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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Could you type 245 words a minute? - VIDEO

These court reporters can....

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Facebook Connect Coming To iPhone This Fall

Today at the f8 conference Benjamin Ling revealed that Facebook will be releasing a Cocoa framework for the iPhone that will allow application developers to integrate with Facebook Connect. The framework is expected to be released sometime in the fall, and will take the form of an SDK that can be used by developers of iPhone applications. Facebook Connect allows applications to integrate the facebook platform and the identity of users into their own applications.

Currently Facebook Connect is only available for web applications, but the announcement of an iPhone SDK is the first sign that Facebook is considering both mobile and desktop platforms as part of their vision.

Total Solar Eclipse on August 1: Where, How to See It

The path of totality will sweep across northern Canada into central Russia and Mongolia before ending in China, and experts are urging safe viewing practices among skywatchers.

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The new reefer madness: arresting people in pain

The police raid on Martin Martinez, a Seattle man who uses marijuana to dull the chronic pain from a motorcycle accident, made the page-one...

The police raid on Martin Martinez, a Seattle man who uses marijuana to dull the chronic pain from a motorcycle accident, made the page-one headline last Thursday: "Was Pot Raid Justified?" Martinez's lawyer, Douglas Hiatt, insists vehemently that it was not.

In Seattle, the topic of medical marijuana and the law leads quickly to Hiatt. A native Chicagoan, 49, this blue-jeaned barrister is vehement often, his deep voice rising quickly to indignant italics.

His cellphone rings. "I gotta take this," he says. "Hello? Yes ... No ... No, we're not going to do that! Look, this is my client ... Yes, I'll be there." Click.

Originally a public defender, Hiatt is now exclusively a medical-marijuana lawyer. It is not a lucrative practice. His clients are often broke, and typically they are merely trying to be left alone. Hiatt says he has been paid in salmon, and once in an organic pig.

His first client was an AIDS patient stuck in the King County Jail. Hiatt went to Dan Satterberg, then deputy prosecutor, for help — and it was Satterberg who smoothed things over after last week's raid on Martinez.

To Hiatt, King County's Republican prosecutor is "Good King Dan," who follows the law that 59 percent of Washington voters approved in 1998. Most prosecutors around the state don't, Hiatt says.

"It makes me crazy," he says.

For healthy folk who think of marijuana as getting stoned, "medical marijuana" may sound like a doper's deception. Hiatt shakes his head. His clients are in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Typically, they are on disability. Many have cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease or Crohn's disease.

AIDS patients are using marijuana to control nausea, so they don't vomit up the 40-odd pills they have to take every day. In 2000, when a judge forbade writer and AIDS patient Peter McWilliams from using marijuana, he threw up his "AIDS cocktail," choked on his vomit and died.

The word "cocktail," makes Hiatt bristle. "It's not a damned cocktail. This is chemotherapy for life."

McWilliams had been ordered to use Marinol, a drug with one of marijuana's active ingredients. Hiatt says he has a client right now ordered by a judge to use Marinol.

"It makes my client really stoned, and he doesn't want that," Hiatt says. "It's expensive. It costs $10 to $20 a pill. Why use it when you can grow a house plant?"

Hiatt's typical client is one, like Martinez, with chronic pain. Says Hiatt, "Their doctor puts them on OxyContin, morphine, one of the opiates. Their brain is in a fog because of the opiates. They're constipated. They're miserable. They say, 'I lost my life.' Then they try marijuana. It allows them to cut their opiate dose in half. Some of them eliminate it. They feel better. Their mind is clearer. They're not constipated anymore."

"I've heard that story five hundred times," Hiatt says. "Because it works."

Hiatt estimates there are 25,000 medical-marijuana patients in Washington. The state law says they can have a 60-day supply, but since 1998 it has been up to local officials to say what that is. The Department of Health will have a public hearing in Tumwater Aug. 25 on a new rule to allow patients 24 ounces of dried plant and six mature plants. And that's not enough, Hiatt insists.

"Every single medical marijuana patient I have is over these numbers," he says.

I relate Hiatt's story partly because I believe in letting these folks alone, but partly also because I had an aunt who was in sharp pain from a pinched nerve. Her doctor prescribed an opiate, which handled the pain but messed up her mind and her gut.

My aunt was the most un-stoned person I ever knew, but she told me she would have taken marijuana, or anything else, if it had killed the pain, and to hell with the government. I would be no different.

The Summer Heat: How People Worldwide Deal With it [PICS]

The northern hemisphere is feeling the summer heat. A number of heat waves have already rolled across parts of southern Europe,the United States and Asia. From swimming pools to rivers, wave pools, ocean beaches and more, here are some recent photos of people around the world having fun, competing and keeping cool in the water.

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Chemical Breakthrough Turns Sawdust Into Biofuel


July 23, 2008 —


A wider of range of plant material could be turned into biofuels thanks to a breakthrough that converts plant molecules called lignin into liquid hydrocarbons.

The reaction reliably and efficiently turns the lignin in waste products such as sawdust into the chemical precursors of ethanol and biodiesel.

In recent years, the twin threats of global warming and oil shortages have led to growth in the production of biofuels for the transportation sector.

But as the human digestive system will attest, breaking down complex plant molecules such as cellulose and lignin is a tricky business.

Food Crisis

The biofuels industry has relied instead on starchy food crops such as corn and sugar cane to provide the feedstock for their reactions. But that puts the industry into direct competition with hungry humans, and food prices have risen as a result.

A second generation of biofuels could relieve the pressure on crop production by breaking down larger plant molecules  hundreds of millions of dollars are currently being poured into research to lower the cost of producing ethanol from cellulose.

But cellulose makes up only about a third of all plant matter. Lignin, an essential component of wood, is another important component and converting this to liquid transport fuel would increase yields.

However, lignin is a complex molecule and, with current methods, breaks down in an unpredictable way into a wide range of products, only some of which can be used in biofuels.

Balancing Act

Now Yuan Kou at Peking University in Beijing, China, and his team have come up with a lignin breakdown reaction that more reliably produces the alkanes and alcohols needed for biofuels.

Lignin contains carbon-oxygen-carbon bonds that link together smaller hydrocarbon chains. Breaking down those C-O-C bonds is key to unlocking the smaller hydrocarbons, which can then be further treated to produce alkanes and alcohol.

But there are also C-O-C bonds within the smaller hydrocarbons which are essential for alcohol production and must be kept intact. Breaking down the C-O-C bonds between chains, while leaving those within chains undamaged, is a difficult balancing act.

In Hot Water

Kou's team used their previous experience with selectively breaking C-O-C bonds to identify hot, pressurised water  known as near-critical water  as the best solvent for the reaction.

Water becomes near-critical when heated to around 250 to 300 °C and held at high pressures of around 7000 kilopascals. Under those conditions, and in the presence of a suitable catalyst and hydrogen gas, it reliably breaks down lignin into smaller hydrocarbon units called monomers and dimers.

The researchers experimented with different catalysts and organic additives to optimise the reaction. They found that the combination of a platinum-carbon catalyst and organic additives such as dioxane delivered high yields of both monomers and dimers.

Under ideal conditions, it is theoretically possible to produce monomers and dimers in yields of 44 to 56 weight % (wt%) and 28-29 wt% respectively. Weight % is the fraction of the solution's weight that is composed of either monomers or dimers.

Easy Extraction

Impressively, the researchers' practical yields approached those theoretical ideals. They produced monomer yields of 45 wt% and dimer yields of 12 wt%  about twice what has previously been achieved.

Removing the hydrocarbons from the water solvent after the reaction is easy  simply by cooling the water again, the oily hydrocarbons automatically separate from the water.

It is then relatively simple to convert those monomers and dimers into useful products, says Ning Yan at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland, and a member of Kou's team.

That results in three components: alkanes with eight or nine carbon atoms suitable for gasoline, alkanes with 12 to 18 carbons for use in diesel, and methanol.

Efficient Process

"For the first time, we have produced alkanes, the main component of gasoline and diesel, from lignin, and biomethanol becomes available," says Yan.

"A large percentage of the starting material is converted into useful products," he adds. "But this work is still in its infancy so other aspects related to economic issue will be evaluated in the near future."

John Ralph at the University of Wisconsin in Madison thinks the work is exciting. He points out that there have been previous attempts to convert lignin into liquid fuels. "That said, the yields of monomers [in the new reaction] are striking," he says.

Richard Murphy at Imperial College London, UK, is also impressed with Kou's work. "I believe that approaches such as this will go a considerable way to help us extract valuable molecules including fuels from all components of lignocellulose," he says.

Provided by news service © Reed Business Information

UBS sued for fraud- complaint in the Billions

NEW YORK ( -- New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo Thursday brought a multi-billion dollar civil lawsuit against the Swiss banking giant UBS for allegedly pushing everyday investors into buying troubled auction-rate securities.

The lawsuit charges UBS (UBS) with falsely marketing and selling auction-rate securities as safe, cash-equivalent investments at a time when the market for these securities was under severe strain.

"Today we bring the first nationwide lawsuit against UBS, seeking to recover billions of dollars for customers and sending a resounding message to the rest of the industry that this type of deceptive behavior will not be tolerated," Cuomo said.

The state's investigation also revealed that top UBS executives sold off approximately $21 million of their personal holdings of auction-rate securities, after they learned of troubles in this segment of the market.

"You can't have two sets of rules - one set of rules for customers and one for senior officials," said Cuomo.

New York's top law enforcement official noted, however, that no charges had been filed against any individuals.

He added that his office was looking at a number of other financial institutions, but declined to provide any further details citing the ongoing nature of the investigation.

UBS issued a statement Thursday, saying it would vigorously defend itself against the complaint.

The company said that it believed that no employee had engaged in illegal conduct and rejected the claim that the firm was involved in a widespread effort to move its inventory of auction-rate securities from its own books.

"It is frustrating that the New York Attorney General has filed this complaint while we have been fully engaged in good faith negotiations with his office to bring liquidity to our clients holding auction-rate securities," said Karina Byrne, a spokesperson for UBS.

Auction-rate securities are long-term bonds that hospitals, cities and corporations sell at weekly or monthly auctions, which many investors, until now, had treated like cash investments. The market for these investments is worth about $330 billion.

The auction-rate security market began to fail in February as the credit crisis took a turn for the worse, effectively locking up the market for these securities.

Instead of purchasing them, banks allegedly sold those investments to average individual investors so as not to have to take them onto their books. Financial institutions like UBS have denied such claims, saying that their brokers fully disclosed the risks associated with these investments.

As of February, UBS had more than 50,000 customer accounts holding about $25 billion in auction rate securities

Cuomo said the lawsuit seeks to get UBS to buy back the securities at their face value.

"They [customers] want their money back," he said. "My job is to get their money back."

Cuomo's involvement may not bode particularly well for UBS, said James D. Cox, a professor in corporate and securities law at Duke University. But he noted that the suit could also eliminate some of UBS' other legal auction-rate security headaches.

"UBS could use this as a basis for getting a global settlement and barring all other related suits," said Cox.

In June, Massachusetts state securities regulators filed a civil suit against the firm. And that's not to mention the numerous individual and class-action suits that have been filed against UBS.

Thursday's announcement also marks the latest development in the ever-widening auction rate security scandal. A number of Missouri state securities regulators inspected the offices of Wachovia Securities in St. Louis last week, seeking documents related to the sales of auction-rate securities. Wachovia Securities is a subsidiary of Wachovia (WB, Fortune 500), the nation's fourth-largest bank.

Starwood Opens First Eco-Friendly 'ELEMENT' Hotel

July 16, 2008

Starwood Hotels & Resorts' new environmental hotel concept, ELEMENT, made its official debut early this month in Lexington, Mass., where the first of several planned locations opened on July 1.

The first LEED-certified hotel chain in the United States, ELEMENT is an extended stay hotel with nature-inspired aesthetics and eco-friendly amenities. Each of the brand's hotels will feature at least 838 square feet of meeting space adjacent to the hotel lobby, not to mention and all will offer green details like energy-efficient appliances and lighting, water-efficient faucets and fixtures, recycling bins and more.

"We are committed to providing a no-compromise, eco-chic experience," Brian McGuinness, global brand leader of Starwood's aloft and ELEMENT brands, said in a statement. "ELEMENT makes it easy to be environmentally responsible without having to sacrifice a great guest experience."

At ELEMENT, part of that guest experience is a complimentary hot and cold breakfast in the morning, as well as a complimentary reception with light snacks and cocktails in the evening. The hotel offers free WiFi throughout and will function as a "concept lab" for other Starwood brands, including Westin, Sheraton and Le Meridien Hotels, all of which plan to adopt some of the brand's so-called "eco-chic" elements.

Conceived of in 2006, ELEMENT has hotels already under development in Summerlin, Nev.; Irving, Texas; Arundel Mills, Md.; and Houston. For more information, visit

experience element

Learn more about the clean, intuitive design of each of element’s spaces, from the welcoming and versatile public space to the soothing and refreshing private space. experience element

Yellow-Card for Chismillionaire

Duplicate post for 12 best hotels to have an affair in....

No biggie, well now go and read it...

Best Hotels for an Affair

Angler's Boutique Resort, Miami Beach

All that well-oiled silicone and the thud-thud-thud soundtrack of Miami's South Beach are hardly the backdrop for a romantic sojourn—unless you know where to look. Tucked in the shadows of some gaudy, er, luxury high-rises is Angler's Resort—a small, 46-room hotel intent on subtlety and seclusion, and utterly perfect for sneaking away from the glare of Miami. For starters, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, you can check in from your room to avoid curious stares in the lobby. Duplex suites have all the sequestering details you could ask for: a ginormous fluffy bed and windows with thick-slatted wooden shutters that cast sexy, film noir–style striped shadows across the room. Naturally, the suites come with their own private terrace, private garden, private sundeck, and private hot tub. The layout is wonderfully conducive to privacy, and unlike at other hotels in town, the pool is not center stage—it's off one leg of the L-shape structure, so you won't feel all eyes on you when you venture out.

Do not disturb:
Angler's Boutique Resort
Tel: 305 534 9600
Suites from $400

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Identical twins marry, give birth to identical twins

When identical twin sisters Diane and Darlene Nettemeier met identical twin brothers Craig and Mark Sanders a decade ago, they could never have guessed just how much of their lives would be based around perfect sets of two.

The two Sanders families with their children: Identical twins marry, give birth to identical twins
The two Sanders families with their children Photo: BARCROFT

The sets of twins, from Texas, fell in love, went on a double date to Las Vegas, and won thousands of dollars at poker.

Sensing they were on a winning streak, they got engaged on the same day, married at a joint ceremony (officially "quarternary marriages"), and built a pair of homes, side by side.

Soon afterwards, despite a million-to-one odds, Diane and Craig went on to have identical twins of their own - Colby and Brady, now seven.

But the happy unions weren't all down to incredible odds - one decade after they started dating Craig, 44, and Diane, 37, are returning to the Twin Day festival in Twinsburg, Ohio, where they met in 1998.

This year they will be taking their own seven-year-old boys to celebrate their good fortune at being part of a double double-act.

Twin Days are annual gatherings in which genetically identical siblings gather, in matching outfits, to celebrate sameness.

Five weeks after meeting "the girls", the Sanders twins went to visit them in St Louis, where the sisters lived together, and had their first kisses in the Busch Stadium parking lot after watching the Astros play the Cardinals in baseball.

The following winter, the sisters went to visit the brothers in Houston, where they celebrated New Year's Eve at a restaurant called Sabine-- because it was owned by twins, naturally.

No plastic bags in LA stores beginning July 2010

LOS ANGELES—Los Angeles shoppers soon won't hear the question, "Paper or plastic?" at the checkout line.

The City Council voted Tuesday to ban plastic shopping bags from stores, beginning July 1, 2010. Shoppers can either bring their own bags or pay 25 cents for a paper or biodegradable bag.

The council's unanimous vote also puts pressure on the state, which is considering an Assembly bill that would impose bag recycling requirements on stores. City officials said their ban would not be implemented if the state passes the bill and requires at least a 25-cent charge per bag.

"We've gotten to a point where we need to act as a city, where we can have real results," said Councilman Ed Reyes, who proposed the bag ban. "We're trying to do it in a way where we can educate and inform the public of what we're doing."

Reyes said the ban will minimize cleanup costs for the city and reduce trash that collects in storm drains and the Los Angeles River. The city estimates more than 2 billion plastic bags are used each year in Los Angeles. About 5 percent of plastic bags and 21 percent of paper bags are recycled in California.

Banning plastic bags will not solve the litter problem, said an attorney who opposes the regulation of plastic bags.

"We've had enough of politicians accepting the misinformation that's spread around the Internet about plastic bags," said Stephen Joseph of the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, which represents bag manufacturers.

Joseph said the city motion gives "a free pass" to paper bags, which he argued are biodegradable but consume more materials and natural resources to make.

Three percent of the bag fee will be returned to the retailer, 3 percent will go to the state, and the rest will go back to the city to fund an education campaign.

Last year, San Francisco passed the nation's first bag ban, which took effect in November.

2.2 Million homes on the market

Some 2.8% of homes, excluding rental properties, were empty and on the market from April through June, according to Census Bureau figures released Thursday. The vacancy rate hit a record high of 2.9% in the first quarter of 2008. It was 2.6% a year ago.

"They are still not showing a downward trend," said Christian Menegatti, U.S. lead analyst at, an economic research and consulting group. "That's the bad news. The numbers are telling us that prices have to fall more."

Just under 2.2 million empty homes were for sale in the most recent quarter. The vacancy rates for homes built in April 2000 or later was 9.8%, more than triple that of houses constructed earlier.

Builders capitalized on the boom in home prices and demand earlier this decade, Menegatti said. Many of those houses now are standing empty.

"There was a lot of reckless construction exploiting the fact that prices were going up," he said. "Suburban areas were flooded with new construction in locations that were commuter-unfriendly. Now those are suffering the most."

The South had the highest vacancy rate at 3.2% and the Northeast had the lowest at 1.9%. The West had the largest year-over-year jump, to 2.8% from 2.3%.

That doesn't surprise Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

"The West has been hugely hit by the collapse of the California housing market," Baker said. "That's ground zero of the meltdown."

Owning vs. renting

The nation's homeownership rate, meanwhile, also stayed relatively stagnant at 68.1%., up slightly from 67.8% in the first quarter and down from 68.2% in the year earlier period. But the rate is lower than the high of 69.2% at the end of 2004.

The housing market is likely bleaker than the Census figures show, said Robert Dye, senior economist for PNC Financial Services Group. Other reports showing rising inventories, weak home sales and soaring foreclosure rates paint a picture of a very weak housing market.

"The Census numbers are not really reflecting what's going on," Dye said.

The Census statistics are just the latest in a grim parade of figures showing the implosion of the housing market nationwide.

In a separate report released Thursday, sales of existing homes slowed more than expected in June while inventory increased, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Sales by homeowners fell in June to an annual pace of 4.86 million, down 2.6% from May and 15.5% from June 2007. The median price of a home sold during the month fell to $215,100, down 6.1% from $229,000 a year earlier.

Earlier this month, RealtyTrac said that 343,159 Americans lost their homes in the first half of 2008, up 136% from 145,696 in the same period a year earlier.

Congress and the Bush administration are scrambling to stabilize the troubled housing sector, which is roiling financial markets worldwide. The House on Wednesday approved a bill offering up to $300 billion in assistance to strapped homeowners. Lawmakers also approved Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's plan to back mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Senate is expected in coming days to take up the legislation, which President Bush has said he will sign.

Still, the country's economic woes are slowing any revival in the housing sector, said Asha Bangalore, economist at Northern Trust Co. She said it's tough for Americans to buy or keep their homes if they don't have jobs.

"The employment situation has to turn around for the housing market to turn around," Bangalore said. "You can't have the unemployment rate going up and have this market turn around.

And so it begins- Regulators claim firm attempted to 'bang the close' by amassing large positions just before markets closed.

NEW YORK ( -- The government charged an oil trading firm Thursday with manipulating oil prices in the first complaint to be announced since the regulators began a new investigation into wrongdoings in the energy markets.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission accused Optiver Holding, two of its subsidiaries and three employees with manipulation and attempted manipulation of crude oil, heating oil and gasoline futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

"Optiver traders amassed large trading positions, then conducted trades in such a way to bully and hammer the markets," CFTC Acting Chairman Walt Lukken said at a press conference. "These charges go to the heart of the CFTC's core mission of detecting and rooting out illegal manipulation of the markets."

In May, under the backdrop of record oil prices and calls from legislators to crack down on speculative oil trading and market manipulation, the CFTC announced a wide-ranging probe into oil price manipulation. The agency says it has dozens of investigations ongoing.

The complaint filed Thursday names Bastiaan van Kempen, chief executive; Christopher Dowson, a head trader; and Randal Meijer, head of trading at an Optiver subsidiary.

The CFTC said the firm attempted to "bang the close" by amassing large positions just before markets closed - forcing prices up - then selling them quickly to drive prices down and pocketing the difference.

The alleged manipulation was attempted 19 times on 11 days in March 2007, the agency said. In at least five of those 19 times, traders succeeded in driving prices higher twice and lower three times, according to the CFTC.

Calls to Optiver seeking comment were not answered, and an email was not immediately returned.

CFTC stressed that the price changes were small and the manipulation was isolated, and that the investigation has nothing to do with the recent heat the agency has taken on Capitol Hill over rising oil prices.

Traders in the spotlight

CFTC has repeatedly said that speculators are not to blame for rising oil prices, and any cases of price manipulation - such as the one brought Thursday - have only a small, if any, effect on oil prices.

The CFTC is the government's main regulator of commodity markets. Its officials have been hauled before Congress and asked repeatedly whether manipulation or excessive speculation is playing a role in record oil prices.

Repeatedly, CFTC experts have said they have found no evidence that speculators - investors who do not ultimately use crude oil - are to blame for the rising prices. They say trading information shows no correlation between investment activity and price swings.

Others, such as the International Energy Agency, have also said speculators are not to blame. They've pointed to other non-traded commodities that have risen in price even faster than oil, and to the fact that there is no evidence of a bubble, such as excess oil sitting around in storage.

Still, the correlation of a four-fold increase of investment money into oil futures and a four-fold increase in oil prices since 2004 has not gone unnoticed. Many lawmakers, consumer rights advocates and even some oil industry analysts say speculation is at least partly to blame.

Against that backdrop, the CFTC has been ordered to investigate the matter more thoroughly and dozens of investigations are underway. The agency may soon be given a bigger staff and wider powers under bills being debated in Congress.

Over the years, the CFTC has found isolated incidents of price manipulation - when an oil producer controls products to influence prices - or other cases of wrongdoing. Since 2002, the agency has charged 66 defendants with energy market violations.

In a recent case, BP settled a suit that alleged the company tried to corner the propane market to inflate prices in 2003 and 2004. BP agreed to pay a $303 million settlement.

But overall, most experts say the incidents are so scattered, and the energy market so large, that it's unlikely a single trader or group of traders can have substantial sway over prices.

Correction: An earlier version of the story said indictments have been brought against the company and some of its employees. The charges are civil, not criminal.

A Jag is appreantly still a Jag then

For all that's new and revolutionary about the Jaguar XF, it's good to see that the company, in this period of transition, has found a way to pump genuine Lucas-brand electrical smoke back into the wires. That, or it's programmed a secret quirk machine and hidden it deep within the core of the car's structure. Not sure what else could account for my very British experience with the 2009 XF Supercharged.

"CATS SYSTEM FAULT," said the orange-tinted message between the gauges. What did that even mean? Were my catalytic converters melting? Perhaps the car's babe magnet was broken? That would explain why nary a single female has tossed herself spread-eagle onto the hood. I turned the car's new shift dial back to park and hit the big red kill button, then reversed the process to find the car back in working order. (In case you were wondering, CATS is the cheeky acronym for the XF's adaptive suspension.)


Quirk number two came halfway into my evening commute, and this time the message was glowing a very urgent red: "COOLANT LEVEL LOW." I wasn't buying it (this being a quality controlled and press-prepped luxury car with 3360 miles on the clock), but I pulled off anyway. The reservoir seemed to be full of orange cool-juice, but my reboot failed to make the message disappear. I soldiered on and promised the car I'd take a closer look the next morning when the engine was cold. Which I did, only to find this Jag had so much coolant that I could have scooped a Big Gulp out and it'd still be full. Knowing that I'd caught on, the Jag was done whining for good. Or at least, given its tendencies, for the time being.


Those hiccups make some of the XF's other traditional Jag-ness all the more apparent. Like the way the hood curves up and stretches forward like a giant aluminum phallus, or the way the throttle response is just slow enough to allow deep V-8 vibrations without producing excess speed. But that's just half of the XF Supercharged experience — this is two cars in one modern, mostly attractive body.


The second XF is let out of its cage at the push of a button, one marked with a checkered flag and discreetly placed near the electronically actuated parking brake on the center console. In addition to firming up the CATS (now fully functional, by the way) the setting disables stability control and significantly tightens throttle response. And by "tightens," I mean it cuts all 420 horses loose with the urgency of a starter pistol. Jaguar claims that 86 percent of the engine's torque (413 lb-ft) is available from 2000 rpm to redline, and there'll be no questioning the validity of that claim.

xf4_center.jpg What's even better than the insane power being churned by the rotor-type supercharger is that the chassis handles it so well. With the XK coupe on which the XF is based, the naturally aspirated car feels just right but the supercharged XKR's chassis can feel strained. That isn't the case with the XF, which just takes all that power and sets it gently onto the ground. Tail-out antics come only under extreme provocation, while the car's awesome passing power lets the hypermiling Honda next to you know you're not impressed — only with the XF's soft edges and traditional-looking hood, it seems to be saying, "Pardon me chap, but I'm severely displeased with your road manners."

When you consider the smaller size or higher price of other 420-hp machines out there, the $62,200 XF Supercharged is a pretty enticing deal. Just watch out for smoking wires.

Schumacher digs the Ferrair California


With so much time on his hands and not much other than racing motorcycles to quench his need for speed, Michael Schumacher has found his place back at the Ferrari factory where he most recently completed his share of development testing for the automaker's upcoming California sports car.


The seven time Formula 1 world champion has been involved with the car since its early inception and has played a critical role in tuning the cars performance abilities alongside Maranello's accomplished technicians, engineers and test-drivers. Prior to the California, Schumi's racing and go-fast expertise were employed throughout the evolution of the track oriented 430 Scuderia (not to mention the Enzo and a variety of other projects).

Although powered by much the same aluminum V-8 engine but built with two distinct identities, its no real shock that according to Schumacher, "They were designed to meet different requirements: the 430 Scuderia is aimed at drivers who want the very essence of a Ferrari and will get it out on the track as often as they can. The Ferrari California, on the other hand, is designed for everyday use and for weekends away whilst still guaranteeing all of the emotional impact that only an authentic Ferrari can deliver."

If the Ferrari California is on your fantasy car list (or list of things to buy), be sure to stop by our recently posted "Californias in the U.S." spotters page. Ferrari's official debut for its latest model is slated for October 2 at the Paris International Motor Show.

Honda to unveil a low emissions roadster concept at British Auto Show

You can get a Cooper Works Mini right NOW!

PALMA DE MALLORCA, Spain — Good news for American Mini fans: the 208-horsepower Mini John Cooper Works cars are coming to the U.S. at the same time buyers in the U.K., Europe and Japan are getting them. That is to say, right now. The U.S. is Mini's No. 1 market.

Another nice bit of news is that, whereas the R53 JCW Mini coupe had all sorts of enhancements possible in the U.K. and Europe, but a shorter list for North American indulgers, the second-generation R55/R56/R54 (coupe/Clubman/convertible) will get pretty much exactly what is available to buyers living next to the factory in Oxford.

Then there was always the confusion over the variety of sport packages available to Americans. Previously, the JCW Performance package from the factory included just the engine upgrade, new exhaust and a few badges. The rest was left up to a search through the JCW catalogue for further dealer accessories, versus Europe and the U.K. where the JCW cars were fully tricked units with even more treats available. Only in the final year of R53 production, North America at last got more stuff made available as Mini started to integrate the John Cooper Works copyright and catalogue into its list of owned brands.

Now that the John Cooper Works brand is a fully fledged subbrand of Mini, U.S. buyers can get everything right from the start. For instance the recalibrated stiffer Sport suspension package from the factory (that does not lower the car height at all) costs $500 extra and includes such items as new springs and dampers. There's also an available, hotter dealer-accessory suspension kit that lowers the JCW Minis by four-tenths of an inch and really stiffens things up for $1,295, plus installation.

A curiosity in the performance numbers also comes out of putting the European and U.S. specs side by side. How is it that the Euro-JCW coupe gets to 62.1 mph in an estimated 6.5 seconds while the U.S. car gets to 60 mph in just 6.2 seconds? Mini engine expert Andreas Schüers explains that, this is because the optimal shift point from 2nd to 3rd gear happens at 97 kph — or 60.3 mph — and so a slight pause in power delivery occurs, but the U.S.-spec standard of 60 mph squeaks by just under the threshold.

What this means to you: Since the U.S. sells slightly more Minis than the U.K. in a normal sales year, we finally get the goods to match the numbers.

Who Said It: Bush or Batman?

POSTED BY: CubbyChaser

Can you guess which of these quotes -- provided by Philadelphia sketch group, Secret Pants -- belong to our president, George W. Bush, and which belong to Batman from his 1960s TV series?

It's harder than you think...

The old guy came closest to getting a perfect score.

Rush Plays Rock Band Backstage at Colbert

So, when Rush was backstage at The Colbert Report last week, they played "Tom Sawyer" on Rock Band and now there's video of it. I kind of expected it to be a funny demonstration of how unlike playing real instruments Rock Band really is, with these three seasoned pros failing the song about 30 seconds in. But as it turns out, they did pretty well, which is either a testament to Rock Band's accuracy, Rush's gaming skillz or my inability to correctly anticipate the outcome of web videos. (Hint: I thought Dramatic Chipmunk was going to be totally undramatic.)

The Biggest UCLA Undie Run Yet

It took just under 20 minutes for thousands of underwear clad students to run through the tunnel. The police were ridiculously in force with their tactical/riot gear. What a crazy party prior to UCLA's graduation.

read more | digg story

Windows iPhone 3G jailbreak tool released

Sure, it was already possible (if complicated) to jailbreak a first-gen iPhone running the 2.0 software under Windows, but this is the one-click tool all you crazy cats with those extra G's need if you don't have a Mac -- too bad no one's come up with a better name than "pwn" yet. Please, people. Let's do better.

PS.- As usual, you run the risk of totally destroying your phone mucking around with this stuff, so don't say we didn't warn you.

Update: is down already, mirrors in the comments!

[Thanks to everyone who sent this in]

8 Great Villains We Want in the Next Batman Movie

With The Dark Knight set to break box-office records, a sequel is almost certainly in the works. With Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhardt's masterful performances as The Joker and Two-Face, respectively, finding another villian or two to ably face off against the caped crusader, while staying true to Christopher Nolan's darker tone won't be an easy task. Here's 8 villains that may be able to pull it off.

8-Dr. Hugo Strange

Character's effectiveness and value:While Dr. Hugo Strange might not be very physically intimidating or threatening, his mental prowess and ingenuity make him a credible foe. His comic book schemes have included massive, genetically-engineered monsters that attack upon command, and the discovery and attempted auction of Batman's secret identity. He was also one of the first reoccurring Batman villains, appearing before both the Joker and the Catwoman.

Character's potential for realistic portrayal: The not-so-good doctor would easily lend himself to a practical portrayal, especially since his costuming would probably only include a lab coat and some Windsor glasses. There also seems to be a degree of mistrust with today's medical field and its practitioners, and the filmmakers could certainly tap into that fear when developing this character.

Influence of previous interpretations: Aside from one or two animated Batman episodes, Dr. Strange has been sparsely utilized on screen making him a character that has little previously-established bias.

7-The Penguin

Character's effectiveness and value: One of the most glaring weaknesses of the Penguin is his lack of menacing qualities. He's short, obese, and chain smokes, meaning his athletic prowess is pretty low. That being said, he does have an extremely rich history in Batman lore, and his character has been thoroughly fleshed out resulting in more depth than your average villain.

Character's potential for realistic portrayal: The Penguin is another character that would translate fairly easily into film. He seems to favor formal clothing, but given his physical attributes, masking his insecurities with feigned affluence seems natural. At one time the Penguin was rumored to be cast in The Dark Knight as a British arms dealer, which lends further credence to the idea that he could be done realistically.

Influence of previous interpretations:There have been a myriad of Penguin portrayals all of varying degrees of quality, so it would be tough to escape any foregoing prejudice and this could be seen as another weakness for the character. Hopefully that won't dissuade the usage of him because there is an underlying creepiness with the Penguin, and as we saw with Christopher Nolan's Joker, creepiness is something that he seems to do well.

6-Mr. Whisper

Character's effectiveness and value: Mr. Whisper was said to be an ancient monk who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for eternal life, and an immortal would likely make a very formidable villain. In the comic Batman: Gothic, the shadowless Mr. Whisper runs amuck in Gotham, slaying numerous mob bosses in an attempt to win back his soul. Batman repeatedly does battle with Whisper, but it's especially tough to defeat someone who's death-resistant when you've taken a vow not to kill.

Character's potential for realistic portrayal: Mr. Whisper's outside appearance would not be a problem in terms of rational depictions, but the fact that he survives falls from skyscrapers and head-on collisions with trains might seem a bit too improbable for the next Batman movie. An ambiguous approach to Mr. Whisper's perceived powers might be the best way to portray the character on film, keeping the audience guessing whether or not he really is superhuman.

Influence of previous interpretations: As previously mentioned, Mr. Whisper can only be found in the graphic novel Batman: Gothic, and as a result there haven't been any distorted interpretations done. So if Mr. Whisper was utilized, no audience member would have any preconceived partiality.


Character's effectiveness and value:Zsasz is a serial killer who cuts tally marks into his skin after each subsequent murder. He regularly refers to his victims as zombies and he insists that he's liberating them from pointless existence by slitting their throats. He briefly appeared in Batman Begins as an inmate in Arkham Asylum where he was identified as a hitman for the mob. During the film, his recognizable scars could momentarily be seen during his escape from Arkham.

Character's potential for realistic portrayal: His potential is obviously very high since he has already been imagined and introduced into the film's universe.

Influence of previous interpretations: Beyond the comic books, the only other source where Zsasz can be found is in the Batman Begins movie, and as a result the character hasn't yet been tainted by any earlier distortions. So a more fleshed out and prominent role in the ensuing film would set the cinematic interpretation standard.

4-Deacon Blackfire

Character's effectiveness and value: While less of a preacher and more of a cult-leader, Deacon Blackfire led a band of brainwashed Gotham citizens into what he described as a war on crime. Eventually this cult took over all of Gotham resulting in its segregation from the rest of the country. At one point a weakened Batman had even become an indoctrined sect member; however, by the end of the story he realizes the error of his ways and beats the reverend senseless.

Character's potential for realistic portrayal: There really isn't anything too unusual or improbable about the deacon to warrant not including him in the movie. While Blackfire makes claims that may seem too sensational for the film, specifically regarding the immortality he receives by bathing in blood, by the end of the comic we find out that indeed the deacon was more of a conman than immortal, firmly grounding the story in reality.

Influence of previous interpretations: The graphic novel Batman: The Cult is the only source where Deacon Blackfire can be found, so again, there aren't any other representations of this character to muddle his prospects.


Character's effectiveness and value: The Catwoman is one of Batman's oldest foes and on occasion she's portrayed as a love interest and ally. She is known for being a master thief and as a result she is often cleverly referred to by others as a cat-burglar, although her crimes are often given noble intentions similar to a black-spandex-clad Robin Hood. Overall, she is one of the most popular Batman figures, having appeared in more adaptations than any other villain.

Character's potential for realistic portrayal: The Catwoman is another character in the Batman mythos who, like the caped crusader himself, possesses no special powers. This makes her easily translatable into Christopher Nolan's very grounded Batman films. She also has costuming that is traditionally very similar to Batman's, so her acceptance based on attire in this universe would be no less likely than his.

Influence of previous interpretations: Being the Batman villain that has seen the most adaptations means the Catwoman comes with lots of baggage. From her appearances in several movies (notably, the terrible film starring Halle Berry) to countless television show spots, the Catwoman has become an ingrained pop-culture icon. And ultimately, it's this familiarity that becomes the biggest drawback when considering the likelihood of this character's utilization.

2-The Riddler

Character's effectiveness and value: The Riddler is another Batman villain that strikes little fear into the hearts of do-gooders. This could be due to his lack of physical weapons, or his insistence on leaving riddle-based clues at his crimes that always result in his schemes being revealed and then thwarted. That being said, the cerebral nature of the character seems to lend itself well to Christopher Nolan's more mature and thoughtful approach, and the character's rich history provides abundant potential.

Character's potential for realistic portrayal: Provided enough green fabric can be found to create an olive suit and matching Bowler hat, there really isn't anything too unusual about this character. Certainly a less cartoony, more mature interpretation would be necessary to make this character believable, but if an audience can buy a grown man fighting crime under the guise of a humanoid bat, it should be able to accept a criminal fond of riddles.

Influence of previous interpretations: Again, this is a character that has been done before and to limited success. So if the Riddler was going to be again seen on a movie screen, a deep reinterpretation would be necessary. There have been recent allusions made by several cast members though, indicating that indeed this character could be the next Batman villain.

1-Black Mask

Character's effectiveness and value: Black Mask is a deranged mob boss in Gotham city who wears a skull-like mask carved from his mother's ebony coffin. Growing up, Black Mask had a parentally forced-friendship with Bruce Wayne, one which he despised and which grew into a deep resentment of the Waynes. Black Mask frequently uses torture not only for personal gain but for personal satisfaction, often resulting in the death of his victims.

Character's potential for realistic portrayal: While some might see the skull-like mask to be a bit of a stretch in regards to realism, the motive of personal resentment and subsequent revenge certainly isn't. This is a very dark character and one can easily picture him fitting into the darker tone established in these Batman movies. As a mob boss, he also easily fits in with plots and themes used in the earlier films.

Influence of previous interpretations: While Black Mask has been used a number of times in comics, his universal recognition is pretty limited. To the diehard fan he is pretty significant in the Batman canon, but to those who are only casually interested in the Caped Crusader, he would be a complete unknown. To put it simply, Black Mask has a lot of theatrical potential.