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Friday, July 11, 2008

Ausra Goes Viva Las Vegas with Solar Thermal Power Factory

Written by Jaymi Heimbuch

Ausra, a developer of utility-scale solar thermal power, has opened their solar thermal power parts factory in brightly lit Sin City. It is the first of its kind in the US and the highest capacity plant in the world. As if you needed another great reason to visit Las Vegas, right? The factory will produce reflectors, absorber tubes and other components of the company’s solar thermal power plants, and will produce upwards of 700 MW of solar electricity generation equipment each year.

The excitement bubbling around this fairly boring announcement is that the opening of the factory brings us that much closer to large-scale solar thermal electricity generation. The factory triples worldwide manufacturing capacity and will help speed up the industry on the whole. Last year Ausra paired up with California’s PG&E on a power purchase agreement for a 177 MW solar thermal power plant in central California, and this new Nevada-based factory will make the equipment needed for this project and many others.

While the factory employs only 50 workers, according to Ausra’s output rate, they figure they’re creating about 1,400 green collar construction jobs for building solar plants – a much needed job boost in a much needed industry.

Knowing that we’re moving past prototypes into large-scale development of solar thermal electricity generation systems gives me confidence that we’re finally gathering speed in the right direction. Now if the BLM will just get their act together

Via Ausra

iTunes activation servers go down, told to activate at home!

iTunes activation servers go down, iPhone 3G customers being sent home unactivated, first-gen iPhone customers stuck with dead iPhones

In a repeat of last year's problems, it looks like the insane demand for the iPhone 3G has taken its toll on Apple's iTunes activation servers -- that's a picture of iTunes locking up in the Chicago AT&T flagship earlier this morning. We're hearing that the servers are now definitely down after being intermittently active for the past few hours, and that customers are either being turned away or sent home from both Apple and AT&T stores to activate at home using iTunes. That's especially interesting since it suggests that AT&T was insisting on in-store activation to thwart unlockers, but for right now the real news is that lots of eager iPhone 3G buyers are stuck with two useless phones, since upgrading from a first-gen unit disables the SIM. Ouch. We'll keep you updated.

Update: Apple has confirmed to us that activation is down, and that customers are being asked to take the phone home and activate via iTunes later. We're not sure what good that'll do, since the servers are down no matter where you are, but Apple says it's "working on a solution." In the meantime, it looks like the new SIM works in first-gen units, so at least upgraders aren't totally phone-deprived. Oh, and remember that updating a first-gen iPhone to 2.0 requires hitting the server as well, so if you haven't taken the plunge we'd say hold off until this all gets sorted.

Update 2: In related news, those updating their first-gen iPhone to 2.0 are also getting caught in the activation shuffle, leaving some with bricked iPhones. In our test case, the activation servers came back up after about 45 minutes just long enough to get 2.0 running on our first-gen iPhone, but not all have been so lucky. Is your first-gen iPhone stuck in activation limbo from the update? Let us know.

Cocaine found in seized car used by undercover officers

09:40 PM CDT on Wednesday, July 9, 2008
By TANYA EISERER / The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS - A two-door black 2004 Infiniti driven by police after being seized at a drug house came fully equipped with air-conditioning, sporty chrome rims – and nearly 50 pounds of cocaine hidden in secret compartments.

Undercover Dallas officers who drove the car for two months were surprised to learn that the car had a few secrets of its own.

An officer cleaning the car discovered the $400,000 worth of cocaine carefully hidden in hydraulically controlled compartments Wednesday morning at the northeast patrol station.

"These compartments have recently been more and more popular with drug operations," said Deputy Chief Julian Bernal, commander of the narcotics division.

"The difficulty with this is that because of the use of hydraulics, you normally don't have any indication that the car has been altered in any way. They use multiple switches and relays, and you have to know the sequence in order to make the panel open."

The car was seized in mid-March, when police officers responded to a report of gunshots and masked individuals beating a man behind a house in the 3900 block of Antigua Drive in northwest Dallas.

When police arrived at the address, they found blood on a 1999 Honda and a trail of blood leading into the home, Chief Bernal said.

No one was inside, but police found $34,000 cash, dope scales and a small amount of cocaine in the house. Police also seized the Honda and the Infiniti.

"The narcotics division did search both of the vehicles," Chief Bernal said. Nothing was found.

The Honda was sold at auction. Chief Bernal said police plan to contact the person who bought it to find out if drugs were hidden in the Honda, too.

On May 7, the Infiniti was put into police service, Chief Bernal said.

Now, police are trying to find out who owned the cocaine.

New Radiohead Video is Shot with Lasers, Not Cameras

Radiohead, never ones to shy away from trying new things, has shot its new video for "House of Cards" without using cameras at all. Whaa? Yes, they've used two fancy new technologies called Geometric Informatics and Velodyne Lidar. To shoot it using lasers and stuff. Let's break it down here.

The Geometric Informatics scanning system employs structured light to capture detailed 3D images at close proximity, and was used to render the performances of Radiohead's Thom Yorke, the female lead, and several partygoers. The Velodyne Lidar system uses multiple lasers to capture large environments in 3D, in this case 64 lasers rotating and shooting in a 360 degree radius 900 times per minute, capturing all of the exterior scenes and wide party shots.

Well, that's pretty neat. As you can see from the screenshots, it's pretty old-school-computers looking. Unfortunately, the video was supposed to drop today but was delayed for some reason, so all we have are the screens. I'll post the video as soon as it comes out. [Pitchfork]

Rding Shotgun!!

click picture to enlarge

Atlantic City Plans Giant Solar Roof Project

July 07, 2008 The Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, N.J., has announced plans to install a series of solar panels with which to fuel its facility. When they're installed, the panels will cover approximately two-thirds of the convention center's main roof, which the convention center says will be the largest solar roof in the United States. "We have a great building to do this on, and we wanted to be the first kid on the block to get it on," Jeffrey Vasser, executive director of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, told Newark N.J.'s The Star-Ledger. "This helps a young industry grow into a mature one, helps reduce our dependence on oil and produces electricity that does not increase carbon emissions into the air." The Atlantic City Convention Center has hired Pepco Energy Services, an Arlington, Va.-based energy company, to build its solar roof. As part of a 20-year agreement, Pepco will install and manage the solar panels; the convention center will then buy from Pepco the electricity that they generate. Over the course of the 20-year contract, the convention center will save approximately $4.4 million in electricity costs. When it's complete, the Atlantic City Convention Center's solar roof will cover 290,000 square feet and generate approximately 2.36 megawatts of energy—enough to power 280 homes—every day. Work on the roof will begin this summer and will be finished by year's end.

Free 7.11 oz Slurpee on July 11th at 7-11 - TODAY!!!


A friendly reminder for all those who love slurpees: 7-11 is giving away free 7.11 oz. slurpees on July 11th (7/11). Just head over to any 7-11 and you’ll prodigiously find your favorite frozen drink being handed out for free!

8 finger tapping technique to play the Mario

Top 10 Rooftop Bars in the World [w/PICS]

If you are visiting a new city there is nothing like finding the hottest of the hot spots - especially if it has an amazing scenic over look of your latest locale.

read more | digg story

P.S. Boston has a few rooftop bars as well: Ristorante Fiore and Rattlesnake bar & grill

iPhone OS 2.0 Unlocked

The new iPhone OS 2.0 software has been unlocked and jailbroken. It was released just hours ago and it has already been cracked by the iPhone Dev Team. The first one took a couple of months, but this one was actually unlocked before Apple released it to the public. And you have had the proof in front of you all morning.

If you were wondering how I was doing push email tests on iPhone OS 2.0 and Vodafone UK, this is the reason why. The code wizard commandos at the iPhone Dev Team have been working on this non-stop since the early days of beta testing. In fact, I had iPhone OS 2.0 running on my iPhone since last week. That was version 5A345, two below 5A347, but identical in functionality.

Now that the official iPhone OS 2.0 is out, the iPhone Dev Team will release their Pwnage tool for everyone to unlock and jailbreak their iPhones soon, although the specific date/time is not firm yet. It may not be as interesting as before—since most countries now have the iPhone and it will be impossible to buy without doing a contract first—but people looking to install unsigned applications and buy pay-as-you-go cards while traveling—instead of roaming—will find it very useful.

And besides, we don't get tired of seeing the Death Star exploding again and again.

iPhone's MobileMe Push Mail Hands-On Shows Why BlackBerry Is Dead

As you can see in the video, MobileMe push mail is now active, fully operative, and perfectly armed. My iPhone is now getting all email in real time, both over a Wi-Fi connection and using a cellphone network. I even use EDGE—not 3G—and a non-official carrier on roaming. So far, not a single problem. Bad news, RIM: BlackBerry is dead, dead, dead. Dead.

Until now, the only thing that separated the BlackBerry from the iPhone—apart from the iPhone's better, faster and more powerful operating system—was the push email on the BlackBerry. (Well, and the physical keyboard that some people say they could never part with.) I was a CrackBerry addict myself before getting the iPhone, and the only thing I missed (sometimes not really, because it can get very annoying) was the push email.

With iPhone OS 2.0 and MobileMe (or the enterprise connectivity options) the push email difference is completely gone.

The push mail works flawlessly. Even over international connections: to do the cellphone network test I used a Vodafone Spain SIM card running on the Vodafone UK network here in London. Not a single glitch—the thing just worked almost instantly. Knowing that Apple is using Sun Java Messaging Servers, probably paired with Synchronica or Consilient's over-the-air synchronization modules, I'm not surprised. It feels like they have put together a rock-solid operation.

If you couple that with the fact that both consumers and enterprise iPhone users are going to be able to push sync everything, including calendars, address book and web bookmarks, you can see why Research In Motion is going to have a very tough time defending against the Apple juggernaut on software features. The combination of multimedia, consumer and enterprise features on the iPhone, coupled with the flawless Application Store and its user interface, makes any BlackBerry look like a useless brick.

Tiger Woods to be first billionaire athlete

Belinda Goldsmith, Reuters Published: Thursday, July 10, 2008

Doug Pensinger / Getty Images

CANBERRA -- Tiger Woods is on course to become the first billionaire athlete with the popular U.S. golfer proving a marketing dream, according to Forbes Magazine.

Woods, who won the U.S. Open last month despite a bad knee, is on track to exceed $1 billion in career earnings by 2010 after earning $115 million in 2007, said the American magazine which publishes an annual list of the world's richest people.

Forbes in Wednesday's edition said it would take 32-year-old Woods a bit longer to actually pocket that amount as taxes and management fees eat into his prize and endorsement money.

The calculation was based on Woods' estimated earnings in the annual rich list dating back to 1996, when he turned pro, and also credited the world number one golfer with annualized investment returns of 8%.

"Based on those criteria, we project Tiger Woods should join our list of the world's billionaires in 2011," said the magazine. "It will be an unprecedented occurrence."

The magazine said there are plenty of billionaires who have excelled at sports, like Switzerland's richest man and champion sailor Ernesto Bertarelli, but no billionaires who have accumulated their fortune by playing sports.

Woods has been a sports marketing phenomenon.

A golf prodigy as a child, his recent U.S. Open victory was his 14th major championship and he has won 50 tournaments on the PGA Tour faster than any player.

But prize money only accounts for about a tenth of his earnings with the rest coming from lucrative endorsement deals signed by the exceptionally popular player with companies that include Nike, Buick and Gillette.

Sports drink maker Gatorade recently launched a new line of drinks called Gatorade Tiger.

The magazine said Woods would earn about $90 million in endorsement contracts this year. Over the course of his career, he has earned more than $750 million from such deals.

Woods is not playing again this season after undergoing knee surgery a few weeks ago.

© Thomson Reuters 2008

10 of the Greenest Colleges in America

When it comes to protecting the planet, many schools have given it more than a college try. In fact, America's institutions of higher learning are some of the best incubators of sustainable solutions to myriad problems, and they are molding and inspiring the bright minds that will inherit the environment from the current generation of leaders.

read more | digg story

What's Good (and Free!) in the iTunes App Store

More than 550 new applications arrived for the iPhone and iPod touch this morning in iTunes' brand new App Store and more than 130 of them are available for free. This morning we're taking a look at the best free applications for your iPhone and iPod Touch, available after the 2.0 software update arrives.

read more | digg story

Complete Visual Preview of Top 10 Free iPhone Applications

Apple's highly anticipated iPhone App Store launched earlier this morning, spawning a user-generated list of the most popular applications available at no cost. This article previews the top 10 with links, descriptions, and screenshots.

read more | digg story

Apple and AT&T Stores Having Difficulty Activating iPhones (UPDATE: It's the iPocalypse)

We've heard four many accounts now from varying Apple store and AT&T locations that employees are having problems while trying to activate phones through iTunes. From Atlanta, one camper reports:

A "teal shirt" Apple representative came out to let us know they are having difficulty accessing accounts on the iTunes system. The line has been amazingly slow, but at least we are inside! In the last maybe 30 minutes only 5 people got into the store. Time to get comfy.

UPDATE: Here's the official word from AT&T:

We have had reports that customers attempting to download new iTunes 7.7 software to their new iPhone may get an error message saying "page not found." We have reported this issue to Apple. While Apple works to resolve this issue, we are asking customers to sync their newly activated phone later at home.

This does not look good. Apparently people at home can't even upgrade to firmware 2.0 and the problem is afflicting iTunes on an international scale. Here are a running tally of notifications we've received from the US:

"I was in the first group of 30 to get an iPhone 3G at the biggest AT&T Experience store in Houston, Texas. The staff couldn't get anyone's phones to activate, so they let us take them home.....where I still can't get it to activate - iTunes keeps timing out for activation, but not the iTunes store or anything else."

"Not sure if you have heard this, but I'm in an AT&T store in NJ and they can't activate the phones because iTunes is so slow. I've been waiting for 30 mins with the new iPhone attached to iTunes in the store and there is no end in sight... Have you heard about others having problems activating the phones? Sounded like other stores are having the same problem..."

"I bought an iPhone 3G and the AT&T activation isn't working. They are using iTunes to do it and there are network problems. Went home, and iTunes still won't activate. Seems to be an iTunes network issue."

"Apparently Apple completely underestimated the load on their servers for activation and ALL COMPUTERS in the Boston Apple store are stuck in the iPhone activation screen. No iTunes are able to connect to the central server, so no iPhones can be activated. "

Even the iTunes link on Apple is gone.

"I was at the AT&T store in Dublin, OH, this morning, 7th in line. They were letting people in four at a time and it took them about 30-40 minutes to get the first person done because of the servers crashing. I eventually got in and got my new iPhone, but not until almost 9:00."

"Jordan Creek in west Des Moines is down as is the Apple store. A teal shirt said that they're contemplating going with the old activate at home method. Told everyone in the line to get comfy. No one entered either store for 30 minutes"

"Atlanta update: nothing. People who went inside an hour ago are either still in there or escaped through a trap door. Three words about why waiting this year is better than last year— 'super monkey ball'"

"Apple store in Skokie<>

"iPhone 3G San Antonio: I waited about 15 minutes for activation, and nobody else's was working either so I just took my phone and left. They kept telling me that wasn't allowed, but I had already paid for the phone so there was nothing they could do to stop me."

From our own Benny Goldman in NY: "We spoke with several people who walked out of the store without a working iPhone, as the iTunes/iPhone server appears to be overloaded since around 9:45. Two people said they waited for 15 minutes without any luck, and another two were advised to try activation tomorrow. In my own experience, I left the store without activating because I thought I would do it on my laptop, but I wasn't able to. I went back inside the Apple store and didn't fare any better. We were just told by an Apple employee that they are slowing down the number of people they are letting into the store and working on the servers in order to fix the problem."

"I work for a Rogers dealer up in Canada and I just read this post and wanted to say that we’re having the same problem up here as well. Yay."

So How Did This Happen:
The source of the iTunes crash/slowdown seems not be those buying iPhone 3Gs from Apple/AT&T stores at all but the millions of people updating to the new firmware at home. Firmware 2.0 isn't like other firmwares in that it needs to update the phone and reauthenticate the service. And in turn, when the servers are slammed and the phone reaches for reauthentication, the server isn't always there to reactivate the service. This is how some of those newly bricked iPhones are occurring, and a source tells us that even first gen iPhones are susceptible.

Also, a special thanks to commenter brianhatch for the headline.

Apple's App Store launches with more than 500 apps

By AppleInsider Staff

Published: 08:30 AM EST

Apple said Thursday that more than 500 native applications are now available on the iPhone's App Store for use with the new iPhone 3G that goes on sale tomorrow.

Over 500 apps, many free

Over 125 of those applications -- or more than 25 percent -- are being offered for free. According to Apple chief executive Steve Jobs, 90 percent of the remaining applications will cost just $9.99 or less.

"This is the biggest launch of my career," he said.

Browse all apps, or by section

Users who've downloaded the just-release iTunes 7.7 software can already browse the App Store via the jukebox software. The store offers sections that list: All iPhone Applications, All iPod touch Applications, All Free Applications, Most Popular Applications, and Most Popular Free Applications.

Browse by category

Users can also browse the store by category listings: Business, Education, Entertainment, Finance, Games, Healthcare & Fitness, Lifestyle, Music, Navigation, News, Photography, Productivity, Reference, Social Networking, Sports, Travel, Utilities, and Weather.

Apple said many of the new applications take advantage of iPhone's large display, Multi-Touch user interface, fast hardware-accelerated 3D graphics, built-in accelerometer and location-based technology.

Top free apps

Unsurprisingly, the top free application at the moment is Apple's own new iTunes Remote, with which you can "control the music on your computer or Apple TV from your iPod touch or iPhone. Play, pause, skip, shuffle. See your songs, playlists, and album art on your iPod touch or iPhone as if you were right in front of your computer. Remote works with your Wi-Fi network, so you can control playback from anywhere in and around your home."

App Store

Other notable free applications include AOL's Instant Messaging application, Google's Mobile Searching application, Six Apart's TypePad blogging application, and a New York Times news application.

Top pay apps

The five most popular pay applications include Sega's Super Monkey Ball, Pangea's Cro-Mag Rally, Pangea's Enigmo, Freeze Tag's Etch A Sketch, and Apple's own Texas Hold'em.

Apple has also posted an App Store Frequently Asked Questions list.

The Legend Of the Crystal No-Brainer

A Smithsonian Channel documentary on the fake antiquities premieres tonight.

A Smithsonian Channel documentary on the fake antiquities premieres tonight. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

Smithsonian Proudly Displays Its Hoax Skull

By Laura Yao
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 10, 2008; C01

It arrived at the Smithsonian 16 years ago, a heavy package with no return address.

Inside: an unsigned letter and a large hollow skull made of milky crystal.

The package was addressed to the "MezoAmerican Museum" -- which isn't real. And the letter said the crystal skull was made by the Aztecs -- which isn't true.

Smithsonian anthropologist Jane MacLaren Walsh has researched the skull since 1992. It's a hoax now deemed important enough that it inspired a news conference yesterday at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History.

Why now? Walsh doesn't mention the publicity opportunity that is "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," a $306 million (so far) summer movie. "We've been doing a lot of research on it," she avers.

The museum's crystal skull exhibit -- essentially, the skull in a box -- opens today and continues through Sept. 1. The Smithsonian Channel also premieres the documentary "Legend of the Crystal Skulls" tonight. Yesterday morning, several members of the media were lured to a preview that promised to shed "new light" on the myths surrounding the crystal skull. When it was wheeled out on a cart, journalists crowded around in hushed tones; the clicking of camera shutters was the only noise in the room.

"Legend of the Crystal Skulls" recounts how the objects captured popular imagination, spawning countless tales -- namely, there are 13 such skulls that, once reunited, will divulge all knowledge and wisdom about humanity! And crystal skulls prove the existence of Atlantis, the lost city! And they crash computer hard drives!

The documentary also details how the Smithsonian's crystal skull was found to be fake, along with all of the other supposed pre-Columbian crystal skulls around the world (scientists of yore say: Oops.) One is on display in Paris, at the Musee du Quai Branly; another is at the British Museum in London. The British and the French artifacts came from the collection of antiquities dealer Eugène Boban in the late 1800s. Of them all, the Smithsonian's skull is easily the biggest, at about 30 pounds and 10 inches high.

"It's definitely from the '60s," Walsh jokes. "It's so big and bold."

Walsh and British Museum scientist Margaret Sax examined the two skulls from their respective museums under scanning electron microscopes. They saw smooth marks on the surface of the crystal, which could have been made only by modern cutting tools. Their finding was a "definitive debunking of one of the most outrageous archaeological hoaxes of the century," said David Royle, executive vice president for programming and production of Smithsonian Networks.

The most-storied crystal skull, and the one referenced in the Indiana Jones movie, is the Mitchell-Hedges skull, which is in private hands. F.A. Mitchell-Hedges -- a sort of real-life Indiana Jones, except English and a master of tall tales -- and his adopted daughter Anna said they found the skull in the ancient Mayan city Lubaantun.

The skull is known alternately as the Skull of Doom and the Skull of Love, and was said by Mitchell-Hedges to be more than 3,600 years old and the embodiment of evil.

Anna, who died last year, said she basically climbed into a hole in the ground and found it sitting among some rocks. ("I saw something shiny," she reportedly said. Simple as that.) Actually, Walsh said, the elder Mitchell-Hedges bought the skull at a Sotheby's auction in 1943 from Sidney Burney, an art dealer. No one knows where Burney got it from -- but in any case, it's probably not Mayan.

Believers in the crystal skull do not lack for conviction, however. The Mitchell-Hedges official Web site ( proffers rebuttals to all the scientific points made in "Legend of the Crystal Skulls," stopping short of calling the documentary a work of fiction. Some believers have even concluded from the "evidence" that the skulls were made by neither modern artists nor ancient Aztecs but extraterrestrials with tools beyond the ken of humankind.

There are many questions that remain unanswered. Where did Burney get his crystal skull? Who made the Smithsonian's crystal skull? This Eugène Boban, what was his deal?

The true legend of the crystal skull, perhaps, is its ability to inspire legends. It's all very meta. This is not the Smithsonian's modus operandi -- don't the experts study actual artifacts? -- but the museum has taken some PR hits lately. Padded expense accounts and suchlike.

But it makes for a fascinating narrative: a story of New Age hype, of a convergence of science and myth, and of the time and resources dedicated to researching what is essentially a piece of '60s kitsch. As the skull was wheeled away after the news conference preview yesterday, it was not glowing, not magnetizing everything in sight, not doing anything at all. Proving, once again, that life is always more exciting in the movies.

A Guy's Guide to Buying Cigars

Posted 7/7/2008 5:57:00 PM by Tony Ricciardi

Unless you're a die-hard smoker with a titanium guillotine cutter in your pocket, most of us view cigars as something you enjoy every now and then or on a special occasion. There are also those instances when you're with a group of guys who are all taking part and you don't want to feel like the princess in the room.

As summer approaches, there's nothing better than spending some quality time outdoors, lighting up an obnoxiously large cigar, and watching the stink eye you get from every stroller-pushing powermom who happens to walk through your mushroom cloud of smoke.


Tony Ricciardi is the owner of The Montecristo Room, a popular cigar shop and lounge located in Westchester, New York. Visit the site at for more info.
When buying a cigar, the three main things you are going to consider are origin, size, and strength. Yes, some fancier people would include flavor as another consideration here, but as a relative expert I can assure you that any cigar you choose will taste primarily like [SPOILER ALERT] tobacco.

Where a cigar is made has a lot to do with how it will taste and what characteristics you will notice while smoking it. Currently there are many places in the world making top-notch smokes. I'll stick with the most common and most widely available in the United States:

  • Dominican Republic
  • Honduras
  • Nicaragua
  • Brazil
  • Mexico
  • Jamaica
  • USA

    Each of these regions produces what are considered world-class cigars. What makes a cigar from Honduras different than a cigar from Brazil is essentially the soil, and how the tobacco is grown before it is harvested. It's why Florida oranges taste so much better than others. The climate in these countries is perfect for the growing and cultivating of tobacco. It also doesn't hurt to have generations of expert rollers who know what to do with the stuff once it's been harvested.

    Despite what your wife tells you, size does matter… At least when it comes to cigars. The size of a cigar can determine how much tobacco was used to create it, what kinds of flavors it will give off, and how long it will take you to smoke it. Generally, there are 10 major cigar sizes you will see. The list below is arranged from largest to smallest.

    Double Corona7½–847–52
    Petit Corona540–44

    Choose your size most appropriate to the situation in which you'll be enjoying it, but UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES are you to ever smoke a Petit Corona or Panatela. It's just not manly.

    Almost no cigar will be labeled with any information relating to its strength, so you'll have to rely on the salesperson to help you in that department. But generally the rules is that a darker-colored cigar is going to be more potent than a lighter-colored one.

    Now that you have a little better understanding of what you're getting into, here's a list of some cigars that you might want to check out next time you're in your local shop.


    Oliva Series G

    These cigars are from Nicaragua, and are medium strength and very smooth. The Robusto, which is my favorite size of this cigar, can be found for around $5.


    CAO Brazilia

    These beauties are made by cigar giant CAO. They use the finest Brazilian tobacco to produce what I think is a delicious and reasonably priced smoke. I love the Samba size of the cigar, which is a Torpedo. This full-bodied smoke runs about $7.


    Rocky Patel Vintage 1992

    These smokes from Rocky are actually a blend from Nicaragua, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. They are medium strength and very tasty. I prefer the Toro size, which will set you back about $9.50

    blogCigars_padron1964_article.jpgPadron 1964
    This is what I smoke when I want to remind myself why I smoke cigars in the first place. These cigars are constructed impeccably from the richest and most carefully aged Nicaraguan tobaccos. They are medium strength and have a beautiful box-press shape to them, which makes them square around instead of circular. They are a little harder to find, and a lot more expensive. The Torpedo will run you in the $16 neighborhood.

    blogCigars_ArturoFuenteOpusX_article.jpgArturo Fuente OpusX
    The Fuente OpusX is one of the rarest cigars in the world. It consistently receives the highest ratings from industry publications, and continues to be the pinnacle of fine cigars. This cigar is almost impossible to find, and is widely considered the "best of the best." It is full-bodied, and the aromas in each size are distinctly different. But the one thing each has in common is the near-perfect taste and quality. Definitely a special-occasion smoke. If you can find it, a Robusto will run you $35 to $40.

    A word on Cubans…
    Cuban cigars are a mystery to those who are not students of the leaf. Cuba is one of those magical combinations of having incredibly great climate, rich soil, and expert rollers. There's just that little embargo thing standing in the way. It's not to say that Cubans are not available to you. There are various means of procuring a Fidel special; but since they are all illegal, I'll refrain from detailing them here. Bottom line is that Cubans, while good, are also slightly romanticized due to the difficulty in obtaining them. The proliferation of fake Cuban cigars is also a huge problem, and one that you should think carefully about the next time you get offered a "great deal" on a box of Cohibas by a guy walking up the beach. Just say no.
  • The Recession Special

    New Yorkers will recognize "Recession Special" as the name given to the delicious and enticing deal (two hot dogs and a drink for $3.50) offered at Gray's Papaya. But that come-on might work just as well for the Hyundai Genesis. We theorized in our head-to-head match-up between the Hyundai Genesis V-8 and the Mercedes-Benz E550 that your local Hyundai dealer won't be taking many Benzes in on trade any time soon, but that was last week. Since then we've lost all hope for our economy, and hell, anything could happen.


    If you're buying a Genesis because it's such a screaming deal, you're better off ignoring the top model, which Hyundai officially calls the Genesis 4.6. That car is a Recession Special plus an extra hot dog — and who really needs three wieners? The V-6 model is just right for driving in moderation and won't make you hurt every time you get out to refuel, as it achieves an impressive 27 mpg on the highway. Power comes from a 290-hp, 3.8-liter with variable valve timing and a block and heads cast in aluminum. While lacking the V-8's peak performance, the six revs more freely and its powerband feels wider. Plus, the car weighs 258 pounds less than the Genesis 4.6, and that translates to more nimbleness when the roads start looking like a squiggle of mustard on a red hot.


    But therein lies the base Genesis's one notable flaw. For cost-saving reasons, it loses the electric motor that helps squeeze some firmness into the V-8's steering. The result is a hydraulic system that feels as vague and overboosted as the lower-priced Sonata's, making the car harder to place at the times you most need to. Current Hyundai owners will be right at home, but buyers coming over from sportier rivals will have to say goodbye to steering feel.

    gen3_center.jpg The six also doesn't come with all the fixings the V-8 gets standard, though most of them can be piled on at an extra charge. Among those are rain-sensing wipers, 18-inch wheels, a 14-speaker Lexicon stereo, adjustable pedals, and a sunroof and sunshade. The V-8 does have a few exclusive items — chrome exterior moldings, a woodgrain wheel, and ultra-premium leather — but the base leather is plenty soft. Like grains of celery salt on a Chicago dog, those are things you wouldn't miss if you didn't know they were offered.

    When the stock brokers and big-city realtors come rolling in to ditch their four-wheeled signs of better times, they'll probably look past the steering and be impressed by the Hyundai's comfort and class-leading space, which will come in handy after a few months of hot dogs instead of sushi. Like the Genesis 4.6, the base car's suspension is too soft to be considered sporty, but it's perfect for a daily driver. Hyundai estimates that 80 percent of Genesis models sold will be as V-6s, and we're happy to say that you won't be missing out by joining the majority. With a base price of $33,000, it's as good a deal as two dogs and a drink at New York's favorite frankfurtery.

    Dodge Challengers still available

    No better way to stall sales than allow your dealers to gaffe your most loyal customers in this current economic market.

    Let's say the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 has captured your fancy for some time now, but you've only just decided to purchase one. With Chrysler limiting production of the 2008 cars and Mopar nuts raving about the car, is it impossible to buy one new?

    Possibly not, says The Detroit News. Although plenty of Mopar aficionados plunked down cash early on for their cars, 1600 Challengers - or a quarter of the 6400 cars slated for production in 2008 - haven't been pre-sold.

    The News reports Dodge dealers across Michigan have a number of the cars in stock. Although some retailers only have one or two SRT8s on their lots, some - like Dick Huvaere's Dodge in Richmond, Michigan - will have up to 19.

    Although you may still be able to get one of the '08 cars, don't expect to get one at MSRP. The limited-edition status of the 2008 SRT8, coupled with increased demand for the car in warmer climates, prompt dealers to ask for premiums. Huvaere's will sell you a Challenger for $45,145 - nearly $7000 over the $37,995 base price.

    Source: The Detroit News

    2009 Acura TL revealed

    Rumored to be the next ride of Chismillionaire's brother.

    Acura has just released the first official image of its all-new TL near-luxury sedan, and well, the most we can say at this point is “there it is.” We’ll suspend judgment until we see it firsthand, but for now, all we can say is it shares the controversial styling cues of the 2009 RL.

    That said, it does not appear to be as bad as the RL, whose recent ’09 facelift also features Acura’s “guillotine grille” but lacked many changes to the rest of the body to complement it. The TL, however, like the redesigned 2009 TSX, features an entirely new body, and its larger size clearly allowed designers to have more fun with the sculpting along the bodysides and hood, as well as fill the flared wheelwells with some truly massive rolling stock. The slim greenhouse, however, may send Infiniti designers scrambling to get a legal team together to explore copyright infringement.

    Something no one here will complain about are the powertrain enhancements. Acura claims the new TL will be the most powerful TL ever, which we take to mean that it’ll get the RL’s 300-hp 3.7-liter V-6 under the hood. Even more newsworthy is a new all-wheel-drive variant (maybe this will finally tame the TL's torque steer) that incorporates Acura’s sensational “Super Handling” all-wheel-drive system.

    Acura remains mum on any other specifics of the next-gen of its best-selling vehicle, and is keeping all other imagery to itself until after its official media release later this summer. It is slated to go on sale in the fall.

    Corvette ZR1 does the 'Ring in 7:26

    However, with 150 more hp and 1000lbs less to tow than the GTR plus having monster ceramic brakes----it's only 3 seconds faster round the ring. To Chismillionaire, it shows more the brilliance of the GTR than the monster nature of the ZR1. If you watch the GTR video it looked like a Sunday drive whereas the ZR1 drive looked like trying to kill a large man with your bare hands and some twine.

    If a 2009 Corvette ZR1 does a lap of the Nüburgring Nordschleife in 7:26.4 and there's no video of it, did it happen at all?

    Well, ponder no longer. Here, in full color, is GM development engineer Jim Mero's smoking hot lap of the 'Ring from Friday, June 27.

    As per usual, General Motors (in the person of Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter) says the car in the video is "bone stock" except for communications and safety equipment. Yes, it's emissions-compliant. Yes, the chassis alignment and ride height are stock. Yes, it's running on pump (not racing) fuel. And yes, it ran on the production Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires that all ZR1s will wear — though they weren't necessarily a fresh set.

    Predictably, the keyboard jockeys and armchair racers of the Web have claimed all sorts of inside knowledge about how GM cheated the car for this lap. Or alternately, the same kind of guys (on the other side of the domestic/import divide) imply Nissan cheated a GT-R to run a 7:29 a few months ago. Many of these theories involve pixie dust, pulse detonation wave engines or garden-variety lying.

    There is no sanctioning body to verify these sorts of manufacturer claims and no specific set of rules by which a run should be made. So, it is a buyer beware deal.

    Or you could just forget all the nonsense and just watch this video of a 638-horsepower Corvette drive really, really fast.

    Fannie and Freddie on the brink!

    NEW YORK ( -- The anxiety over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, crucial to a recovery of the battered housing market and the economy as a whole, reached fever pitch on Friday as shares plunged on speculation of a looming bailout.

    Immediately after the markets opened, shares of Fannie (FNM, Fortune 500) and Freddie (FRE, Fortune 500) fell more than 47% from their already battered closing price the day before. They soon rebounded slightly but Fannie shares were down 43% and Freddie shares were off 45% about an hour after opening.

    The two firms hold or back $5 trillion between them, or about half the mortgage debt in the country.

    They play a central role in the U.S. housing market, providing a crucial source of funding for banks and other home lenders, especially since a credit market crisis last summer left them the only major players in packaging pools of mortgage loans into securities for sale to investors.

    If they were unable to do so, it would significantly raise the cost and restrict the availability of mortgage loans, causing significantly more problems for already battered housing prices and sales. That in turn would be another significant problem for the overall U.S. economy, as well as global credit markets.

    The New York Times reported Friday that senior Bush administration officials are considering a plan to have the government take over one or both of the companies if their problems worsen.

    The shares started to erase early losses when word came that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was set to speak. He said that the government's primary focus is making sure that mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac remain as presently constituted to carry out their mission.

    Even before the latest report on a possible rescue plan, speculation about the future of the firms this week sparked a run by investors away from their shares. That in turn raised questions about how difficult and expensive it will be for them to raise needed capital in the future, which fed into the stock plunge in a vicious cycle.

    In the first four trading days of the week, the shares of Fannie have lost 30% of their value, while Freddie shares have tumbled 45%. For the year, Fannie is down 67% and Freddie 77%.

    "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have lost investor confidence evidenced by the rapid brutal sell-off in their stocks, which could dramatically hinder their ability to raise any additional capital going forward," wrote Richard Hofmann of research firm CreditSights in a note Friday. He added that the firms' ability to function normally "remain at the core of government efforts to stabilize the mortgage markets."

    A number of scenarios were being discussed by bankers and analysts about what the government may do to deal with investors' current crisis of confidence in the firms.

    Jaret Seiberg, a financial services analyst for the Stanford Group, a Washington research firm, said Thursday options that among the options are: The Federal Reserve could purchase some of the Freddie and Fannie debt or mortgage-backed securities; the Treasury Department could make billions of dollars in loans to the companies or even buy stock in the companies.

    "Government officials are always planning for worst-case scenarios and our note is intended to highlight some options that may be available to policymakers," he wrote. "We suspect hybrid versions of these plans also are possible."

    Under current law, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO), the regulator of Fannie and Freddie, could take control of the firms if their capital falls too far below required levels. It is unclear how the firms would operate in that situation, known as a conservatorship.

    OFHEO Director James Lockhart issued a statement late Thursday saying that his agency was closely monitoring the firms' credit and capital positions. But he pointed out that they had already raised $20 billion in capital and that they adequately capitalized, holding funds well in excess of his agency's requirements.

    Still investors were worried that continued problems in the housing market would cause more than the $12.7 billion losses the two firms have lost between them since last July. The decline in their stock value makes raising additional capital to cover those future losses that much more expensive and difficult.

    It is also unclear if current shareholders would see their holdings wiped out under some of these government rescue options - leading to the pre-market sell-off.

    A Fannie spokesman said Friday morning that the company had no comment, while a spokeswoman for Freddie was not available for immediate comment. Both firms issued statements on Thursday saying they had the necessary capital to continue operating, adding they would not comment on the decline in their stock value. To top of page

    10 Things You Might Not Know About Your Credit Card

    4) Merchants Cannot Require A Minimum Transaction Amount --It's a violation of the credit card company's merchant agreement to refuse a transaction because it is below the "minumum."

    read more | digg story

    Mercedes unveils SL65 Black Series

    The fastest, most powerful — hell, the most outrageous — series production road car to hail from Mercedes-Benz's storied AMG performance division is finally here: the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG Black Series.

    The latest in a line of performance cars to wear the increasingly revered Black Series badge, this new coupe with its 670-horsepower twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter V12 picks up where the soon-to-be discontinued SLR McLaren coupe leaves off. It provides supercar performance, highly individual exterior styling, a sumptuous two-seat cabin and guaranteed top-shelf exclusivity thanks to a $300,000 price tag.

    A Very Limited Edition
    To be produced in a limited run of just 350 (200 of which are bound for North America), the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG Black Series is proof Mercedes-Benz is now more determined than ever to mix it with the supercar elite, and not only with the odd homologation special like the old CLK GTR but also with an extended range of high-priced performance cars based on existing AMG models.

    Up until now, details of the new coupe have been vague at best. In a bid to quell speculation, however, the German carmaker has come clean on its most radical road car ever, allowing access to the SL65 AMG Black Series during a session at the Mas du Clos circuit in France.

    Based upon the SL65 AMG, this latest Black Series model follows the lead of the earlier SLK55 AMG and CLK63 AMG Black Series with a heavy focus on weight-saving and extensive alterations to the mechanical package, all aimed at creating a car worthy of filling the void soon to be left by the exiting SLR. It also functions as a test bed for developments slated for Mercedes-Benz's upcoming SLC — a car described by insiders as the spiritual successor to the iconic 300 SL, complete with gullwing doors, which is due out in 2011.

    Bigger Turbos
    The engine is a tuned version of the standard SL65 AMG's potent twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter V12. Running larger turbochargers, a bigger intercooler and revised exhaust, output has been bumped up by 57 hp to 670 horsepower at 5,400 rpm. Torque remains at 738 pound-feet between 2,200 and 4,200 rpm, and apparently it's actually limited from peak output claimed to be in the region of 885 lb-ft in the interests of ensuring the life of the drivetrain components.

    Harnessing it all is a reworked version of Mercedes-Benz's aging five-speed automatic gearbox complete with remote shift paddles mounted on the back of the steering wheel. It's the only existing Mercedes-Benz gearbox capable of handling the engine's prodigious torque load, and it has been programmed with AMG's latest Speedshift software that provides four different shift programs: C (comfort), S (sport), M1 (manual) and M2 (an alternative manual mode that is claimed to shift up to 25 percent faster and with a more aggressive action than M1).

    It also gets a double-clutch function that introduces a hearty blip of the throttle during downshifts for quicker gearchanges, added chassis stability and a smoother transfer of power under heavy braking. "We're conscious that many customers will want to take their car to the track," says Tobias Moers, AMG's development boss. "The new gearbox setup has been developed with this in mind."

    Being a Mercedes-Benz, the Black Series has an impressive array of electronic driving aids. The specification sheet includes the latest in ABS, brake assist and stability control — the latter of which offers the driver a choice of three distinct modes, either standard, sport or completely disengaged. AMG has also seen fit to provide the SL65 AMG Black Series with a limited-slip differential.

    Supercar Stats
    With an impressive weight-to-power ratio of 6.15 pounds per horsepower and just about every electronic and mechanical traction-enhancing feature in the book, how quick is the new über SL in a straight line?

    Moers says validation testing is not yet finalized, but even at this early stage he is confident enough in the SL65 AMG Black Series to divulge that 0-100 km/h (62 mph) acceleration will be achieved in "less than 3.9 seconds." It doesn't end there. While the results remain unofficial, Moers also puts acceleration to 200 km/h (124 mph) at "below 10 seconds" and acceleration to 300 km/h (186 mph) at "inside 30 seconds." Top speed is limited to 320 km/h (199 mph). "It's more a precautionary measure with the tires than any concern with the car's aerodynamics," explains Moers.

    Hinting at the new car's dynamic ability, Moers claims the SL65 AMG Black Series is "as fast, if not faster than the SLR" around the Nürburgring, where much of its development has taken place in recent months. "In optimal conditions it should be possible to lap the Nordschleife in under 7:46," he says.

    A Chassis To Match the Engine
    The suspension incorporates lots of aluminum components, and while it shares its basic design with the SL65 AMG, Moers describes it as "all new." The ride height, wheel alignment, camber curves and damping rates are all adjustable, like those of the earlier SLK55 AMG and CLK63 AMG Black Series. New front suspension geometry also alters the ratio of the steering, making it 8 percent more direct than the SL65 AMG, and promises greater precision and sharper responses than any existing AMG model.

    The car's track dimensions are dramatically wider, increased by 3.8 inches up front and 3.3 inches at the rear. The result is a truly aggressive stance that is further enhanced by purposeful-looking 19-by-9.5-inch and 20-by-11.5-inch OZ forged-aluminum wheels wrapped with 265/35ZR19 (front) and 325/30ZR20 (rear) Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT tires.

    In keeping with the track-biased thinking behind the new car, both the standard SL65 AMG's ABC (active body control) and AirMatic air springs have been binned. "On a car like this, there is no need for them," contends Moers. The brakes, meanwhile, are the largest AMG has ever applied to a road-going model, with giant vented and cross-drilled 15.4-inch steel rotors grabbed by six-piston calipers up front and 14.2-inch rotors with four-piston calipers at the rear.

    Not Just an AMG Body Kit
    The striking exterior of the SL65 AMG Black Series was created at AMG by its design boss, Claus Hieke. There are strands of the standard SL65 AMG's familiar DNA in various sections of the body. However, the visual link between the two is rather tenuous. The only features shared with lesser versions of Mercedes-Benz's upmarket roadster are the shape of the grille, headlamps, windscreen, mirrors, doors and taillamps. Everything else has been heavily reworked in a process that clearly places function over form.

    At the front, gaping air ducts are mounted low on a heavily reworked bumper complete with an integral splitter to direct cooling air into the engine bay. They are accompanied by two sizable vents in the top of the hood, along with additional ports behind the front wheelwells — each of which serves to extract hot air away from the front end. Then there are the wheel flares. Like the shoulders of a heavyweight boxer waiting to unload a knockout punch, they're full of attitude.

    The real highlight, though, is the roof. AMG replaced the standard SL65 AMG's folding aluminum hardtop with a fixed structure that incorporates new rear-quarter windows and a slightly larger rear window. It helps provide the car with a completely new character, while further back is a reshaped trunk lid housing a retractable spoiler that motors out by 4.7 inches on two supporting members to provide additional downforce at 75 mph.

    The body construction is truly high-tech. Every panel apart from the aluminum doors is made of lightweight carbon fiber. The result is a curb weight of 4,123 pounds, a substantial 551 pounds less than a standard SL65.

    Italian Performance, German Quality
    One thing you should be able to count on is longevity. Like every other Mercedes-Benz model, the SL65 AMG Black Series has undergone an arduous development process, including an exhaustive 30,000 kilometers (18,641 miles) of circuit testing, some 15,000 km of which has taken place at the Nordschleife alone. "We've also run it in Death Valley and in Arjeplog," says Moers, referring to Mercedes-Benz's traditional hot- and cold-climate testing environments.

    A total of 10 prototypes were built during the car's 18-month development process, at least two of which have been used to certify various crash regulations. European versions of the new car receive seatbelts anchored at the B-pillar and go without side airbags. Tougher side-impact regulations here, however, mean all U.S. versions will retain the standard SL65 AMG seats with integral seatbelts accompanied by side airbags.

    Production of the SL65 AMG Black Series will take place in Mercedes-Benz's Bremen plant and the recently expanded AMG Performance Studio workshop in Affalterbach in Germany — the former supplying built-up chassis complete with driveline, with the latter responsible for the body and interior.

    Mercedes-Benz is already holding more than 50 paid-up deposits for the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG Black Series from North American customers, leaving fewer than 150 of the planned 200 cars destined for these shores still up for grabs. On the strength of what we've seen so far, don't count on the remaining few staying unaccounted for for much longer.

    FCC chief says Comcast violated Internet rules

    By John Dunbar Associated Press Writer / July 11, 2008

    WASHINGTON—The head of the Federal Communications Commission said Thursday he will recommend that the nation's largest cable company be punished for violating agency principles that guarantee customers open access to the Internet.

    The potentially precedent-setting move stems from a complaint against Comcast Corp. that the company had blocked Internet traffic among users of a certain type of "file sharing" software that allows them to exchange large amounts of data.

    "The commission has adopted a set of principles that protects consumers access to the Internet," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told The Associated Press late Thursday. "We found that Comcast's actions in this instance violated our principles."

    Martin said Comcast has "arbitrarily" blocked Internet access, regardless of the level of traffic, and failed to disclose to consumers that it was doing so.

    Company spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice on Thursday denied that Comcast blocks Internet content or services and that the "carefully limited measures that Comcast takes to manage traffic on its broadband network are a reasonable part" of the company's strategy to ensure all customers receive quality service.

    Martin will circulate an order recommending enforcement action against the company on Friday among his fellow commissioners, who will vote on the measure at an open meeting on Aug. 1.

    The action was in response to a complaint filed by Free Press and Public Knowledge, nonprofit groups that advocate for "network neutrality," the idea that all Internet content should be treated equally.

    Martin's order would require Comcast to stop its practice of blocking; provide details to the commission on the extent and manner in which the practice has been used; and to disclose to consumers details on future plans for managing its network going forward.

    The FCC approved a policy statement in September 2005 that outlined a set of principles meant to ensure that broadband networks are "widely deployed, open, affordable and accessible to all consumers."

    The principles, however, are "subject to reasonable network management."

    Comcast argues that the agency's policy statement is not enforceable and that the commission has "never before provided any guidance on what it means by 'reasonable network management.'"

    If a majority of commissioners side with Martin, it will be the first test of the agency's network neutrality principles. Members of both the House and Senate have sponsored network neutrality bills, but they have never come close to becoming law.

    Large Internet service providers have fought against such regulation, arguing that it is a solution in search of a problem and that companies that spend billions on their networks must be free to manage traffic.

    Ben Scott, federal policy chief for Free Press said Thursday night the FCC's action may have consequences for other Internet providers going forward.

    "This is going to be a bellwether," he said.

    Martin, a Republican, will likely get support from the two Democrats on the commission, who are both proponents of the network neutrality concept. Those three votes would be enough for a majority on the five-member commission.

    Nice Summer Pink Van Damme Friday!!