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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

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It is important to remember that when you post articles about celebrities, it is imperative that you go the extra mile and include a photo.

Santa Monica’s New Solar Powered LED Ferris Wheel

by Alexandra Kain

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The Pacific Ferris Wheel at the Santa Monica Pier in California took her last spin on May 5th before crews dismantled the sun-faded behemoth piece by piece to make way for a shiny new wheel. And shiny it is, boasting 160,000 LED lights that will bring glittering visual performances to Santa Monica’s evening sky. The solar panels used for the old wheel will remain at the pier, providing clean energy for the 90-foot ride and its 800 passengers per hour.

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The old wheel, shown in disassembly, has been auctioned off on eBay for over $130,000 dollars. The lucky recycler is Oklahoma City real-estate developer, Grant Humphreys. In time, Humphreys plans to incorporate the wheel into a mixed use residential community.

The Pacific Wheel, erected in 1996, was the world’s first and only solar powered ferris wheel making cameo appearances in many Hollywood films including A Night at the Roxbury, Titanic, and Thank You for Smoking. Pacific Park has donated half of the winning bid to Special Olympics Southern California. And, for each person who rode the wheel on its last day, $1 was donated to LA’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Animals. Inscribed with the words ‘Pacific Wheel,’ one of the hubs will be preserved at the Santa Monica Historical Society.

The new wheel, manufactured by Chance Morgan Rides, is a $1.5 million dollar investment for the city, debuting just in time for Santa Monica’s Memorial Day weekend festivities and the long California summer ahead. It’s use of LED lights will cut costs and energy consumption for the park, while a solar application generates up to 71,000 kilowatt hours of photovoltaic power.

+ Pacific Park @ Santa Monica Pier

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San Francisco To Build First City Grease-To-Biodiesel Plant

SAN FRANCISCO: San Francisco will build its first pilot facility to convert as much as 2.5 million gallons of the city's restaurant grease into biodiesel. San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) received a US$1 million grant last month for the project from the California Energy Commission (CEC).

The new plant will be sited at SFPUC's Oceanside Sewage Treatment Plant. The new plant will create three treat three grades of biodiesel using brown grease collected from the city's restaurants. The three grades of biodiesel can be used to feed motor vehicles, sewage treatment plants and the city's heating and electrical needs.

The CEC is looking closely at this and similar projects to help cover California's anticipated 1 billion gallon shortfall of biodiesel by 2022. The shortfall is anticipated even with a growing number of yellow grease recycling programs like San Francisco's SFGreasecycle.

The SFGreasecycle program, which was launched last year, collected yellow grease-like fryer oil from restaurants to fuel the city's vehicles, buses and fire trucks. SFGreasecycle will also manage the brown grease pilot plant, which is scheduled for completion this December.

"Sewage treatment plants account for three per cent of the nation's electrical consumption because they run 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said SFPUC General Manager Ed Harrington. "This brown-grease to biodiesel project is a win-win for our ratepayers and the environment. We'll keep more grease out of the sewers and reduce our reliance on outside energy sources for our treatment plants."

The World's Most Impressive Subways

Subways are as much a part of big-city living as high-rises and gridlock, and they get about as much love. For many people, subways are crowded, noisy places only marginally better than being stuck in traffic -- and most of them are.

read more | digg story

Hazel Mae out at NESN- leaves Tappen & Watney as the only eye candy

Hazel Mae will no longer make Red Sox [team stats] fans’ day. NESN announced yesterday that the popular “SportsDesk” anchor will leave the station at the end of the month.

“After four incredible and exciting years at NESN, I’ve decided now was the right time for me to make this difficult decision to leave,” Mae said in a statement.

“It has been both a personal and professional privilege to be a part of NESN and the dedicated ‘SportsDesk’ team. During my time with the network, I’ve had more than a few once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, including the chance to cover two World Series and a Super Bowl.”

The departure of Mae, a fan fave who joined NESN in 2004 and, in addition to “SportsDesk,” hosted the “Ultimate Red Sox Show” and “The Buzz,” is the second high-profile exit from the station in four months. In February, Sox go-to gal Tina Cervasio departed the station after failing to agree on a new contract and, word is, her colleague Mae have had a similar conundrum.

“They don’t want to pay anyone, that’s what this is about,” said one NESN snoop. “And they’re going to have trouble hiring good people because of that.”

Tina’s public reason for leaving the station was that she wanted to be closer to her hubby, who lives in New Jersey. But insiders say she wanted to re-sign at NESN - but not for the lowball pitch they threw at her.

The station replaced her with Heidi Watney, an unseasoned - but very attractive - sportsgal from Fresno, Calif., a market more than a few innings behind Boston in terms of major-league players and fans.

Mae, whose contract runs out next month, reportedly also got a salary offer that wasn’t in her ballpark. And although she did not say whether she has a new gig lined up, Hazel has, in the past, flirted with the gang at ESPN.

“I am grateful to the Red Sox and Bruins [team stats] ownership groups, NESN president, Sean McGrail, and all the players and staff who have supported and challenged me,” Mae’s statement said. “Most importantly, I’d like to thank the amazing and passionate sports fans of New England, who have welcomed me into their homes and given me a chance to do the kind of work I enjoy.”

The NESN vixen became nearly as popular as the players she covered during her four years at the station. The former Toronto sports reporter, who morphed from a dowdy-dressed outsider to a sexy local superstar at NESN, was so admired by Sox fans that a cardboard cutout of her once sold for $400 on eBay.

Hazel was frequently spotted out on the town - often with a sports star on her arm. She dated ex-Celtic Ricky Davis and ESPN “SportsCenter” anchor Steve Levy and was linked to ex-Toronto Blue Jay Kevin Barker. A radio yakker once speculated that she and married Sox skipper Terry Francona were the subject of a blind New York gossip column item - a bad assumption that cost the yakker his job.

Mae fanned the rumor flames, telling Internet sports blogger John Molori that NESN had no rules against dating players and if they did, she wouldn’t work there. The remark reportedly didn’t sit well with her bosses. Ditto for her infamous “thong” comment on WEEI.

But yesterday NESN programming veep Joel Feld described Mae as “a special part of the NESN family.”

“Every day, she brought energy, smarts and a fan sensibility to our ‘SportsDesk’ audience,” he said. “We are sorry to see her leave, but wish her every success in future professional endeavors.”

Legitimizing Marijuana

Published: May 31, 2008

JANE WELLS of CNBC keeps a blog called Funny Business, but her recent reports on California’s medical marijuana industry are about a business that is increasingly being taken seriously. They amount to a short primer on how the business works and how the operators of the state’s estimated 500 dispensaries deal with the high risks and high costs of working in a legal gray area (

Alex Eben Meyer

Medical marijuana is legal in California, but federal law still bans sales. Amid the uncertainty that this creates — including the occasional raid by federal agents — a full-fledged industry has blossomed, taking in about $2 billion a year and generating $100 million in state sales taxes, CNBC reported.

Setting up a clinic “can cost as much as a hundred grand,” Ms. Wells reports. The equipment, the cuttings from which plants are grown and office space all tend to be expensive. And from there, the costs only grow, mostly in the form of legal fees. Many clinics keep lawyers on retainer.

Nonetheless, “this is the business model of the future,” says JoAnna La Force of Farmacy, an herbal remedy shop in Southern California. Ms. LaForce says her business is close to breaking even (

A slew of ancillary businesses has grown up around medical marijuana. Bill Britt, identified on the Web site as a patient, has found a new career as an expert witness in cases brought against dispensaries and patients, earning $250 to $350 a case.

He gained his expert knowledge by attending Oaksterdam University, a trade school in Oakland, Calif. At Oaksterdam (, students learn everything from “The Politics of Cannabis” to botany to business operations.

Getting into the quasi-legitimate marijuana business is a challenge, says Jeff Jones, chancellor of Oaksterdam’s Los Angeles campus. But, he adds, “The investment is well worth it, except for the federal risk.”

A DISTINCTION, OF SORTS As air travel grows increasingly nightmarish even as it gets more expensive, Patrick Smith, writer of Salon’s Ask the Pilot column, has been singing the praises of Southwest Airlines, the (relatively) cut-rate, bare-bones carrier (

Southwest recently took first place in a survey of airline satisfaction conducted by the University of Michigan.

Mr. Smith’s initial explanation was this: “People don’t expect much. Southwest Airlines is nothing if not unpretentious” and has “mastered the art of get-what-you-pay-for satisfaction.”

His readers, though, thought otherwise. Many wrote to say that, though Southwest dispenses with a lot of perks, it offers a basic level of customer service that bigger airlines often do not.

Mr. Smith acknowledged that Southwest’s comparatively small size gave it an advantage in maintaining a consistent level of service. Nevertheless, it is “the last of a nearly vanished breed: an airline with a true personality, that large numbers of fliers have unwavering fondness for.”

BACK ON DRUGS As a test of airport security, a customs officer planted marijuana in the side pocket of a random suitcase at Narita International Airport in Tokyo, the BBC reports (

The test failed when the sniffer dogs were unable to detect the pot. But the officer could not remember which bag he had used.

Using an actual passenger’s suitcase is against regulations, and the airport’s customs service has apologized.

Meanwhile, the marijuana is still out there. “Anyone finding the package has been asked to contact customs officials,” according to the BBC. So far, nobody has spoken up.


Today's Moment of Zen- The Cape Codder

Back in time for manly summers everywhere!

The 6 Most Innovative Brothels From Around the World

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States and Municipalities increasingly look to Bankruptcy as way to get out of costly and overgenerous pensions

NEW YORK (Money Magazine) -- The jig is up. For years, politicians have been playing what amounts to a multi-trillion-dollar shell game with state and local pensions. They've doled out lush retiree benefits to their heavily unionized workforces, knowing that they could shove the cost for those benefits onto future generations of taxpayers.

But a recent financial bombshell dropped by a San Francisco suburb shows why that shell game is now starting to unravel in a nasty way. And it's a cautionary tale that you can't afford to ignore.

Here's the skinny: In late May, Vallejo, Calif., became the largest city in California history to declare bankruptcy. Its financial demise was brought about partly by the real estate crash, which decimated home prices in the area and put a major dent in the city's tax revenues.

But the real nail in Vallejo's coffin was the city's labor costs. Under the current labor agreement, the average police officer walking the beat in Vallejo will be paid $122,000 this year before overtime, according to city documents. An average sergeant will make $151,000; a captain, $231,000. The average firefighter, meanwhile, will bring in $130,000 before overtime.

That's just the salaries, though. The final budget-crusher was the city's pension plan. Thanks to retroactive benefit enhancements approved by the city council in 2000, police officers and firefighters can now retire at age 50 and receive an annual pension equal to 90% of their final pay (assuming 30 years on the job), an amount that gets increased every year to help keep pace with inflation. The old plan had given the workers a pension equal to 60% of their final pay at age 50.

So a Vallejo police sergeant making $150,000 a year can now retire at age 50 and receive an annual pension of $135,000, increased each year for inflation. To put that amount in context, you would need to amass a retirement nest egg equal to about $3.5 million to produce a similar retirement income on your own.

It wasn't just police and firefighters who benefited from the city's largess. The annual pensions for rank-and-file city employees were jacked up from 60% of final pay at age 55 (after a 30-year career) to a whopping 80% of pay, increased each year for inflation.

Other towns in trouble

Here's the scary part: What's going on Vallejo isn't unique.

Back at the turn of this century, when the stock market was still booming, public pension plans across the country were suddenly overflowing with surplus money. Politicians responded by handing out heavily sweetened pensions.

Then, even though the stock market collapsed, politicians couldn't stop the trend. In 2001 alone, pension benefits were increased in at least 17 state plans, as well as some major cities.

For a while, inflated housing prices came to the rescue, handing many municipalities a windfall in increased property tax revenues.

Now that bubble has collapsed and the stock market is floundering. State pension plans alone are about $360 billion short of the assets they should ideally hold for future retirees, according to a recent report by the Pew Center on the States. And that's not including city plans.

Cities and states that enriched their benefits in the past few years are especially at risk. That's because no matter how badly a pension plan's investments perform, the enhanced pension benefits promised to state and local employees back in the boom times can't be taken away, or even modified - they are locked in by constitutional and legal guarantees.

There is, however, one potential option for cutting back on public pension benefits: bankruptcy. And that's what it has now come to in Vallejo. Elected officials in other struggling areas will surely be watching.

Of course, nobody wins in a bankruptcy. Vallejo must now slash services and lay off workers to make ends meet - a sad outcome for both the city workers and residents. Bankruptcy will also wreak havoc on the city's credit rating, making it much more expensive to borrow money for building roads and schools and maintaining the city's infrastructure.

So what's the lesson here? I'm certainly not suggesting that state and local workers be deprived of the pensions they were promised when they started their careers. That was part of the deal they signed up for and it should be honored. The police and firefighters of Vallejo, for example, were told they'd get a pension equal to 60% of their pay at age 50, and so they should.

But the practice of retroactively boosting public sector pensions without any serious debate or approval by taxpayers has got to stop. As the Vallejo debacle illustrates, the stakes are simply too high.

Historically, the justification for these types of pension enhancements has been that public sector workers are forgoing the salaries they would have otherwise received in the private sector, in exchange for better retirement benefits.

But that no longer seems to hold true. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the hourly salary (before benefits) of public-sector professionals (including teachers and lawyers) was $31.51 in December 2007, virtually identical to the $31.75 for private-sector professionals. Public-sector service employees (including many blue-collar jobs) averaged $16.72 an hour in salary, compared to $9.87 for private-sector employees.

This is an election year. As such, many states and municipalities are under heavy pressure to sweeten the pension plans for their workers - Massachusetts, South Carolina and Pennsylvania are but three high-profile examples. And ironically, just a few hours south of Vallejo, the city of Rialto, Calif., recently approved a similar retroactive pension increase that will give police officers a pension equal to 90% of their salaries at age 50.

The bottom line: If similar changes are being considered in your city or state, the Vallejo disaster tells you that it's well worth your while to get the facts.

Maybe you'll discover that your local pension fund is flush with money and that elected officials in your area have out laid out a sound, fiscally responsible plan for funding any pension improvements. But I wouldn't bank on it.

GM wakes up- 4 plants to close and may kill the Hummer brand

NEW YORK ( -- General Motors announced plans Tuesday to shut four truck and SUV plants that employ thousands of workers, saying high gas prices are here to stay - and, with them, consumers' growing preference for more fuel efficient vehicles.

At a news conference in Wilmington, Del., GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner announced plans to roll out more fuel-efficient vehicles, including approval to start the production process on a vehicle that can run gas-free for trips up to 40 miles.

But the plant closing plans - and Wagoner's forecasts for oil and gas prices going forward - are a stunning admission from the nation's largest automaker that its long dependence on large SUVs and pickups for profit and sales is no longer a viable strategy for a company struggling to end losses from its North American operations.

The plants to be closed include two U.S. facilities - the Moraine, Ohio plant that builds midsize SUVs, such as the Chevrolet Trailblazer and GMC Envoy and the Janesville, Wis., assembly line that builds large SUVs such as the Chevy Tahoe and Suburban and GMC Yukon. In addition, it plans to close a pickup plant in Oshawa, Canada, and a truck plant in Toluca, Mexico.

The Mexican plant that builds medium-duty trucks sold to businesses rather than consumers will close later this year. The other plants will close in 2009 and 2010, with sooner closings possible if sales do not improve. Each U.S. plant has about 2,500 employees.

The company said it believes that high oil and gasoline prices will be the norm going forward, and that prices are likely to go higher due to strong global demand for oil.

"These higher gasoline prices are changing consumer behavior and rapidly," said Wagoner. "We don't think this is a temporary spike or shift. We think it is permanent."

Wagoner also said GM is looking at possibly selling its Hummer unit as part of a strategic review of the SUV brand based on military vehicles. The Hummer H3 mid-size SUV gets about 13 to 14 miles per gallon in city driving in the most recent EPA ratings. The H1 and H2 are larger vehicles on which EPA does not give mileage estimates.

The brand has become the symbol to many members of the public of a gas-guzzling large U.S. vehicle.

He also announced that GM has approved production of the Chevrolet Volt, a so-called plug-in hybrid vehicle that can run about 40 miles without any use of gasoline. The Volt will be built in GM's Hamtramck, Mich., plant and is due in showrooms by the end of 2010.

"We believe it's the biggest step yet in our industry's move away from its historic, nearly complete reliance upon petroleum to power vehicles," he said. "We believe the Volt is an important investment for the future of our company and our shareholders."

Ahead of the rollout of that new model, GM plans to increase production of some more fuel-efficient car models. It's adding a third shift at its Orion, Mich., plant to build more of the Chevy Malibu and Pontiac G6 models, as well as a third shift at a Lordstown, Ohio, plant that builds the compact Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 models.

It also plans a more fuel efficient gasoline engine for its small car models that will get about 9 miles per gallon more than current GM engines in the segment.

The plans were announced ahead of GM's (GM, Fortune 500) annual meeting Tuesday in Wilmington. They followed similar plans unveiled last month by rival Ford Motor (F, Fortune 500), although Ford did not give details of plant closing plans.

About 19,000 U.S. hourly employees had already agreed to take buyout and retirement bonuses to leave the company in recent months, but it had originally planned to replace most of those workers with lower-wage new hires who were not due the same expensive benefit package

Rachel Ray Before She Was Famous

Never before heard, early Rachel Ray audio before she was famous. Satire. Sex

ASUS Eee Box: $269, mid-July, with Linux/WinXP

Final ASUS Eee Box specs revealed

Full details of ASUS' Eee Box have been made available a day ahead of the official release, says HotHardware. Known as the B202, the inaugural model will have the already-confirmed 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor but will have several choices for memory, storage, and the operating system. Versions will have as little as 512MB of memory and an 80GB hard drive, but scale up to 2GB of memory and 250GB of storage; different models will have the option of Linux or Windows XP, while some will also have Bluetooth onboard for wireless peripherals and cellphones.

Every version has 802.11n Wi-Fi, gigabit Ethernet, and a multi-format card reader.

US configurations also been unveiled and reveal the system to be one of ASUS' least expensive systems and will undercut the Eee PC notebook in most cases. A base system at $269 will sport 1GB of memory, an 80GB hard drive, and Linux; adding Windows without changing specifications boosts the price to $299, while a higher-end Linux version keeps the $299 price but doubles RAM to 2GB and the permanent storage to 160GB. A North American release is expected by mid-July.

(image via HotHardware)

Tuesday Tunes with the Pig Roaster

I've got a big one for you today celebrating the recently (yesterday) departed Bo Diddley. I had the good fortune of seeing him once headlining, of all places, a small blues festival in Framingham Massachusetts back when I went to college there. My memory of the day as a whole is quite hazy for a variety of reasons, but I do remember the magic the man brought to the stage. A lot of his songs followed what is known as the "Bo Diddley Beat" but he made them all come alive. All around me, soccer moms and biker dudes alike were swaying, clapping, and cheering along.

So, in honor of Mr. Diddley, I offer a super-sized Tuesday Tunes installment starting with some classic Bo Diddley footage and then topping it off with a selection of other tunes that utilize the "Bo Diddley Beat. Enjoy.

Hey Bo Diddley:

I'm not even sure what song this is, but good god it's awesome:

Mona (with Tom Petty):

And now, on to the selection of non-Bo Diddley performed "Bo Diddley Beat" songs:

George Thorogood - Who Do You Love (this one was actually written by Diddley)

The Allman Brothers - No One to Run With (sorry, no actual video for this one could be found - it does provide a half-way decent rundown of the current band members, however.)

U2 - Desire

The White Stripes - Screwdriver (it's not as obvious, but it's there)

The Who - Magic Bus

There are a ton more, but this should give you a good feel of Bo Diddley's influence in the Rock and Roll Universe.

Rest in Peace Music Man!