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Friday, July 25, 2008

A Unique Solar Powered Community in Canada

by Mahesh Basantani

Drake Landing Solar Community, Drake Landing Alberta Canada, solar thermal community Canada, solar thermal community, solar thermal energy, solar thermal heating, Okotoks solar community, drake1.jpg

The Drake Landing Solar Community is the first solar powered community of North America. Located in the town of Okotoks, Alberta, Canada, the project sets a wonderful example of how every household can lead a sustainable lifestyle. There are 800 solar panels located throughout the community on garage roofs, and they produce 1.5 mega-watts of thermal power during a summer day and supply heat to the district heating system. The whole system meets 90% of the annual heating and hot water needs of the homes.

Drake Landing Solar Community, Drake Landing Alberta Canada, solar thermal community Canada, solar thermal community, solar thermal energy, solar thermal heating, Okotoks solar community, drake2.jpg

The 52-home solar community has installed an array of solar panels on the roofs of their houses and garages. Glycol solution runs through an insulated piping system, or collector loop, that connects the array of solar panels. The solar panels absorb the solar energy during the daytime and heat the glycol solution. The glycol solution travels through the collector loop and reaches an underground heat exchanger within the community’s centralized Energy Center. The heat is then transferred from heat exchanger to the water stored in a short-term storage tank. The glycol solution returns to the solar collector system. The Energy Center has short-term thermal storage tanks and long-thermal storage tanks (Borehole Thermal Energy Storage (BTES) system).

During the warmer months the heated water is transferred to the underground borehole thermal energy storage (BTES) system via a series of pipes. The water heats up the surrounding earth increasing the temperature to 80 degrees C (176 °F). The water returns to the short-term storage tanks to be heated again. The heat is stored underground insulated with sand, high-density R-40 insulation, a waterproof membrane, clay, and other landscaping materials. The stored heat is used to provide heat and hot water to the entire community throughout the winter.

The homes are moderately sized, ranging from 1,492 to 1,664 square feet, and have low energy demands, suitable to work with the system. The homes are located close to one another, which provides a walkable neighborhood, and reduces the lengths that the fluid for the solar heating system needs to travel. Water conservation has been made mandatory in the homes. The homes have been built using locally manufactured materials, and recycled material too has been used in construction. The homes will be certified to Natural Resources Canada’s R-2000 Standard for energy efficiency, and the Built Green™ Alberta program. The precedence set by the Drake Landing Solar Community can serve as an example for every community.

+ Drake Landing Solar Community

Via Green Building Elements

Drake Landing Solar Community, Drake Landing Alberta Canada, solar thermal community Canada, solar thermal community, solar thermal energy, solar thermal heating, Okotoks solar community, drake3.jpg

Drake Landing Solar Community, Drake Landing Alberta Canada, solar thermal community Canada, solar thermal community, solar thermal energy, solar thermal heating, Okotoks solar community, drake4.jpg

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Nude Artist Floats Free in Zero-G

By Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides


Bradley Pitts let it all hang out on the Russian Ilyushin 76 weightless trainer aircraft July 9th just outside of Moscow.

After six years in the making, his vision of using the experience of weightlessness as a meditation finally came to fruition. But the 20 parabolas Pitts experienced in Russia were not his first. The artist was also a propulsion engineer during the weightless testing of the MIT SPHERES project, an experiment now onboard the International Space Station. Pitts, who has a B.S. and an M.S. in aerospace engineering from MIT, did 80 parabolas with NASA before launching his own project.

Pitts wanted to experience the pure sensation of weightlessness and opted to surrender his other senses to be able to fully immerse himself in space. He closed his eyes, wore earplugs and just let his body drift through space.

"Blind, deaf, and nude is definitely the way to experience parabolic flight!" Pitts said.

Pitts was interested in exploring not just the freedom that weightlessness is, but also the prison. He felt that with nothing touching you it would make all the more acute the literal 'space' that separates you from the rest of the world. Floating motionless in the middle of the largest enclosed 'weightless' space (in the air or in orbit) can leave you feeling seperate. You don't have a lot of ability to move yourself towards the wall of the plane from a standstill. In Pitts view you are a 'prisoner' of space.

Of course the prison was short lived. With eyes closed, Pitts was floating involuntarily into walls (his support team insured he didn't float into anything dangerous) and falling onto the gymnastics mats at the end of every parabola.

Floating naked, blind and deaf does have a certain aesthetic appeal to it. However at 30,000 feet when you are lying on the padded floor of the airplane waiting to begin the next parabolic maneuver, the cold can have a way of seeping in and nipping at your heels. Or was that nipping at something else?

The 11 channel installation that Pitts is creating from the experience will simultaneously show X, Y and Z camera views from the glass cupola below the cockpit; from inside the cockpit; X, Y and Z views from the lab in the plane; three perspectives of Pitts himself as well as the audio recordings of the flight director and the pilots coordinating to orchestrating the smoothest 'hang time' possible for Pitts.

"What interests me is the entire collaboration that has to take place to make this singular, subjective, experience happen," Pitts said in an interview this morning. "When you look at all the footage in sync this really comes through. My nude body is the only calm constant."

You could tell he was just as interested in the technical side of the project as the artistic. "The footage looking outside the the plane is absolutely fantastic. You really feel the physics of the parabolic flight."

Pitts plans to return to Russia, and work to get monitors in the cockpit so the pilots can get even more real time feedback on how smoothly the parabolas are going. He clearly enjoys the collaboration with the pilots and the crew as much as anything, "of course it helps to be able to speak the technical language."

Ultimately Pitts hopes to connect up with private spaceflight operators as well, "I am very interested in space tourism as a free exploration of space." (I can imagine the commercial operators being slightly more open to creative expressions like this then NASA.) I will be interested to see what Pitts dreams up for an encore.

You can see more of Pitts work on his website. (I especially like the "donning the void" vacuum cuff).

Thanks Bradley!

Zero G Flight - in Zero Gravity! USA/RUSSIA

Zero G Flight in USA
Weightless Flight - in Zero Gravity!

The Boeing B727-200 - G-Force OneImagine being weightless above the Sunshine State as you cruise on board of a Boeing B727! Or nearby Las Vegas, or at the summerstate California. On one side there is the Atlantic Ocean, one of the most diverse and amazing bodies of water, glistens below while the sun glints off the silver wings of “G-Force One,” a parabolic certified aircraft presented for your use by Zero Gravity Corporation.

Your adventure begins from the famous Kennedy Space Center or you can choose to take this exciting flight from Las Vegas, Nevada or other destinations Since 2004, Zero Gravity has been able to offer you the experience of a lifetime in their B727 aircraft.

Like the Russian Iljushin 76 MDK, this aircraft possesses the ability to pull enough G’s in order to allow its passengers to achieve weightlessness. NASA, the world famous American space agency, has used this aircraft for years, along with the Boeing 707 (also known by the military as the KC135 – used in hurricane hunter flights for its amazing stabilizing ability) to train its astronauts in weightless maneuvering.

Absolutely weightlessnessOnce you’re off the ramp, safely buckled into your comfortable seats – just like a first-class jetliner seat – it takes less than 30 minutes to get to the Gulf of Mexico. Your pilot eases the aircraft up to a cruising altitude of 21,300 feet. An onboard/inflight check is completed, and then you’re allowed to get up and move around the cabin of the aircraft.

When conditions are just right, the pilots apply full thrust to the powerful jet engines, and with a roar that will echo in your ears every time you relate this event to your envious friends, the jet rises at sharp 45 degree angle upward to an approximate altitude of 34,000 feet.

Free falling - do you want to feel it also?You feel 2 full G’s of force and then it happens…
Weightless Flight (also known as Parabolic Flight) is achieved by flying G-FORCE ONE through a parabolic flight maneuver. Our specially trained pilots fly these maneuvers between and altitude of approximately 24,000 and 34,000 feet. Lasting about one minute, from start to finish, each parabola takes 10 miles of airspace to perform.

The maneuver feels somewhat like a roller coaster ride, rising up at approximately 45 degrees with the nose up in the air. Then the plane is 'pushed over' the top to achieve the zero-gravity for the parabolas. For approximately the next 30 seconds everything, and everyone, in the plane is weightless. Then the pilot eases the plane into a 30 degree pull-out, which allows you to steady yourself on the aircraft floor. Your instructor is there with you the whole time, to ensure your safety. The pilot then readies the plane so you can go again! This process is repeated 15 times, including a 1/6 G (moon) and 1/3 G (Mars)!

Your Zero Gravity adventure continues with a tour of the Kennedy Space Center, home of the Space Shuttle! Here you will learn about the high tech facilities and great minds that it takes to further our ability to explore space, and the history of space exploration.

On your flight home, you can reminisce about your latest experience on G-Force One… and you know that the ground will never feel the same again!

Zero-G Flight in Russia

Experience a Parabolic Flight onboard an Ilyushin 76 MDK of the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City!

An Adventure in Absolute Weightlessness!

Absolutely weightlessness during the Parabolic Flight Who hasn’t watched the shuttle astronauts floating around inside the space station and felt the tug of curiosity and a little pang of jealousy… You know you’ve said it… Those five little words… “How cool would that be?”

Don’t be a bystander any longer! You can experience the un-Earthly feeling of weightlessness, the thrill of zero gravity, and the excitement of training the way the Cosmonauts do. The Ilyushin 76 MDK is the largest parabola aircraft in the world, and the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center has trained many of Russia’s top cosmonauts… and now this closely monitored and guarded exclusive training is available to select civilians!

Picture yourself here… 6,000 meters above the ground, above the clouds, the earth growing smaller. It seems like you’ve paused, midair, but you’re rising in a steep 45 degree angle. Then you feel it… two full G’s of force as the thrust is removed and suddenly you’re weightless! It’s your turn to soar! For the first time, you are able to experience what astronauts and cosmonauts alike have experienced, and you have to the answer to your question… “It is wayyyyyyyyy cool!”

Safe and sound you float weightlessly in the specially designed cargo bay of the Ilyushin, while the experienced instructors, from the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) in Star City, share with you the secrets of weightlessness. Carefully constructed to prevent injury, you explore your weightless environment for approximately 25 seconds, then you feel it again…Gravity! You’re blasting off at a 45-degree angle again, readying yourself for another go at weightlessness.

During your flight, you’ll enjoy the experience of being completely weightless approximately 12 to 15 times, and each time is as exhilarating as the first! You can count yourself as one of the less than 1,000 humans who have had the privilege of this amazing defiance of earthly bounds.

Accompanying you on your journey is Andreas Bergweiler, a connoisseur of Russian space travel. Mr. Bergweiler has participated in many of the trainings for cosmonauts, including zero gravity flights, MiG 25 “Edge of Space” flights, Water Survival for Cosmonauts, centrifuge rides and so much more!! To read more about Mr. Bergweiler, take a look at his online Internet diary at Or, why not ask him about his experiences yourself, while floating weightlessly during your own zero gravity space experience!!

How does a Zero-G flight work?

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Emo and goth to be made illegal in Russia

The Russian government is in the process of drafting a law to make emo and goth music illegal.

Last month a parliamentary committee was convened to discuss a draft proposal of the Russian government's Government Strategy In The Sphere Of Spiritual And Ethical Education bill, the details of which were leaked to The Moscow Times. The newspaper subsequently reported that, among other things, the draft bill dubbed the musical movements a "dangerous teen trend" and called for emo and goth websites to be regulated and young people dressing like emos or goths to be banned from entering schools and government buildings.

The newspaper interviewed one of the bill's authors, Igor Ponkin from the Russian Interior Ministry's Public Oversight Council. Ponkin called emo a "social danger" and "a threat to national stability" and said the bill is a reaction to teen suicides such as the tragic death of British teenager Hannah Bond.

"This type of behaviour is a crucial part of emo ideology," said Ponkin. "Of course there are emo teens who just listen to their music. But our actions are not directed at them but rather at those who also hurt themselves, commit suicide and promote those acts."

The Moscow Times also interviewed psychologist Inna Cherkova who said:

"Suicide is not a symptom of emo culture. I work with other teens too, and every group has emotionally troubled kids."

However, the bill is expected to become law in Russia before the end of the year.

Mona Lisa mown into suburban garden lawn

An art-obsessed gardener has mown the Mona Lisa - complete with mysterious smile - into her lawn.

Mona Lisa garden
Chris Naylor with his grass Mona Lisa Photo: PA

Tania Ledger from Croydon in south London employed a 3D art expert who reconstructed the famous painting for the The Da Vinci Code film to do the same in her garden.

Chris Naylor took two days to replicate Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece in grass, using a small lawnmower and a handful of garden tools.

The design will grow out within a few weeks but Mrs Ledger, 48, says that is what made the project so exciting.

Mona Lisa garden
It took him two days to painstakingly recreate the painting Photo: PA

“It’s like a hair cut - if you don't like it you can grow it out and you can try out as many new looks as you like,” she said.

"Having experimented with topiary already, my lawn seemed like the perfect blank canvas to host my next creation."

Garden art, previously considered the preserve of manor houses and stately homes, is becoming increasingly popular among domestic gardeners, according to Clare Foggett of Garden News.

"Many of the gardens at this year's Chelsea Flower Show featured creative ideas that are easy to copy in your own gardens, such as beautiful cloud-pruned trees, where shrubby hornbeams were pruned Japanese-style to reveal their stems and the remaining growth shaped to form round 'clouds'."

A B&Q spokesman said: "We've certainly noticed a growing trend in decorative gardens this year.”

3 of 3 Images
Mona Lisa garden
Tania Ledger describes her lawn as a 'perfect blank canvas'Photo: PA

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If Tom Brady Had A Comic Book….

It’s that time of the week again, our installment of our “If They Had A Comic Book…” series. This week it got a little epic. It’s 3 whole pages. With football season fast approaching, we decided to ponder what it might look like if Tom Brady got a comic book. Enjoy.

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Gitmo prosecutor repeats al Qaeda deputy's claim: Flight 93 was shot down on 9/11

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba, July 22 (Reuters) - Osama bin Laden's driver knew the target of the fourth hijacked jetliner in the Sept. 11 attacks, a prosecutor said on Tuesday in an attempt to draw a link between Salim Hamdan and the al Qaeda leadership in the first Guantanamo war crimes trial.

Hamdan's lawyer said in opening statements that the Yemeni, held for nearly seven years before his trial, was just a paid employee of the fugitive al Qaeda leader, a driver in the motor pool who never joined the militant group or plotted attacks on America.

But prosecutor Timothy Stone told the six-member jury of U.S. military officers who will decide Hamdan's guilt or innocence that Hamdan had inside knowledge of the 2001 attacks on the United States because he overheard a conversation between bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

"If they hadn't shot down the fourth plane it would've hit the dome," Stone, a Navy officer, said in his opening remarks, repeating Bin Laden's deputy's claim.

The tribunal's chief prosecutor, Col. Lawrence Morris, later explained that Stone was quoting Hamdan in evidence that will be presented at trial. Morris declined to say if the "dome" was a reference to the U.S. Capitol.

"Virtually no one knew the intended target, but the accused knew," Stone said.

Latest News: CBS scrubs McCain 9/11 gaffe from broadcast.

United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania. U.S. officials have never stated it was shot down although rumors saying that abound to this day.

Hamdan, a father of two with a fourth-grade education, is charged with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism in the first U.S. war crimes trial since World War Two. He could face life in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors say Hamdan had access to al Qaeda's inner circle. Stone told the jury that Hamdan earned the trust of bin Laden and helped him flee after attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998 and the Sept. 11 attacks.

"He served as bodyguard, driver, transported and delivered weapons, ammunition and supplies to al Qaeda," Stone said.

Hamdan was being tried in a hilltop courthouse at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, which has been a lightning rod for criticism of the United States since early 2002, when it began housing a prison camp to hold alleged Taliban and al Qaeda fighters from the battlefields of Afghanistan.

The war crimes tribunal system has been criticized by human rights groups and defense lawyers, some of them U.S. military officers. Detainees have been held for years without charges.

Washington has declared them unlawful enemy combatants not entitled to the rights afforded formal prisoners of war.

Responding to the widespread criticism, Morris, the chief prosecutor, said on Tuesday: "In my opinion they are seeing the most just war crimes trial that anyone has ever seen."


Defense lawyer Harry Schneider described Hamdan as a poor Yemeni who lost his parents at a young age and lived on the streets, where he developed a knack for fixing cars.

"The evidence is that he worked for wages. He didn't wage attacks on America," he said. "He had a job because he had to earn a living, not because he had a jihad against America."

"There will be no evidence that Mr. Hamdan espoused or believed or embraced any form of what you will hear about, radical Islam beliefs, extremist Muslim beliefs," he said.

The first two prosecution witnesses were U.S. military officers who were in Afghanistan during the early days of the U.S. invasion in 2001. Both addressed a key issue at trial -- whether Hamdan had surface-to-air missiles when he was captured at a checkpoint near Takhteh Pol in November 2001.

Defense lawyers dispute the prosecution's contention that Hamdan had the weapons. But a U.S. officer identified only as "Sergeant Major A" said the missiles were found in the "trunk of a car driven by Mr. Hamdan."

He said troops also found a mortar manual with "al Qaeda" on the front, a book by bin Laden and a card issued to al Qaeda fighters and signed by Mullah Omar, the Taliban commander.

Ali Soufan, an al Qaeda expert with the FBI, took the jury through a long description of al Qaeda's hierarchy and called bin Laden "the emir, the prince." He said Hamdan was part of bin Laden's security detail.

"The people who are around bin Laden have to be trusted ... true believers in the cause," he said. (Editing by Eric Beech)

Foreclosure filings up 120%

NEW YORK ( -- As foreclosures continue to soar, 220,000 homes were lost to bank repossessions in the second quarter, according to a housing market report Friday issued by RealtyTrac.

That's nearly triple the number from the same period in 2007.

A total of 739,714 foreclosure filings were recorded during that three-month period, up 14% from the first quarter, and 121% from the same period in 2007. That means that one of every 171 U.S. households received a filing, which include notices of default, auction sale notices and bank repossessions.

"Most areas of the country are seeing at least some increase in foreclosure activity," said James Saccadic, CEO of RealtyTrac, an online marketer of foreclosed homes. "Forty-eight of 50 states and 95 out of the nation's 100 largest metro areas experienced year-over-year increases in foreclosure activity."

Because foreclosure filings are growing so quickly, RealtyTrac will have to reevaluate its foreclosure forecast for the year, according to spokesman Rick Sharga.

"We've been saying foreclosures will total 1.9 million to 2 million this year," he said. "But midway through the year, we're already at 1.4 million so we're going to be raising our projections."

And there is more bad news: Bank repossessions are up as a proportion of total filings, representing 30% of the notices issued during the quarter, up from 24% a year ago.

"I don't think that's a surprise if you look at the general conditions out there," said Brian Bethune, chief financial economist for Global Insight. "There have been six straight moves of weaker employment this year. The ongoing problems in the housing market are compounded by a generally weaker economy. Foreclosures won't go down until we start to see employment move up again."

Sun Belt front and center

California's Central Valley remains ground zero for foreclosure filings. Stockton, which is just east of San Francisco, had the highest rate of foreclosure filings of any metro area, one for every 25 homes. That's seven times the national average.

Riverside/San Bernardino, which is east of Los Angeles, had the second highest rate in the nation with one filing for every 32 households. Las Vegas, Bakersfield and Sacramento rounded out the top five.

Detroit continued to suffer more than any other non-Sun Belt area, with one filing for every 66 households. And several Ohio cities were also hard hit, led by Toledo (one in 92 households), Akron (one in 93) and Cleveland (one in 108).

On the other hand, there were a handful of metro areas that remained relatively unscathed. Honolulu, at one filing for every 1,331 households had the lowest rate of all, followed by Allentown, Pa. (one for every 972) and Syracuse, N.Y. (one for every 880).

At the state level, Nevada had the highest rate with one filing for every 43 households, while California had the highest total number of filings - 202,599.

The report came as more negative news for the housing market this week. On Thursday, a report form the National Association of Realtors revealed that existing home sales had declined again as the number of homes for sale continued to rise. On Tuesday, a government agency reported home prices registered another drop in May.

All this is happening as Congress struggles to pass a housing rescue bill that will make FHA-insured loans available to many at-risk borrowers. The measure, which is expected to be enacted, would take effect until Oct. 1.

One of the sponsors of the bill, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said in a statement Thursday that he encourages lenders and mortgage servicers to delay taking action against delinquent borrowers before the new law takes effect.

"I am urging the mortgage servicers to hold off on foreclosures in applicable cases," he said, "so borrowers can take advantage of the program." To top of page

I have accountants pay for it all!

"My Maserati does 185/I lost my license, now I don't drive."

So sang Joe Walsh in his 1978 classic, "Life's Been Good." Should Mr. Walsh find himself in a 2009 Maserati Quattroporte S, he might be losing his license all over again, because the Quattroporte S is the most powerful four-door Maserati ever.

It'd just be a shame riding in the back of a limo instead of commanding the helm of the new 2009 Maserati Quattroporte S. In terms of exclusivity and driving enjoyment, this is the best big luxury sedan an aging rock star can buy.

"S" Is for Sport
The fourth-generation Quattroporte debuted in 2005. For the North American market, it was the second model of Maserati's rebirth following the now-discontinued Spyder/Coupe/Gransport. In our First Drive, we noted our enthusiasm for the car's sensuous Pininfarina-designed bodywork and the car's sporty character.

The 2009 Maserati Quattroporte S represents a new version of the luxury sedan, one that extends the car's capabilities beyond mere gorgeous transportation. A more powerful engine, stronger brakes and recalibrated suspension tuning are part of the plan. There are also a decent number of detail changes for 2009, including updated exterior styling and a revised interior design. Pricing has yet to be announced, but we'd guess Quattroporte S will end up in the $130,000 range.

If you're a rock star, it's totally affordable.

No Exaggeration Here — 174 mph
The Quattroporte S gets this Italian automaker's new 4.7-liter V8. This is the same engine that Maserati will be using for the new Gran Turismo S, and it's rated in this application at a maximum of 425 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 361 pound-feet of torque at 4,750 rpm. The standard '09 Quattroporte will continue to be equipped with the carryover 400-hp 4.2-liter V8.

While 25 hp and 31 lb-ft aren't going to make a huge difference for a 4,375-pound sedan, they are both certainly welcome. The 4.7-liter V8's torque curve is much stronger and flatter from about 2,500 rpm to 4,000 rpm, and this pays dividends when driving around town. (Even rock stars have to go to the supermarket.) The Quattroporte S's alert responses and easy-going tractability meet the expectations of typical luxury-sedan buyers.

The Quattroporte S has mojo when the hammer's down as well. The V8 lets out a sublime Italian yowl at full throttle as it wraps up to a 7,500-rpm redline. Maserati claims a 0-60 time of 5.3 seconds (two-tenths quicker than the base 4.2) and a top speed of 174 mph, which measures up to Joe Walsh's expectations as well as our own.

Ciao, DuoSelect
The first Quattroportes came with a DuoSelect automated manual transmission. While this rear-mounted transaxle offered the quick throttle response of a manual transmission, the slow, clunky shift action proved to be a distraction while puttering around town, especially for those who expected a refined ride. So last year, Maserati adapted a ZF-built six-speed automatic transmission (located right behind the engine) to this platform as standard equipment.

Though it might seem odd to not offer DuoSelect for the Quattroporte S, the automatic is still better for almost all driving situations. Manual shift control is available via the gear selector or steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles. Shift response times don't rise much above adequate, but the ZF has the ability to deliver quick, rev-matching downshifts for fast driving. And if you really want the manual transmission capability of the DuoSelect, you should be in the sporting Maserati Gran Turimso S anyway.

Italian Alps
The best place to utilize the manual-shift function is on a mountain road — in the Italian Alps, for example. And conveniently, this is where the 2009 Maserati Quattroporte S stands out from the pack of mundane luxury sedans. To begin with, the Quattroporte platform positions the V8 behind the front axle for optimized weight balance (49 percent front and 51 percent rear), and this makes the nose of the car more willing to change direction. More important, the Quattroporte S's adaptive Maserati Skyhook suspension system has been retuned to deliver firmer overall damping as well as quicker reaction times to inputs from the wheels and tires.

When you select Sport mode, the suspension damping gets more aggressive and the shift schedule for the transmission optimizes performance. And you'll be able to call upon some serious brakes, because the Quattroporte S has new Brembo-engineered brakes with large 14.2-inch rotors (featuring partial aluminum construction to reduce unsprung weight), plus six-piston calipers. Though the Quattroporte S's tires are no wider than the standard model's, the new 19-inch tires deliver sharper steering response than the former 18s.

Compared to other large luxury sedans, which often drive like they've got too much starch in their tighty-whiteys, the Quattroporte S flexes its muscles in a loose linen shirt. The S-model special steering wheel feels natural in your hands, and the car easily communicates what's going on underneath your backside. Even the electronic safety nets stay out of your way until they're really needed. If there's a downside, it might be that the ride quality is a little firm if you're driving over broken pavement or well-used motorways, in which case the standard Quattroporte with its non-Skyhook suspension would be the better choice.

Dolce & Gabbana
Inside the passenger cabin, the S is pretty much identical to the regular Quattroporte, but there are a few notable changes for 2009. The center stack's controls are more logically arranged and the passenger-side airbag is more cleanly integrated into the dashboard. As before, the interior looks classy, and Maserati will customize the car to meet each individual buyer's needs. Want a hideous combo of Cuiuo Burnt Orange and Bordeaux Red? Maserati will set you up, although the word stupido may be overheard during production in Maserati's factory in Modena.

For us, the most significant interior upgrade is the new Bose multimedia system, Maserati's answer to BMW's iDrive, Mercedes' COMAND and Audi's MMI. It comes as standard equipment and includes hard-drive-based satellite navigation, a CD/MP3/DVD player, satellite radio, digital music storage, iPod integration, Bluetooth and voice activation. The head unit has a traditional look to it, with a dual-mode dial on each side of the display screen and buttons lining the top and bottom.

One interesting feature of the Bose system is its infrared proximity sensor. Move your fingers close to the right-side knob and the system will automatically bring up the proper audio or navigation menu on the screen. Based on our initial impressions, we didn't find the system to be immediately intuitive, so some actual reading of the owner's manual will still be needed. (Can rock stars read?) The Bose system isn't as cumbersome to operate as iDrive, but it doesn't seem to offer as much customization possibility, either.

Molto Bella
For us, the 2009 Maserati Quattroporte S's lack of geek-fest technology is just fine. Rather, this is a luxury sedan that provides driving enjoyment beyond just acceleration and horsepower. Spot a BMW 7 Series going down the road (if you notice it at all), and you'll think, "Oh, a 7 Series." Spy a Quattroporte S as it trumpets past, and you'll think, "Sweet, a Maserati."

Who knows, it might even be Joe Walsh driving it.

Happy......Jesus...Van Damme...Friday