pressure was fine, he said.

By 6:30 a.m., as the fire turned into a conflagration, about 350 to 400 firefighters, with more than 20 ladder trucks and 40 engines, surrounded the area, spraying water-mixed foam retardant. As more firefighters sucked up more water, the water pressure began to drop precipitously.

County Fire Inspector James Barnes got word that some ladder trucks -- designed to jet up to 1,000 gallons a minute into burning buildings -- did not have enough force to reach the core of the flames.

"We all know there were challenges with water," Barnes said. "Whether the fire got bigger as a result, I could not tell you."

Commanders called in two water tanker trucks -- carrying 6,000 and 2,000 gallons -- and two helicopters, which dropped water for about an hour.

Barnes said that with so much equipment trying to converge on the area, many engines had trouble squeezing into the narrow streets. "Back there it's really tight, tight quarters," he said.

The fire burned in the video warehouse until late in the afternoon. A firefighter and a sheriff's deputy suffered minor injuries when they were knocked off their feet by a large explosion in the warehouse about 2:45 p.m., officials said.

As the fire threat receded, officials turned their attention to the problematic lack of water pressure.

Though the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power supplies Universal with water, the park is in unincorporated county territory and maintains its own system of mains, pumps and hydrants.

DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo said the agency tried to boost water pressure from its end, but the effort "had a negligible effect."

The DWP has upgraded its own system to ensure firefighters have sufficient pressure in Griffith Park and parts of the Hollywood Hills.

After a fire in 1990 roared through four acres of the back lot in 1990, Universal Studios installed a large sprinkler system designed to deluge flames, but it didn't seem to work Sunday.

"It appears the fire this morning overwhelmed fire-protection features," Freeman said. He said his department would look into the system.

"We're going to readily and quickly reevaluate that and see if that had any impact on the water pressure."

Sam Atwood, a spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said the agency had taken air samples at the scene to test for hazards. He said the tests turned up no initial signs of danger, but that complete results would take several days.

He also said that any treated lumber that burned could produce harmful emissions, because it often contains arsenic.

Richard Drury, an Alameda, Calif., environmental attorney, said cheap plastics used at most industrial locations were also a worry. But Drury said it was important not to overstate the risks, noting that short-term exposure to carcinogens, for instance, might not pose a threat: "One-time exposure is probably not that significant."

More than 500 would-be visitors braved the noxious air all morning, based on announcements that the park would open after noon. But at 2:30 p.m., park officials said it would remain closed until 10 a.m. today.

"I'm frustrated," said Rob Polonsky, 23, a freelance video editor from Los Angeles, who called and checked the Internet before heading to the park Sunday morning. "They should have said from the start that they weren't going to open."

Jan Van Angelen, 25, a student from the University of Oklahoma, and his friend Hans Pul, 24, wanted to spend their last day in California at Universal Studios on Sunday.

The two had spent their weekend doing many of the tourist activities popular with Southland visitors.

Their last stop was at the park. They wanted to see the "Shrek 4D" ride.

"I thought it was a joke," Pul said when he saw the television images of smoke and fire.

By afternoon, shuttles were filled with visitors headed back to their parking structure.

"We've been through so many fires, we're used to it," said Doug Spinuzza, 41, an actor who went to the park with his 8-year-old son.

Fire is nothing new to the studio. Seven significant blazes have hit the lot along the Cahuenga Pass in the Hollywood Hills since 1932.

New York Street, in particular, burned to the ground in 1957 and 1990.

Filmed in the area were the TV shows "Crossing Jordan," "Monk," "Seinfeld," "NYPD Blue," "Kojak" and the movies "Dragnet," "Bruce Almighty," "The Sting" and the "The Blues Brothers."

The only television production affected by Sunday's fire was CBS' "Ghost Whisperer," but a CBS Paramount spokeswoman said the damage to exterior sets would not delay the fourth season's premiere.

Yaroslavsky said the latest inferno is a lesson that all the movie studios need to assess their vulnerability.

"It's enough of a wake-up call that we need to take another look," he said.

He added that the fire could have been a lot worse in different weather.

"All we know is that for an hour or more, the water pressure was inadequate," he said. "It's likely having optimal water pressure would have some impact on slowing the progress of the fire.


Related Content

Japanese "suzukaze" device cools your butt while you sit

Oh, the things we create and label "green".

For those eco-conscious folks living in hot climates, you can thank Japan for the latest and greatest in buttocks cooling. Introducing Suzukaze air-conditioned seat cushion. Using the sweat generated by your bum and a tiny bit of energy, this cushion has an internal fan that blows over 170 liters of air per minute to keep your nether-region cool. It is light weight, portable, and so efficient that even if used as much as 8 hours a day, you'd still only spend pennies per month on electricity.


While not quite as handy as some crazy gadgets we've seen come through here, if you have a significant problem with your rear end overheating or becoming... um... swampy, then this energy-efficient new gadget is for you. But, realistically, I think we can chalk it up to another random item found in the Skymall catalog.

Watch a video on how the seat works.

Via Newlaunches

It Really Looks Like There is Ice on Mars

Take a look at this image sent back from the Phoenix lander. On Friday, Phoenix scientist Ray Arvidson said there may be ice directly under the Phoenix lander, exposed in the blast zone by the retrorockets used for Phoenix's soft landing. Friday's image showed a small portion of the exposed area that looks brighter and smoother than the surrounding soil. On Saturday, Sol 5 for Phoenix on Mars, a new image shows a greater portion of the area under the lander. Scientists say the abundance of excavated smooth and level surfaces adds evidence to a hypothesis that the underlying material is an ice table covered by a thin blanket of soil. This is just what the Phoenix mission was hoping to find, and how incredible to land directly over your goal.

The bright-looking surface material in the center, where the image is partly overexposed, may not be inherently brighter than the foreground material in shadow. But the scientists are calling this area "Holy Cow." Reportedly (via Emily at the Planetary Society) that's exactly the phrase exclaimed when this image was returned. More pictures of this feature will be imaged using different exposures in an effort to determine if this really is ice.

The other interesting aspect of this image is that the retrorocket nozzles are visible right at the top of the image.

We'll keep you posted when there's more information and data available on the area under the lander.

Space shuttle carries Japanese lab into orbit

Scott Audette/Reuters

The space shuttle Discovery lifting off the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center on Saturday.

By Irene KlotzSat May 31, 6:10 PM ET

Space shuttle Discovery blasted off a seaside launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday to deliver Japan's huge new research laboratory to the International Space Station.

The start of NASA's 123rd shuttle mission was as smooth as they come, with no technical glitches and no weather issues as the countdown clock ticked down to 5:02 p.m. EDT (2102 GMT), the moment when Earth's rotation positioned the shuttle for its most direct path to the orbiting space station.

The shuttle's twin booster rockets roared to life, joining the ship's three hydrogen-burning main engines to catapult the 4.5 million pound (2.04 million kg) ship into the air. The load was especially hefty, with Japan's Kibo lab tipping the scales at more than 16 tons.

"While we all tend to live for today, Kibo will give us hope for tomorrow," said shuttle commander Mark Kelly. "Now stand by for the greatest show on Earth."

Kibo, a complex that cost Japan about $2 billion to manufacture, is being installed aboard the space station in three flights. The elaborate complex includes a storage chamber, launched in March, the main lab aboard Discovery and an outdoor porch slated to fly next year.

The main segment is a 37-foot-(11-metre-) by 15 foot (4.6 meter) cylinder that took up much of the shuttle's 50-foot (15-metre) cargo bay.

Japan kept its laboratory intact throughout several space station redesigns, opting for a large complex to make sure there was plenty of room for its own ambitious science program as well as those of the station's other partner nations.

The United States is entitled to half of Kibo's lab space in exchange for building and operating the station and launching the Japanese hardware.

The Kibo complex is as big as a tour bus and eventually will be outfitted with 23 refrigerator-sized racks, 10 of which will be devoted to science investigations.


In addition to fluid physics experiments, biomedical research and other microgravity studies, Japan plans a host of cultural activities aboard Kibo, such as dance, art and sculpture.

"We're interested in creating a new art expression in space," Junichiro Shimizu, an official with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, said in an interview.

Kibo's installation is the main focus of Discovery's planned 14-day mission. Most of that time will be spent at the space station, which is in need of some maintenance and repair services.

In addition to adding a third research lab, astronauts plan to replace a nitrogen tank that pressurizes the station's cooling system and inspect and clean a metal ring that is part of the station's solar power system.

The ring was contaminated by metal shards and is causing vibrations when it spins a pair of solar wing panels to track the sun for power. NASA is babying the system until repairs can be made to prevent additional damage.

Discovery is also carrying a new pump for the space station's toilet, which needs to be manually flushed several times a day. Until the new commode is installed, the three-member station crew will be free to use the shuttle's toilet, NASA space flight chief Bill Gerstenmaier said.

The Discovery crew, commanded by Mark Kelly, includes lead spacewalker Mike Fossum and five rookies in space: pilot Kenneth Ham, flight engineer Ronald Garan, lead robotic arm operator Karen Nyberg, Japan's Akihiko Hoshide and space station flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff, who will swap places with NASA's Garrett Reisman.

NASA has seven missions planned to complete construction of the $100 billion space station and two resupply flights before the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010. The agency also plans to fly a final servicing call to the Hubble Space Telescope in October.

(Editing by Jim Loney and Todd Eastham)

Billboards That Secretly Film You... WTF

By Stephanie Clifford

In advertising these days, the brass ring goes to those who can measure everything--how many people see a particular advertisement, when they see it, who they are. All of that is easy on the Internet, and getting easier in television and print.

Billboards are a different story. For the most part, they are still a relic of old-world media, and the best guesses about viewership numbers come from foot traffic counts or highway reports, neither of which guarantees that the people passing by were really looking at the billboard, or that they were the ones sought out.

Now, some entrepreneurs have introduced technology to solve that problem. They are equipping billboards with tiny cameras that gather details about passers-by--their gender, approximate age, and how long they looked at the billboard. These details are transmitted to a central database.

Behind the technology are small start-ups that say they are not storing actual images of the passers-by, so privacy should not be a concern. The cameras, they say, use software to determine that a person is standing in front of a billboard, then analyze facial features (like cheekbone height and the distance between the nose and the chin) to judge the person's gender and age. So far the companies are not using race as a parameter, but they say that they can and will soon.

The goal, these companies say, is to tailor a digital display to the person standing in front of it--to show one advertisement to a middle-aged white woman, for example, and a different one to a teenage Asian boy.

"Everything we do is completely aonymous," said Paolo Prandoni, the founder and chief scientific officer of Quividi, a 2-year-old company based in Paris that is gearing up billboards in the United States and abroad. Quividi and its competitors use small digital billboards, which tend to play short videos as advertisements, to reach certain audiences.

Over Memorial Day weekend, a Quividi camera was installed on a billboard on Eighth Avenue near Columbus Circle in Manhattan that was playing a trailer for "The Andromeda Strain," a miniseries on the cable channel A&E.

"I didn't see that at all, to be honest," said Sam Cocks, a 26-year-old lawyer, when the camera was pointed out to him by a reporter. "That's disturbing. I would say it's arguably an invasion of one's privacy."

Organized privacy groups agree, though so far the practice of monitoring billboards is too new and minimal to have drawn much opposition. But the placement of surreptitious cameras in public places has been a flashpoint in London, where cameras are used to look for terrorists, as well as in Lower Manhattan, where there is a similar initiative.

"Everything we do is completely anonymous."
--Paolo Prandoni, chief scientific officer, Quividi

Although surveillance cameras have become commonplace in banks, stores, and office buildings, their presence takes on a different meaning when they are meant to sell products rather than fight crime. So while the billboard technology may solve a problem for advertisers, it may also stumble over issues of public acceptance.

"I guess one would expect that if you go into a closed store, it's very likely you'd be under surveillance, but out here on the street?" Cocks asked. At the least, he said, there should be a sign alerting people to the camera and its purpose.

Quividi's technology has been used in Ikea stores in Europe and McDonald's restaurants in Singapore, but it has just come to the United States. Another Quividi billboard is in a Philadelphia commuter station with an advertisement for the Philadelphia Soul, an indoor football team. Both Quividi-equipped boards were installed by Motomedia, a London-based company that converts retail and street space into advertisements.

"I think a big part of why it's accepted is that people don't know about it," said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group.

"You could make them conspicuous," he said of video cameras. "But nobody really wants to do that because the more people know about it, the more it may freak them out or they may attempt to avoid it."

And the issue gets thornier: the companies that make these systems, like Quividi and TruMedia Technologies, say that with a slight technological addition, they could easily store pictures of people who look at their cameras.

The companies say they do not plan to do this, but Mr. Tien said he thought their intentions were beside the point. The companies are not currently storing video images, but they could if compelled by something like a court order, he said.

For now, "there's nothing you could go back to and look at," said George E. Murphy, the chief executive of TruMedia who was previously a marketing executive at DaimlerChrysler. "All it needs to do is look at the audience, process what it sees, and convert that to digital fields that we upload to our servers."

"I think a big part of why it's accepted is that people don't know about it."
--Lee Tien, senior staff attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation

TruMedia's technology is an offshoot of surveillance work for the Israeli government. The company, whose slogan is "Every Face Counts," is testing the cameras in about 30 locations nationwide. One TruMedia client is Adspace Networks, which runs a network of digital screens in shopping malls and is testing the system at malls in Chesterfield, Mo., Winston-Salem, N.C., and Monroeville, Pa. Adspace's screens show a mix of content, like the top retail deals at the mall that day, and advertisements for DVDs, movies, or consumer products.

Within advertising circles, these camera systems are seen as a welcome answer to the longstanding problem of how to measure the effectiveness of billboards, and how to figure out what audience is seeing them. On television, Nielsen ratings help marketers determine where and when commercials should run, for example. As for signs on highways, marketers tend to use traffic figures from the Transportation Department; for pedestrian billboards, they might hire someone to stand nearby and count people as they walk by.

Internet's effects on measuring audience
The Internet, though, where publishers and media agencies can track people's clicks for advertising purposes, has raised the bar on measurement. Now, it is prodding billboards into the 21st century.

"Digital has really changed the landscape in the sort of accuracy we can get in terms of who's looking at our creative," Guy Slattery, senior vice president for marketing for A&E, said of Internet advertising. With Quividi, Slattery said, he hoped to get similar information from what advertisers refer to as the out-of-home market.

"We're always interested in getting accurate data on the audience we're reaching," he said, "and for out-of-home, this promises to give a level of accuracy we're not used to seeing in this medium."

Industry groups are scrambling to provide their own improved ways of measuring out-of-home advertising. An outdoor advertising association, the Traffic Audit Bureau, and a digital billboard and sign association, the Out-of-Home Video Advertising Association, are both devising more specific measurement standards that they plan to release by the fall.

Even without cameras, digital billboards encounter criticism. In cities like Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, outdoor advertising companies face opposition from groups that call their signs unsightly, distracting to drivers and a waste of energy.

There is a dispute over whether digital billboards play a role in highway accidents, and a national study on the subject is expected to be completed this fall by a unit of the Transportation Research Board. The board is part of a private nonprofit institution, the National Research Council.

Meanwhile, privacy concerns about cameras are growing. In Britain, which has an estimated 4.2 million closed-circuit television cameras--one for every 14 people--the matter has become a hot political issue, with some legislators proposing tight restrictions on the use and distribution of the footage.

Reactions to the A&E billboard in Manhattan were mixed. "I don't want to be in the marketing," said Antwann Thomas, 17, a high school junior, after being told about the camera. "I guess it's kind of creepy. I wouldn't feel safe looking at it."

But other passers-by shrugged. "Someone down the street can watch you looking at it--why not a camera?" asked Nathan Lichon, 25, a Navy officer.

Walter Peters, 39, a truck driver for a dairy, said: "You could be recorded on the street, you could be recorded in a drugstore, whatever. It doesn't matter to me. There's cameras everywhere."

Entire contents, Copyright © 2008 The New York Times. All rights reserved.

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