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Thursday, August 7, 2008

5 Steps to building an emergency fund

1. Chart your expenses

To figure out how much you need to save, you first need to calculate how much you spend every month. As tedious as it may seem, it pays off to go over the past three months of bills to get a monthly average of your expenses. At a minimum, include:

  • Mortgage payments
  • Utilities, including bills for cable, Internet, landline and cell-phone service
  • Groceries
  • Insurance premiums, including home, auto and life. Add in at least $400 for individual health insurance - $1,000 for a family - in case the partner whose work provides it is the one to get laid off.
  • Other car expenses including gas and loan payments
  • Property tax (if not included in the mortgage payment)
  • Discretionary spending Allow yourself some fun money. And be realistic: While there are certainly things like dinners out that you can cut back on in a pinch, don't delude yourself into thinking you can slash spending drastically.

Lindsay and Patrick calculate that their expenses are $4,750 a month. With only $1,000 in a savings account and a $1,500 buffer in their checking account, "we'd be through our savings before the month was out if one of us lost a job," admits Lindsay.

2. Measure your need

The rule of thumb is that you should have three to six months of living expenses in the bank. But your personal target depends on how stable your income is, says Tim Maurer, a Baltimore financial planner. With two salaries - which Lindsay and Patrick have - a three-month emergency fund may be sufficient in good times.

When finding a new job is tough, as it is now, it's a good idea to push that up to six months. If your family depends on a single income or if one or both of you rely heavily on commissions or bonuses, shoot for a six-month fund in safe times. And daunting as it sounds, aim for a year in uncertain times.

You can reduce the fund if you are guaranteed a severance package, but never dip below three months of cash - a lost job isn't the only potential emergency. Also, keep in mind that your fund may not be just for you. If your parents or grown-up children are likely to call on you in a crisis, you might need to tap your savings to support their emergency in addition to yours.

3. Find a place to put it

Often, the safest accounts offer interest rates that don't even keep up with inflation. "But the emergency fund isn't about yield," says David Greene, a financial planner in Fairfax, Va. Above all, you need an account that won't tumble in value and that's as liquid as cash.

Taxable stock and mutual fund accounts, while relatively easy to get at, fail the first test. When the economy is in trouble, chances are stocks are as well, making it the worst time to cash out.

The past six months have shown that home equity fails the second test. Lindsay and Patrick's HELOC is still intact. (Condo prices in Massachusetts are down only 2.6% year over year.) But since lenders have been changing the rules on HELOC equity, the Heinekes shouldn't view their line as guaranteed.

For the best combination of access, safety and yield, you have three options: a bank money-market account, a high-yield savings account and a money-market mutual fund. The first two have the benefit of being FDIC-insured for up to $100,000. And while money-market mutual funds are not insured, no individual investor has ever lost money in one.

Among these ultrasafe categories, pick the one with the highest yield. Go to bankrate.com to compare rates.

4. Build it up

Starting from scratch? Save fast. You don't want to be one emergency away from debt. Halt retirement savings - except to get your employer's full 401(k) match - and extra payments on low-interest loans until you have the target amount in the bank, says Maurer. Then resume retirement contributions.

Today, Lindsay and Patrick put $2,000 a month toward their 6% HELOC (they used $19,000 of their $38,000 line for home improvements and wedding costs). They could divert most of that to an emergency fund - still making $300 minimum payments on the HELOC. Combined with the $1,000 in their savings account, they'd be able to build a decent three-month cushion of $15,000 in nine months.

5. Look but don't touch

Once you've got the fund built, revisit it once a year and consider upping the amount if life events - like a new baby, new house or new salary - have increased your spending. Resist the temptation to use the fund for anything other than unbudgeted necessary expenses.

Hearing the planners' advice has made Patrick and Lindsay realize that they weren't as secure as they'd thought. They've decided to split their extra cash between their emergency fund and the HELOC, and they plan to move their savings from a bank account yielding a low 0.2% to a high-yield money-market account. Says Lindsay: "We've really had our eyes opened to how much risk we've had all this time." To top of page

Buy more foreign stocks


(Money Magazine) -- Even in this century's darkest days of recession and war, U.S. households kept on spending. But one of the smartest investors on the planet says the American consumer is finally out of steam.

In his new book, "When Markets Collide: Investment Strategies for the Age of Global Economic Change," Mohamed El-Erian, co-CEO of bond-investing giant Pimco, argues that this development fundamentally changes the way to invest.

Question: Economists have been predicting the demise of consumer spending for years. Why should we believe it this time?

Answer: Because there are very few shock absorbers left for U.S. consumers. They are facing a credit crunch, a sharp slow-down in the economy that has triggered higher unemployment, and price shocks in energy and in food. On top of that, they can no longer use their houses as ATMs.

Q. If we can't count on the U.S. consumer, isn't the global economy doomed?

A. In the old days, if the U.S. economy contracted, the rest of the world would do even worse. But today, if the U.S. contracts, the rest of the world might contract by only half. That's a fundamental change. The wealth of the emerging middle class in countries like Brazil, India and China is becoming a force in itself.

Q. How should investors adjust to this new world order?

A. The typical U.S. investor tends to have about 80% of equities in the U.S. The world of tomorrow suggests a much greater exposure overseas. In general, you should consider holding a third of your equities in the U.S., a third in industrial countries outside the U.S. and a third in emerging markets.

Q. Don't the emerging economies of China, India and Latin America pose a risk?

A. Absolutely. The low-cost goods exported from emerging economies helped hold down prices in the rest of the world. But as wages in those countries rise, they'll cease to be a helpful force for disinflation and start to drive inflation higher.

Q. How can investors protect themselves from that?

A. This scenario is a classic argument for holding more commodities, real estate and inflation-protected bonds. In the long run, think about keeping 20% or so of your total portfolio in these assets.

Q. Aren't they expensive now?

A. Yes, but you can invest in inflation-protected bonds issued by other countries [Editor: for example, by investing in an ETF that contains these bonds]. And there will be entry points to buy real assets at lower prices in the future. Commodity prices, for example, are volatile and likely to get more so. Arriving at that 20% should be a long-term rather than a short-term goal. To top of page

4 Jobs you can do without the pros

(Money Magazine) -- Some tasks you definitely shouldn't tackle yourself. Laser eye surgery is out of the question, and so is pulling your own wisdom tooth. Even around the house, you're wise to hire a pro for jobs requiring highly technical expertise, such as adding skylights or boosting electrical service.

But plenty of home improvement projects look more intimidating than they really are. If you take them on yourself, you can cut the cost in half. The reason: "Materials generally account for 30% to 50% of a contractor's fee," explains Claude Minnich, owner of Clarke Hardware, a 102-year-old shop in Culpeper, Va. Unlike standard DIY fare - painting, tiling, planting - these four jobs aren't covered in classes at the home center. But if you're comfortable with the tools required and can follow a manufacturer's instructions, you'll be fine going solo.

Plumb some benefits

Replacing a sink, toilet or faucet is easy because you don't have to run new pipes or attach new fittings. Just remove the old item and put the new one in its place.

Potential savings: $100 to $300

Time required: One to two hours

What's involved: Shut the water main and open the house's lowest-lying faucet to drain the pipes. Then remove the old fixture (reverse the installation instructions). If a connection won't loosen, spray it with WD-40; use two wrenches, one to undo the nut and the other to hold the pipe steady, to prevent breakage.

What might drive you crazy: One slip of a wrench and you'll mar that gleaming new porcelain fixture. Protect finishes near your wrench with an old towel.

Tools needed: A basin wrench ($10) for removing and installing faucets; pipe joint compound ($3) or Teflon tape ($1) for watertight seals that can be reopened later

Stonewall - your yard

With a man-made faux-stone kit - it's really concrete (unilock.com) - anyone with a strong back can lay a retaining wall.

Potential savings: $1,000 to $3,000

Time required: One to five days, depending on the condition of the site and the size of the wall

What's involved: To create a base for the wall, you have to dig out a few inches of soil, lay down a bed of gravel, compact it, then lay down sand and compact that. Afterward, building the wall is a snap: You just set the "stones" in place one row at a time, applying a special glue between each row.

What might drive you crazy: Lugging around heavy chunks of cement

Tools needed: A masonry chisel ($15) and rubber mallet ($40) for cutting stones, plus a gas-powered plate compactor ($80 a day) to make quick work of laying the base

Lighten up

Your fear of electricity is well founded. Misguided DIYers can cause fires or even zap themselves. But you don't need an intimate knowledge of circuitry or voltage to replace a light fixture, change a wall switch for a dimmer or swap new outlets for old ones. If you can turn screws and twist a few wires together, you're good.

Potential savings: At least $100 (the minimum electricians charge for a visit)

Time required: 10 to 30 minutes for each electrical item

What's involved: First, turn off the power at the circuit breaker. (Tip: Throw the main switch for the whole house to be perfectly safe.) Then back out the screws holding the switch, fixture or outlet in place and loosen the screws or wire nuts (colorful plastic caps), attaching the item to the house wiring. Then you'll have to reconnect that wiring to the corresponding contacts on the new unit you're installing and fasten it in place.

What might drive you crazy: Deciphering the instructions, like figuring out which way to wrap wires around screws (answer: clockwise)

Tools needed: A noncontact voltage tester ($11) to confirm that power is off and a circuit tester to show whether you've wired an outlet correctly ($6). Then let there be light.

Hustle and floor

You already know about the kind of laminate flooring (such as Pergo) that snaps together without glue, but, says Gene Hamilton, author of "Home Improvement for Dummies," "there are now carpet, cork and linoleum products that are just as easy."

Potential savings: $300 to $1,000 (based on a typical charge of $2 to $7 a square foot by flooring installers)

Time required: Four to six hours for a large (12-foot-by-12-foot) room

What's involved: For cork or linoleum tiles, place the first row against one wall of the room and gradually move across to the other side, snapping the tile edges together, working right over the existing floor. With carpet tiles, start by measuring out and marking two guidelines that divide the room into even quadrants. You then lay the tiles against those lines and work toward the walls.

What might drive you crazy: You'll need to pry off baseboards before beginning the job and replace them at the end. Proceed slowly. If you break them, you'll have to cut new pieces later.

Tools needed: For tiles, you'll need a chalk line ($10) to mark those guidelines and a framing square ($10) to make sure they're straight. For linoleum or cork, use a handsaw ($15) or, even better, spring for a power circular saw ($50 to $150). To top of page

Small investors to get 100% of their money back from Citigroup, Merrill Lynch

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- If your bank contacts you about a bond-like investment you made some time ago, don't ignore it. You could benefit from an unusual settlement that will allow you to get back 100% of your investment's value.

Citigroup announced Thursday that by Nov. 5 it would buy back so-called auction-rate securities from individual investors, charities and businesses with assets of $10 million or less. Hours later, Merrill Lynch (ML) announced it too would buy back retail investors' auction-rate securities at par. Some 30,000 retail customers hold a total of $12 billion of these securities.

"Our clients have been caught in an unprecedented liquidity crisis," said John Thain, Merril's chief executive officer. "We are solving it by giving them the option of selling their positions to us."

The Citi agreement settles a legal dispute with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and calls for the investment bank to repurchase at full value all securities of this type sold before Feb. 11. Citigroup (C, Fortune 500) will also reimburse all retail investors who sold their securities at a discount after the market for them shut down.

Some 40,000 Citi customers, whose holdings are worth more than $7 billion, are expected to benefit. Citigroup plans to shell out about $500 million to make the investors whole.

"The people are getting their money back," Cuomo said at a press conference.

Merrill, which acknowledged in a press release Cuomo's efforts to resolve the auction-rate securities problem, said its clients would have a year, beginning on Jan. 15, in which to sell their securities to the firm.

While Wall Street is no stranger to securities fraud settlements, these deals differ considerably from class-action lawsuits or restitution funds set up by state and federal officials, experts said.

Those agreements usually reimburse investors only part of what they lost - at times only 30 cents on the dollar. If shareholders retrieved 70% of their original holdings, it would be considered an ample award.

"This is a most unusual sort of settlement," said Alan Bromberg, securities law professor at Dedman School of Law, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, referring to the Citi deal. "This would be very generous. You could hardly ask for more."

It's likely superior to what the auction-rate securities holders would have received had they won a class-action suit, said John Coffee, securities law professor at Columbia Law School.

In this case, Citigroup and other investment banks ran into trouble when the auction-rate securities market froze this past winter amidst the credit crunch.

Until then, advisers had marketed the investments as a safe, liquid place to stash cash. What many investors didn't fully realize is that the value of their holdings - and their access to it - depended on buyers snapping up the securities at auction. When buyers abandoned the market in February, many investors were unable to draw on their holdings or were forced to sell them at a loss.

The agreement with Citigroup, one of the largest issuers of auction-rate securities, is expected to pave the way for settlements with other companies even beyond Merrill. Cuomo, whose threats last week to sue Citigroup brought them to the negotiating table, has also filed a multi-billion suit against UBS (UBS) for falsely marketing the investments as equivalent to cash at a time when the market for these securities was under severe strain. In June, Massachusetts state securities regulators filed a civil suit against the firm.

In a separate action Thursday, Morgan Stanley (MS, Fortune 500) agreed to reimburse two Massachusetts municipalities $1.5 million for their auction-rate securities. In the New York case, Citigroup also agreed to reimburse all refinancing fees to any New York state municipality which issued auction-rate securities since Aug. 1, 2007.

"It wouldn't surprise me to see a good number of similar cases," Bromberg said. To top of page

2009 WRX priced under 25,000 -


Chismillionaire misses his punchy turbo boxer 4 he had before little Chismillionaire came along.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Subaru's new 2009 WRX will start below $25,000, Inside Line has learned. The current 2008 WRX starts at $24,995 including a $645 delivery charge.

For 2009, the WRX's 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine's power rating will be increased to 265 horsepower. A five-speed manual is the only transmission option. Stiffer spring rates, larger antiroll bars, retuned dampers and upper strut mounts from the WRX STI, along with an STI grille and front and rear spoilers, add to the changes.

Subaru also told IL the 2009 Subaru Impreza GT, a new model that keeps the current WRX's 224-hp engine, will be priced near the 2009 WRX. The Impreza GT carries a comparable MSRP due to more standard equipment, including a four-speed automatic transmission and sunroof.

Subaru is expected to announce complete pricing for the 2009 Impreza lineup next week.

What this means to you: Relief for Subaru fans who anticipated a bigger price hike for the more powerful WRX.

Porsche No 1 at Pebble Beach



ATLANTA — The Porsche No. 1, revered by aficionados as the first real Porsche, will take center stage at the 2008 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, Porsche said. The two-seater open roadster features a mid-mounted, Volkswagen air-cooled flat-4 engine that produces a modest 40 horsepower at best.

Porsche had originally tried to get the car to California in 1998 for an appearance at the Monterey Historic Automobile Races, but the car was damaged in transit. The one-of-a-kind Porsche was created by Ferdinand "Ferry" Porsche "after he searched and was unable to find the car of his dreams," according to the company.

The roadster weighs in at 1,290 pounds and has a top speed of between 84 and 87 mph. Most of the mechanicals are said to be derived from the Volkswagen Beetle, which was created by Ferry's father, Ferdinand. Interior details on the No. 1 include a bench seat to accommodate a third passenger, a dash with only a tachometer — a speedometer was added later — and a locking glovebox. The luggage compartment and fuel tank were located under the front hood.

Porsche said the No. 1 passed "through the hands of several owners." It was reacquired by the company and is set for display in the new museum next to the Porsche factory in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen.

What this means to you: You get a chance for an up-close-and-personal look at one of the rarest Porsches of all time. —

The MOAB means business

The Basics

MOAB Deployment
You can view a video of the MOAB deployment as a Real Player media file. Here are some still images from the video:


Photo courtesy U.S. DOD
Here are the basic facts about the MOAB:
  • It is currently the largest conventional bomb (as opposed to a nuclear bomb) in the U.S. arsenal.
  • The bomb weighs 21,000 pounds (9,525 kg).
  • The bomb is 30 feet long and 40.5 inches in diameter.
  • It is satellite-guided, making it a very large "smart bomb."
  • It bursts about 6 feet (1.8 meters) above the ground.
The idea behind an "air burst" weapon, as opposed to a weapon that explodes on impact with the ground, is to increase its destructive range. A bomb that penetrates the ground and then bursts tends to send all of its energy either down into the ground or straight up into the air. An air burst weapon sends a great deal of its energy out to the side.

The MOAB will replace the BLU-82, also known as the Daisy Cutter, a 15,000-pound (6,800-kg) air-burst bomb developed during the Vietnam war. The Air Force could drop a Daisy Cutter to create an instant helicopter landing site. The explosive force would clear out trees in a 500-foot-diameter (152-meter) circle.

The MOAB is not the largest bomb ever created. In the 1950s the United States manufactured the T-12, a 43,600-pound (19,800-kg) bomb that could be dropped from the B-36.

Compared to a nuclear bomb, the MOAB produces a tiny explosion. The smallest known nuclear bomb -- the Davy Crockett fission bomb -- has a 10-ton yield. The difference is that a nuclear bomb that small weighs less than 100 pounds (45 kg) and produces significant amounts of lethal radiation when it detonates. For comparison, the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima had a yield of 14,500 tons of TNT and weighed only 10,000 pounds (4,500 kg) -- half the weight of the MOAB. See How Nuclear Bombs Work for details.


The Delivery

Instead of being dropped from a bomber through the bomb bay doors, the MOAB is pushed out of the back of a cargo plane such as a C-130. The bomb rides on a pallet. A parachute pulls the pallet and bomb out of the plane and then the pallet separates so that the bomb can fall.


Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force
C-130 Hercules Aircraft

In this video, supplied by the U.S. Department of Defense, you can see the pallet and bomb come out of the back of the plane and then separate from one another within a few seconds. The bomb then accelerates rapidly to its terminal velocity.


Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Defense
When you watch this video, you can see the pallet and the bomb separate.

Once the bomb is falling, a guidance system based on the Global Positioning System takes over and directs the bomb to its target.

The Power Inside

The MOAB is built by Dynetics and contains approximately 18,000 pounds of tritonal. Tritonal is a mixture of TNT (80%) and aluminum powder (20%). The aluminum improves the brisance of the TNT -- the speed at which the explosive develops its maximum pressure. The addition of aluminum makes tritonal about 18% more powerful than TNT alone.


Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Defense
Air Force workers prepare the MOAB for testing. A GPS receiver uses the flaps shown here to change the direction of the bomb as it falls. Smart bombs like this can hit their targets very accurately.

A Daisy Cutter, by comparison, contains 12,600 pounds (5,700 kg) of ammonium nitrate, aluminum and polystyrene, a combination known as GSX (gelled slurry explosives). GSX is commonly used in mining and is a commercial high explosive that is inexpensive and easy to produce. TNT is a military high explosive.


Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Defense
Front and rear view of a BLU-82 free-fall bomb (Daisy Cutter)

For more information on MOAB and related topics, check out the links on the next page.

New Fitzy FANalyst Video & live Show Info!

Peoples, the Pats preseason begins tonight, at home, against the Gravens. And that means the real thing is just a few weeks away. SWEET-FRIGGING-ASS! Let the healing begin...

In the meanwhile, here's my 2nd video installment for YouTube's fantasy football-oriented "FANalyst" series. I laud those who choose TFB with the #1 overall pick, of course...







And don't forget - live show tomorrow night in Franklin, MA, benefit to raise money for children with Autism.
Info below - and a hearty GFY to all!

*******

An Evening of Comedy...with a cause, and stuff

Hosted by FITZY!!

Friday, August 8th

Proceeds to benefit the Doug Flutie Jr Foundation

Elk's Lodge No 2136
1077 Pond St, Franklin, MA
(508) 533-2136

Doors open at 7:00PM

Comedians to include - Rick Canavan, Scott Darby, Andrew Mayer, Ahmed Bharoocha & John Porch

Tickets are $20.00 and include admission & appetizers.
There will also be a Cash Bar

Tickets may still be purchased online at www. AutismBenefit2008. com

*******
Here's a sample of some of the prizes -

BOSTON COLLEGE JERSEY SIGNED by DOUG FLUTIE

Hockey Sticks signed by Ray Bourque & Cam Neely

Adam Vinatieri signed football w/ "SB 36 CHAMPS" INSCR

3x Champions commemorative Football signed by Bill Belichik

SB XXXIX Champion locker room hats signed Kevin Faulk & Vince Wilfork

8x10's - signed by Steve Grogan, Terry O'Reilly, Cam Neely, Rodney Harrison, Ben Coates, Corey Dillon, Gerry Cheevers and LOTS more!!!

Baseballs signed by - Jim Rice, Terry Francona, Jonathan Papelbon, Tim Wakefield, Wade Boggs and more!!!

Hockey pucks signed by Cam Neely, Gerry Cheevers & Rick Middleton

Parquet tiles signed by Kevin McHale & Robert Parish

Pawsox tickets

Golf Gift pack - 2 dozen golf balls & $50 gift card to Edwin Watts

over 50 prizes!!!

Let's raise a glass and say, in unison, "Screw you, Autism! Nobody likes you anyway." And have some laughs in the process.

Mendoza, Argentina











6 Tips for Reinvigorating a Boring Job

Computerworld — You know the feeling: It was fun while it lasted. You used to look forward to coming to work every day, but now you drag yourself in. You gladly took on challenging technology projects and were eager to provide whatever the department needed; now you balk at unexpected responsibilities. As many IT professionals can attest, even the most exciting position can lose its zip over time. Whether the honeymoon lasted for two months or two years, the question is what to do about it now.

First, don't assume that your dissatisfaction stems entirely from unchangeable aspects of the job. Instead, take some time to figure out what you can do to breathe some life into the situation. If you're still feeling disengaged after you've made that effort, you'll know it's time to move on to a new challenge. To get started, here are six essential tips for "job CPR."

Create your own job description. The most satisfied IT professionals are those who have molded their duties to suit their talents and interests. If you relish certain components of your job, seek out ways to increase these activities and decrease those you dislike. Most managers want their employees to optimize their potential and will support these efforts as long as they produce results.

Set a target. Do you know what your next step up the career ladder will be? Establishing a tangible goal provides a sense of purpose, a key component of job satisfaction. It also helps you advance in your profession. Consider where you'd like to be in five years and how you plan to get there. Achieving your objective may require new technical training, enhancing your interpersonal skills or networking more. The steps you take will not only build your self-confidence but also strengthen your chances of earning raises and promotions.

Pal around. Friendships with co-workers can help you focus more on team success and less on your individual work concerns. This doesn't mean you have to spend all of your free time with colleagues; in fact, many on-the-job friends rarely socialize outside of the office. Work friends serve as a built-in support system when times are tough and increase the amount of enthusiasm you feel for your job on a daily basis.

Manage stress. Some work-related stress can't be helped, but much anxiety is self-induced. Rule No. 1: Don't worry about things you can't control, such as your manager's opinions. Another good practice: Confront challenging projects head-on. It's tempting to procrastinate when you have a particularly difficult or unpalatable task on your to-do list, but the sooner you tackle it, the faster you can move on. Finally, take periodic breaks, even when you're busy. You may think you're saving time by skipping lunch, but stopping to recharge will help you feel refreshed and focused on the task at hand.

Take a chance. Professional growth entails smart risk-taking. Often, an action that can advance your career—such as requesting a raise, giving a presentation outside of the IT department, inviting your boss to lunch or taking the lead on a high-profile project—will fall outside of your comfort zone. While it's normal to fear failure, don't let negative feelings deter you. Great satisfaction can be gained from overcoming personal challenges and breaking new ground.

Seek assistance. Talk to trusted mentors and colleagues who can provide candid feedback on your situation. They may have faced similar challenges in their own careers and be able to recommend ways to bounce back. In addition, discussing your concerns and frustrations openly can help you develop your own solutions and alleviate feelings of isolation.

Reviving a job that seems to have flatlined won't happen overnight, and in some cases, it won't happen at all. But by making the effort, you'll gain a clearer sense of what inspires you to do your best work, as well as the conditions that drain you. Whether you stay with your current position or seek a new opportunity, you may find over time that you're making positive changes that not only enhance your motivation but also set you on a path toward achieving your career goals.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.

CIA's IT makeover

August 07, 2008CIO — The CIA is undergoing a major transformation, and IT is playing a leading role. In Part 4 of our inside look at the agency, we look at how the CIA is working to "play nicely" with the 15 other intelligence agencies. We also describe the IT department that CIO Al Tarasiuk leads and why he's protective of them and their efforts. (See "Inside the CIA's Extreme Technology Makeover, Part 1", Part 2 and Part 3, to read the first three parts in our series.)

"How to entice people to play"

Until 2004, the CIA was the de facto lead intelligence agency—the CIA director briefed the president every day. The CIA "fiercely opposed" the creation of the Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI) in 2004 before the CIA became just another one of the 16 agencies reporting into DNI, just as the U.S. Coast Guard's intel division does, according to a New Yorker profile of DNI chief Mike McConnell.

CIA seal

Other organizations that are a part of the DNI and are now required to share intelligence among the community include: the FBI, the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). CIA CIO Al Tarasiuk says that he meets with the CIOs of those five agencies regularly to talk about building out the "connectivity tissue" to each other as well as share ideas on how to "entice people to play" and share more information.

One of the more notable successes that the CIA has delivered to the intel community is the Intellipedia product, which was introduced in 2006. Based on wiki software, Intellipedia allows analysts in all 16 organizations in the intelligence community to share Web-based information on critical topics and search for intel expertise on a wide range of subjects, such as who's got expertise on Burundi. Unlike Wikipedia, there is no anonymity: Everyone is authenticated onto the system and quality control is high, reports Ken Westbrook, chief of business information strategy in the CIA's intelligence directorate.

So far, there are more than 40,000 registered users who have made 1.8 million page edits on more than 300,000 pages in the system. (Before Intellipedia, Westbrook says, "you'd have to send e-mails through lots of people and hope that they read them.") Still, not everyone has rushed out to embrace Intellipedia, and the difficulties of the change, note CIA officials, have been more cultural than technological due to the long-standing rivalries.

Half of the CIA's workforce is relatively new to the agency (applications poured in after 9/11) and many old-schoolers are getting ready to retire. The CIA is trying to get those ready to depart to dump their intellectual capital into systems like Intellipedia. In fact, Westbrook claims that one of the most prolific users of the system has been a 69-year-old employee preparing to retire. (CIA IT also uses wikis to keep track of project management.)

Other efforts rolled out or revamped within the past year show that the CIA is, at the very least, opening up the network connections to other agencies and offering more CIA "product," as Tarasiuk terms it.

One of these efforts is called CIA Wire. CIA Wire is a communications conduit the agency uses to disseminate its intelligence (through private networks) to the JWICS, or Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, and the Department of Defense's secret-level network called SIPRNet (or Secret Internet Protocol Router Network).

"We now have a single agency-branded presence on those two sites, and that's how we disseminate—very much like a news outlet—fresh information, managed content and also some of our traditionally disseminated products," Tarasiuk says. "It's a huge deal for us." He says users can click on categories that contain intelligence and analysis on specific regions, such as Southeast Asia.

"We put the analysts in a room with the developers to work this out"

The CIA also boasts of grassroots Web-driven efforts that are sprouting up inside the intel community. One such effort is called Samizdat (which is a Russian word for self-publishing) and is a collaboration among the intelligence community analysts who follow Russian affairs that the CIA funded and provides the networking capabilities. The website incorporates Web 2.0 technologies, like blogs and wikis, breaking news intel and video.

Westbrook notes that the idea bubbled up from the analysts themselves and was funded from a special CIA budget for just such a thing, and the project moved quickly by using agile development methods. "We put the analysts in a room with the developers to work this out," he says.

Ken Westbrook
Ken Westbrook, the Director of Intelligence's liaison with IT

Westbrook said he expects more user-driven efforts just like it in the future, which is similar to what many other private-sector businesses are seeing today—the growing adoption of consumer-driven IT applications and tools that come from outside of IT's purview. However it's likely to be a bumpy process: in CIO's annual consumer technology survey, 54 percent of IT leaders surveyed deemed consumer applications "inappropriate for corporate use" despite their widespread acceptance by younger workers. Analysts such as AMR Research's Jonathan Yarmis, however, contend that banning social networking technology inside organizations is a losing battle.

At the CIA, the technology expectations from the influx of under-30 staffers have not always synced to the stringent security requirements. In some cases, they expect IT to be "very much what they see on the outside before they drive through gate," Tarasiuk says, "and some have been disappointed."

According to government watchers, the CIA and other intelligence agencies with strict security policies are going to only hear more about the necessity of Web 2.0 and Google-like features in their applications as government collaboration is linked even more to information-sharing successes.

Lena Trudeau, a program director at the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), an independent Washington, D.C., government advisory group who works to foster government collaboration, says, "When I look across the 16 intelligence agencies, and the DNI is included in that bucket, and I see the way they're beginning to embrace new tools to communicate across these organizations, my belief is that that does not weaken any one organization. I think it strengthens all of them."

"They were resilient to the change"

Inside the CIA's IT department, the one constant has been the frequency of change. Enemy. No enemy. New enemy. Funding. No funding. New funding. Staff. No staff. New staff. (Much like the CIA overall, almost half of the IT workforce is new since 9/11, and many are under 30.) "We don't reorganize every other month," Tarasiuk says, "but we have had some significant ones."

He describes a period of time after 2001 when IT was centralized, decentralized, split into various groups with different CIOs, and then all consolidated under his direction in October 2005. "The workforce, they had been through this so many times that they were resilient to the change," he says.

Tarasiuk says that IT staffers go through "a lot of scrutiny" to join CIA. "And by the way, once you're in here, we continue to scrutinize them, particularly those that have additional privileges," he says. "It's not unusual for some of those people to go through an annual investigation and polygraph, when you're talking about sensitive data." (Tarasiuk also gets polygraphed.) Tarasiuk describes his IT staffers as "agile, adaptive and able to move with the organization no matter where the mission goes."

Mission is above all else, he says, and political beliefs contrary to mission are to be checked at the gate. "Our people are very good about focusing on the mission and not worrying about all that stuff," he says. "When they're here, they're focused on getting the job done because the mission is priority to them." (To see how the CIA IT watches its own, see "Under Surveillance: How Does the CIA Keep Its IT Staff Honest?")

Tarasiuk also has to deal with the intense public and media scrutiny that comes along with working at an agency that is covered in media reports related to the alleged torturing of detainees in the war on terror. He defends his agency and watches over his staff closely, instructing them to focus on their mission. "We're a secretive intelligence service, so we know things here that we can't talk about, and a lot of it is very, very positive," he adds.

Al Tarasiuk
CIA CIO Al Tarasiuk

Over several interviews, Tarasiuk appears very protective of his staffers. When asked how he keeps IT workers' focus on the mission at hand and not on CIA controversies (such as allegations that CIA officers tortured detainees at various "black sites" around the world), Tarasiuk is resolute. "Because of the history and things that have happened in the past, it's always going to be a lightning rod when there's a discussion about this agency," he says. "One of my roles that I take very seriously is to isolate our folks from the stuff that gets put out that's not true. I basically tell them not to worry about it and focus on mission."

The mission since 9/11 created a new intensity and pace that were foreign to many inside IT. The "ops tempo" quickly became 24/7/365. "We've got to keep systems up no matter what," Tarasiuk says. This had always been the case for those IT assignments outside headquarters, and now it has permeated the entire organization. (To read an interview with one CIA IT worker who has spent years overseas and in war zones, see "What It's Like to Work Overseas for the CIA's IT Group.")

Extracting specifics about the IT workforce he manages is difficult. He can't talk about the number of staffers, size of his budget, or specifics of networks and most applications. (He uses the word "stuff" a lot to describe things.) "I can't get into specific details about what we use," Tarasiuk says, though he does offer that his is a Microsoft shop, and they use Sun systems and other Linux-based platforms.

In Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, author Tim Weiner offers a scathing account of the CIA's history that mostly recounts its epic failures of incompetence and the occasional success. (The CIA took issue with the "selective citations, sweeping assertions and a fascination with the negative," which it has said of Weiner's 2007 book.) One of the long-held views about the CIA (which Weiner terms a "myth") is that all the CIA's successes were kept secret, and that only its failures were trumpeted. When asked, in his office, if that statement was just as applicable to inequities of leading an IT organization today, Tarasiuk gives a knowing, polite smile but doesn't directly respond to the question.

In a later conversation, however, Tarasiuk offers that "the problem with our organization is that we can't talk about all these things." He says, "I think if the American public knew how effective this organization is, there would be a different tone."

"It doesn't get any easier when there's a change of administration"

From now until Jan. 20, 2009, when a new president takes office, Tarasiuk will continue to build on his successes ("It's only the beginning for us," he says) and IT's standing inside CIA, knowing full well that more change is inevitable. "It doesn't get any easier when there's a change of administration," says Ken Orr, principal researcher at The Ken Orr Institute and a former member of the National Research Council (NRC) committee. "It's not a bad time to finish things, but it's a really hard to time to start things."

A looming budget downturn for the CIA is expected, Tarasiuk says, and he's concerned about maintaining the same level of service and delivery that everyone has become accustomed to. Lastly, there is still a war going on and a terrorist threat that has been weakened but is still, as described by the 9/11 Commission, "sophisticated, patient, disciplined and lethal."

Back inside in his office, splayed out in front of Tarasiuk on a conference table, is a mix of glossy, government-issued strategic road maps. He touches all of the booklets: "National Strategy for Information Sharing," courtesy of the president in October 2007; "United States Intelligence Community Information Sharing Strategy," from the director of national intelligence's office in February 2008; and "Strategic Intent: 2007-2011," the CIA's road map for the next five years. Last is Tarasiuk's own contribution to the group: "CIA Enterprise IT Strategic Plan: 2007-2011."

"All this means change. This is huge change for us. OK?" Tarasiuk says. "But we're doing a lot of things as a government to make sure that we don't have another incident, at least one that's not attributable to a lack of sharing data."

What it's like to work for the CIA's IT group

August 06, 2008CIO — "I have a million stories to tell," says the senior CIA IT person, staring at me through the CIA's videoconferencing system. Unfortunately, he can't share any with me. (He cites national security reasons, of course.)

His name? Sorry, but no. His location? Can't say that either.

CIA seal

What the active-duty senior communications officer does disclose, however, are the vagaries of a 23-year career in the CIA's IT organization—an itinerant, exciting and dangerous life in "a number of overseas positions" and in at least one war zone, he says.

A subset of the CIA's IT workforce is principally devoted to working in overseas locations, and they move around every three years, says the CIA's CIO, Al Tarasiuk. Tarasiuk himself did a tour with the CIA's National Clandestine Service—the spy organization—in Africa back in the day. (See "Who Is Al Tarasiuk?" for more on him.) Paraphrasing the CIA's mission statement, Tarasiuk says that IT staffers (IT is also called "Commo" for Global Communications Services) "are part of the national security structure: We go where others cannot go, where others don't. That's the Commo culture that is inherent in the IT workforce. First in, last out."

So when a conflict breaks out in a country like Afghanistan, and CIA "ops" people are sent into "bad spots," as Tarasiuk says, riding alongside are Commo staffers. "Prior to the [Iraq] war there were bad spots, and during the war there are plenty of bad spots," he says. "We maintain the infrastructure there, and manage and provide all the IT services on the ground." Life overseas can be rough, and it takes a certain type of person to thrive in war zones or foreign nations in tumult. "The days of the white socks and pocket protectors are behind us," Tarasiuk says.

Via videoconference, the senior communications officer looks and talks like he could work at any corporate IT shop: He's pleasant, wears glasses and seems plenty knowledgeable. But you can tell he's seen a lot more than most techies. He describes the necessity of being not just someone who can diagnose problems on a PC or LAN, but also a person who can fix a generator. "Virtually anything that's related to technology," he says.

Versatility a Must When Working for the Agency

As to the personal traits it takes to survive, this senior IT officer uses words like versatile and agile. "Resiliency and energy are important," he says. "In a war theater, it takes willpower to deal with people [because] the primary job is customer service to agency comrades in field who are shaking the bushes." Months away from families, toiling away at a station half way around the globe, are routine.

Day-to-day life is anything but routine, however. "No two days are ever really the same," he says. At one time he can be troubleshooting a LAN transmission system and another he'll be called to an ambassador's residence to assist on some tech problem. "But you can be pulled away to do HVAC stuff too," he adds.

Overseas Commo workers used to come, primarily, from the military (due to the need for people with Morse code and cable messaging experience). In addition to still drawing from the military, many of those IT staffers now come straight out of colleges or technical schools. Highly specialized training lasts 25 weeks. "It takes a very determined mind-set to work overseas," Tarasiuk says.

The senior communications officer says that the travel has been one of the best parts of his varied set of experiences. "I've seen quite a bit of the world," he says. As to whether he'd ever move into a comfy private-sector job, he demurs. Too many "interesting experiences," he says. With a laugh, he notes that because he's had a lot of close calls in dangerous places, "some folks won't travel with me."

Honda to reveal Prius fighter at Paris auto show


TOKYO — Honda will pull the wraps off its new Prius fighter, a compact five-door hatchback sedan priced from under $20,000, at the 2008 Paris Auto Show in early October.

As yet unnamed, the vehicle — Honda's first dedicated hybrid since the Insight — is known inside the company as the New Dedicated Hybrid Vehicle, or simply the "small hybrid." It will be christened at Paris with a new nameplate, although Honda insiders now dismiss earlier speculation that it might revive the Insight name.

The small hybrid is one of four new gas-electric models that Honda plans to roll out over the next four years, as part of a broad global strategy to boost hybrid sales to 500,000 units by 2012 — about 10 percent of its total sales volume.

Also in the pipeline is a production version of the sporty CR-Z hybrid coupe that debuted as a concept at last year's Tokyo show and is now due to arrive in early 2010; a replacement for the current Civic Hybrid, in late 2010; and a new hybrid edition of the subcompact Fit in 2012.

The small hybrid that's coming next year is intended to be an "entry-level" model that should undercut the price of the Toyota Prius by thousands of dollars. The production version of the Honda hybrid is expected to be formally unveiled in January at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show, when Toyota plans to introduce its next-generation 2010 Prius.

Where the next Prius is moving further upscale in size, performance and price, the Honda hybrid is designed to be one of the most affordable gas-electric models on the market, priced from around $19,000 and delivering superior mileage — as much as 60 mpg or better, according to insiders.

It will be powered by a smaller, lighter version of the 1.3-liter IMA system that is fitted to the Civic Hybrid, along with a continuously variable transmission. A nickel metal hydride battery pack is located beneath the rear floor.

The Honda hybrid is a five-passenger design with compact exterior dimensions but lots of room inside. Its design silhouette resembles that of the Prius, with some styling cues said to be inspired by Honda's new FCX Clarity fuel-cell vehicle. The small hybrid will be slightly taller and wider than the Fit and will borrow a number of chassis bits from the Fit.

The small hybrid will be built at Honda's Suzuka plant in Japan and eventually could be assembled in China as well. Honda wants to build 200,000 units a year of the new car, with about half going to North America and another 50,000 to Europe.

Honda's next hybrid model after that, the CR-Z, will take the company upscale. The production version of the CR-Z, due to reach Honda's U.S. dealers as a 2011 model, may not have any direct competitors. Designed in Europe and built in Japan, it will be priced from around $25,000 and will be fitted with a more powerful version of Honda's IMA system.

What this means to you: Honda still won't be able to catch Toyota, which wants to be building a million hybrids a year by 2012. —

New Infiniti G drop top and G37X to be revealed at Pebble Beach Concours

NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Infiniti has issued a press release that is a bit of a teaser on its "G" lineup, but the real meat will be revealed in 10 days at the 2008 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. It is there that the world will get its first official glimpse of the 2009 Infiniti G37 convertible, which is slated to go on sale in the first quarter of next year.

The venue will also be the coming-out party for the 2009 Infiniti G37x all-wheel-drive coupe. Infiniti spokesman Josh Clifton told Inside Line on Wednesday that consumers should look for the G37x in showrooms at the end of September or early October, although the on-sale date has not been finalized at this point. Infiniti may not release pricing on the "G" lineup until early September, but Clifton said a good ballpark number for the G37x would be "around $35,000."

The 2009 G37 sport sedan gets a "significant upgrade" for the new model year with the addition of a new 3.7-liter V6 rated at 328 horsepower. It is mated to a new seven-speed automatic transmission or a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission. Other changes include new optional sport brakes, a new sport 18-inch wheel design and standard Scratch Shield paint, a so-called "self healing" clearcoat finish. The 2009 G37 sedan goes on sale in September.

In addition to the G37x model, all of the 2009 Infiniti G37 sport coupes get the Scratch Shield paint and a choice of the new seven-speed automatic transmission with Drive Sport mode.

The 2009 Infiniti G37 convertible, with a three-piece automatic retractable hardtop, makes its world debut at the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show in November.

What this means to you: August 16 will be a critical date for you if you're a fan of the Infiniti G.

Lexus leads JD Power 3 year reliability survey for 14th straigh year


WESTLAKE VILLAGE, California — Lexus leads the industry in vehicle dependability again, according to a new study released Thursday by J.D. Power and Associates. The Toyota Prius won honors as the highest-ranked compact car in the study.

Lexus, which was at the top of 38 nameplates tested this year, has dominated the study for 14 years. There were 120 problems per Lexus sold, Power reported; by comparison, there were 344 problems reported per Land Rover sold.

Lexus also won six segment awards in the study — the most of any nameplate in 2008 — for the ES 330, GX 470, IS 300, LS 430, LX 470 and SC 430. Toyota was in the number-two slot with five segment awards for the Highlander, Prius, RAV4, Sequoia and Tundra.

Saab was singled out as the "most improved brand in the study, although it continues to rank below the industry average," Power said in a statement.

Power noted that long-term vehicle quality improved by 5 percent industry-wide in 2008. Five of the top 10 problems reported industry-wide include: excessive wind noise, noisy brakes, vehicle pulling to the left or right, issues with the instrument panel/dashboard and excessive window fogging.

The 2008 Vehicle Dependability Study is based on a survey of 52,000 original owners of 2005 model-year vehicles.

What this means to you: If dependability is your highest priority, Lexus should be your brand

Webtender


Just giving a shout-out to a very useful website - the Webtender! Sitting around the house and need something to drink? At a party and stuck being the bartender when people start looking to you for drink ideas? Fire up this bad boy. Best feature? Click on "In My Bar" - highlight everything you have on hand and fire away - it will return boat loads of drinks that you can make given the ingredients you have access to.

I couldn't tell you what was in it, but I do remember one night stumbling onto a drink called "Sex Behind Mini-Blinds" and having a blast...

The Babysitter


Cute Blonde 18 Year Old babysitter - Watch more free videos

Watch the Olympics online: Updated alternatives for no yellow card

Live Streams and On-Demand Highlights

NBC Olympics. Media giant NBC has exclusive rights to broadcast the Olympics in the United States, and will serve up four live streams and 3,000 hours of on-demand video online.

TV Tonic. NBC paired with Wavexpress to offer event highlights on demand via a download service similar to iTunes. If you use Windows Media Center to watch TV you'll see a link to this software marked as "NBC Olympics" in the Online Media strip. This will offer video ranging in quality from 840x480 progressive to 1080i HD. For 32-bit Windows Vista users only.

YouTube. Starting Wednesday, Google will provide approximately three hours of content each day from the Olympics Broadcasting Service on a channel dedicated to the games. The content will include highlight reels and daily wrap-ups, but no live coverage. The footage will be available in 77 territories, including South Korea, India and Nigeria, that aren't officially covered by Olympic sponsors, according to an International Olympic Committee press release.

CCTVOlympics.com. CCTV will be supplying more than 5,000 hours of Olympic Games coverage for mainland China and Macau.

BBC Sports. The U.K.'s official Olympics broadcaster will offer six streaming channels showing coverage from BBC TV and BBC News Interactive. Channels will focus on on-demand daily highlights and athlete interviews.

Yahoo7. Australia's official Olympics online portal offers live streams, video coverage on-demand and behind-the-scenes interviews, specials and features.

CBC Olympics. Canadians can tune into the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation online for supplemental live streams, video coverage on-demand and behind-the-scenes interviews, specials and features.

Getting Around Location Restrictions

In most cases, users in the United States will be blocked from viewing the footage on the non-NBC sites. But you may be able to view clips or streams from other countries if you use a proxy server located within that country, or if you can otherwise trick the streaming server into thinking you're from a country where it's allowed.

There's some advice on this topic at Metafilter.

There are also paid services like Anonymizer that can do the trick for you.

If you have any additional advice, please add it here.

Peer-to-Peer Options

If you want to move beyond bite-size recaps and highlight reels, P2P sites are your best bet for backdoor access to unedited blocks of Olympics footage. Additionally, content is likely to be available sooner than the 12-hour delays expected with some of NBC's coverage. Try these web workarounds for full access to the Olympics.

BitTorrent. Miss the opening ceremonies? Or the four-hour finale of table tennis? Try downloading torrents of popular Olympic events. Top torrent-tracking sites to try include isoHunt, Mininova and EZTV. Need a quick primer on using BitTorrent? Read our How-To Wiki entry on the subject.

Veetle Stanford University's experimental web TV platform requires a downloadable player, but offers live broadcasts of soccer games, basketball and more.

Sopcast. This free P2P internet TV player requires a download, but offers a wide lineup of channels broadcasting the Olympic games.

TVants. This is a P2P Internet TV, which requires a free download. TVants can run on Windows or on Linux's WINE.

PPMate. A Chinese P2P Internet TV network, download. PPMate only run under Windows.

TVU Networks. This P2P internet TV player requires a free download and only works with Windows, but is a good resource for watching global sporting events online.

DNS flaw much worse than first reported.

LAS VEGAS -- Security researcher Dan Kaminsky finally revealed the full details of his reported DNS flaw. It turns out it's a lot worse than previously understood.

"Every network is at risk," Kaminsky said at the Black Hat conference here Wednesday. "That's what this flaw has shown."

Kaminsky disclosed the security vulnerability in the Domain Name System on July 13 but promised to withhold details of the bug for one month to give DNS server owners a chance to patch their systems. But a week ago, some of the details leaked after security firm Matasano inadvertently posted information about it online.

That leak, though, only revealed the tip of an iceberg that Kaminsky describes as the worst internet security hole since 1997.

Most of the focus has been on the danger that hackers could easily use the DNS bug to hijack web browsers, redirecting victims to malicious web sites. But this was only the most obvious of many possible attacks. In addition to browsers, attackers could target numerous other applications, protocols and services, such as the File Transfer Protocol (FTP), mail servers, spam filters, Telnet and the Secure Socket Layer that's supposed to make online banking save from eavesdroppers. Automated software updating systems like those used by Microsoft and Apple could also be subverted, allowing hackers to trick users into installing malicious software disguised as authenticated software updates.

"There are a ton of different paths that lead to doom," he said.

In his standing-room-only presentation, Kaminsky spent more than an hour running through all the systems potentially affected by the security hole. He said he knows at least fifteen ways to maliciously wield the DNS flaw, but as more researchers study the issue, more are likely to emerge. Kaminsky said it ultimately was not a matter of which systems could be attacked through the flaw, but rather which ones could not. A hacked DNS has a domino effect. "I maybe had time (to examine) four or five dominos," Kaminsky said in a press conference after his talk. "It just gets worse."

In just one example he gave, involving e-mail, he described scenarios in which attackers could intercept mail and copy it, or corrupt a message by replacing legitimate attachments with a malicious executable.

Another serious vulnerability involves sites that provide the ubiquitous "Forgot your password?" link for users who find themselves locked out of their accounts. Kaminsky showed how the DNS flaw could be exploited to provide hackers with a backdoor or "skeleton key" to the web accounts. He worked with major sites such as Google, Yahoo, PayPal, eBay, MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn and others to fix the issue before he disclosed information about that attack scenario today.

Kaminsky said that more than 120 million broadband consumers are now protected by patched DNS servers, which amounts to about 42 percent of broadband internet users. Seventy percent of Fortune 500 companies have also patched, while 15 percent have tried to patch but run up against problems. Another 15 percent have done nothing to fix the hole.

He showed a video that mapped DNS servers around the world as they were tested and patched over the last month. Servers that were vulnerable first appeared as red dots on the map then turned green as they patched. The most heavily patched geographical regions were the East Coast of the United States and Western Europe. Kaminksy has posted slides from his talk at his DoxPara web site.

Black Hat founder and organizer Jeff Moss asked Kaminsky in a press conference following his presentation how much he thought he could have gotten for the vulnerability on the black market, if he'd decided to sell it to hackers or criminal syndicates instead of warning the world.

Kaminsky declined to guess a figure.

"The value of this class of bugs is high enough that it justifies very extensive research," he said. "If there is such value by investing in the attacks, we have to invest more. "

There May be Blood after all- Arctic Oil

A new map shows conflicting claims to Arctic territories—and its billions of gallons of oil
Map of the Disunion: For a high-res PDF of the map, launch it here. Photo by International Boundaries Research Unit

As the earth warms and our hunger for oil and other natural resources grows, the Arctic—once a peaceful repose for Santa—is already a crisscross of territorial claims that could get even more complicated in coming years according to a new map drawn up by researchers at Durham University, who say it is the only geographically accurate map of its kind.

The map shows how six countries—The U.S., Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Russia—have laid claims, or could extend further claims, edging into the Arctic region. Current claims are drawn out, as are solidly agreed boundaries. But more importantly, the chart includes a projection of the areas that nations may claim in the future.

According to the USGS, the Arctic is home to around 90 billion barrels of oil, and a fifth of the world’s recoverable resources in total. Last year Russia planted a flag under the north pole, and their foray north highlights a touchy issue: the legal right of a nation over its continental shelf—the underwater lip of land that skirts each continent. Russia claims their shelf extends under the artic ice and so should their rights. But the true boundaries are in dispute, and according to the Durham map, may continue to be.

Via Science Daily

Map your Photos

A GPS-equipped camera knows where you’ve been
Got the Whole World: Smaller, more efficient GPS chips made it possible for Nikon to add location tracking. Photo by Greg Neumaier

Remember that beautiful sunset photo from Jamaica? Or was it the Bahamas? No worries—the first high-end camera with a built-in GPS receiver keeps track for you.

All digital cameras attach data such as shutter speed to the image file; the Nikon P6000 also adds latitude and longitude. Photo-sharing sites such as flickr.com, picasa.com and Nikon’s mypicturetown.com read the data when you upload pictures and show their location on a global map. If you want to keep your favorite fishing hole a secret, simply turn off the GPS.

Some cameraphones already have GPS, but their grainy shots are no match for photos from the P6000, with its 13.5-megapixel sensor, 4x zoom lens, and low-light shooting up to ISO 6400 sensitivity. Now you can spend more time admiring your photos and less time wondering where you took them.

Nikon CoolPix P6000

Lens: 28mm wide to 112mm telephoto
Controls: Aperture, shutter, full manual, full automatic
Expansion: External flash shoe
Price: $500
Get it: nikonusa.com

Secret stash of gorillas eases extinction fears

A recent census shows that more than 125,000 gorillas--more than twice the estimated population--are alive and well in the Congo
Western Lowland Gorilla: Photo by Kabir Bakie (CC Licensed)

Two decades ago, "saving the gorillas" became a cause celebre when researchers announced that western lowland gorilla populations in the Congo had dwindled to critically endangered numbers. Our primate relatives were threatened by a widespread outbreak of the Ebola virus, as well as poachers who hunted the animals for bushmeat.

Estimates at the time of the 1980 gorilla census were in the range of 100,000 individuals, but since then experts believed that the number had dropped to less than 50,000.

Imagine the census takers' surpise, then, when 2008 numbers revealed more than 125,000 healthy gorillas in Congo's Ntokou-Pikounda and Ndoki-Likouala regions—including a community of nearly 6,000 animals found living in a remote swamp in one of the country's newly formed national parks. The population increase is attributed to international conservation efforts introduced over the past twenty years, as well as the animals' isolated, food-rich location.

However, experts warn against complacency in the plight of the gorillas. Jillian Miller, executive director of The Gorilla Organization, told the BBC, ""The discovery of such a large population of western lowland gorillas is absolutely fantastic news for the sub-species and for conservationists, but . . . numbers are less important than trends, and sadly the trend for all gorilla sub-species, apart from the mountain gorillas, has been a downturn in population figures."

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon has validity

A new Microsoft study suggests a scientific basis to the old trivia game

There was some wisdom behind that stoner pop-culture game you used to play in college, but it turns out the “six-degrees of separation” hypothesis was a few tenths off the mark. According to data gleaned from Microsoft’s Messenger IM service, all human contacts in a social network can be connected in 6.6 degrees.

Researchers Eric Horvitz of Microsoft and Jure Leskovec of Carnegie Mellon studied more than 30 billion chat sessions by 180 million users to arrive at the finding, which was presented at the WWW 2008 Conference in Beijing. “This is the first time a planetary-scale social network has been available to validate the well-known ‘six-degrees of separation finding,’” the researchers wrote.

So, how many degrees are you from Kevin Bacon? Let’s do a little social networking experiment. Trace a direct chain of contacts for us in the comments section: The reader who comes closest to one legitimate link away (no fair “friending” Mr. Bacon on Facebook if you don’t actually know the guy) will win a little sumpthin’ from the editors of PopSci. Good luck!

Link: Information Week

From skin cell to neuron

A new breakthrough in stem cell production provides an important tool to researchers studying Lou Gehrig’s disease
Motor Neuron: Photo by Dimos, Rodolfa et al

Talk of the promise of stem cells usually revolves around creating new, healthy cells to repair damaged or diseased organs. However, a joint project between Harvard and Columbia Universities has been doing the exact opposite: creating stem cells that will develop into diseased cells. By creating stem cells from people with a known degenerative disorder, the researchers hope to explore the process that cause the diseases, discover where a cure might be most effective, and probe the unexplored area between genetics and disease.

Led by Kevin Eggan at Harvard and Christopher Henderson at Columbia, the research team announced their first major breakthrough on July 31st in an online issue of the journal Science. In the Science paper, the researchers describe how they were able to induce stem cell formation from the skin cells of elderly volunteers suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). The researchers then coaxed the stem cells into developing into motor neurons, the type of cell affected by ALS.

Creating new neurons in a dish provides advantages beyond simply increasing the availability of cells to study. By watching the cells develop through their entire life cycle, from stem cells to mature neuron to diseased cell, the researchers can pinpoint all of the biochemical steps that eventually cause ALS. Any of those steps could be a potential starting point for developing a treatment, and the researchers will be able to perform tests on the isolated neurons far more easily and precisely than they can do in a live patient.

The next step in their research will be to compare the development of the neurons from ALS suffers to neurons derived from the stem cells of healthy volunteers. Henderson hopes that comparison--the step-by-step analysis of what goes wrong in the diseased neurons and not the healthy neurons--will provide the real insight into how to prevent a debilitating neurological disease like ALS.

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