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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Keep your eyes peeled for 500hp XF-R at Detroit Auto Show Jan 2009

While Jaguar's mum on the subject, British magazine Autocar says sources at the company "insist" the XF-R will debut at the Detroit show in January 2009, with sales beginning shortly afterward in March.

Though Jaguar took a prototype to this year's Goodwood Festival of Speed, it kept most details - other than displaying its performance prowess on the hill climb - under wraps. Current buzz has the car using a supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 with at least 500 hp on tap.

Pininfarina to introduce Rolls Royce Hyperion concept at Pebble Beach

TURIN, Italy — Images of the Pininfarina coach-building firm's latest concept have been revealed days ahead of the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance where it will make its public debut. The Hyperion concept is based on the Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe and is inspired by "the great motorcars of the past." The news comes on the heels of the iconic company's loss of its chairman and CEO, Andrea Pininfarina, who was killed in a road accident on August 7.

This week, the firm's board of directors unanimously named Andrea's brother, Paolo, to succeed him as chairman. In a statement issued on Tuesday, Paolo Pininfarina lauded his late brother's "values of integrity, humility and loyalty" and "reserved demeanor of a man focused on results" and vowed to follow his "high example."

The high example they are speaking of is evident in the lines of the Hyperion, which offers visual entertainment by dropping the driving position and moving the windscreen back by 15.7 inches to make the Rolls into a "wild two-seater." Among the unusual amenities are a storage area in front of the windscreen for storage of "specially built sporting guns" and an internal watch made by Girard-Perregaux based on the Tourbillon Vintage 1945 timepiece. The watch face is designed so it can be taken off its bracelet and clipped into the center of the dashboard.

The Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance will be held this Sunday, August 17.

25% of home sales in the past 12 months are a loss to the seller

NEW YORK ( -- More homeowners than ever are selling at a loss, propelling the real estate market deeper into crisis.

In the 12 months that ended June 30, nearly 25% of all homes sold nationwide fetched less than sellers originally paid, according to real estate Web site

While the nation's double-digit decline in home prices has been well documented, the new report underscores the economic force of those price declines. Homeowners are walking away with much less in their pocket when they sell. And that affects more than the real estate market.

"It's stunning what's happening out there," said Stan Humphries, Zillow's vice president of data and analytics, who looked at statistics that date back to 1996. "The numbers are the worst we've seen and it's not just the magnitude of the problem but the scope - so many markets are affected."

In Merced, Calif., 63% of homes sold during the past 12 months brought in less than what the owner paid. Prices there have fallen 40% over the past 12 months and 56% from their 2006 peak.

About 63% of sellers in Stockton, Calif., lost money during the same period, 60% in Modesto, Calif., 55% in Las Vegas and 38% in Phoenix.

And the trend has worsened in recent months. In Merced, 74.9% of sellers took a loss when they sold during the three months ended June 30 compared with just 28.7% during the same period in 2007.

The experience of one would-be seller in Cape Coral, Fla., illustrates the kinds of losses sellers are suffering. The homeowner, who asked not to be named, paid $147,000 in 2003 for a three-bed, two-bath ranch. Prices have dropped there more than 22% in the past 12 months.

He said he made a 10% downpayment and spent big on upgrades, including two renovated baths. The house was appraised at $279,000 two years ago. Two months ago: $140,000. He has been trying to sell it for more than a year and has dropped the price to $129,900.

"It's terrible," he said. "I'm taking a major loss. I'll probably have to bring a check to the closing."

The short-sale solution

Many sellers are so underwater that their only solution is a short sale. Elsa Bell, a claims adjuster, bought her Riverside, Calif., house in 2006 for $330,000, using a no-down-payment loan. In April she put the house on the market for $275,000, but it hasn't sold.

"The bank is willing to do a short sale, and we have an offer of $170,000 on the house, but we believe the bank will turn that down," Bell said.

A short sale is when a lender agrees to take less than the amount it is owed on a mortgage and forgives the remaining debt.

For Bell, whatever the sale brings, it's going to be a lot less than what she paid.

The good news is that she should get out of the deal fairly clean. Since she has little invested, she has little to lose. The bad news is that a short sale may mean a hit to her credit score.

Nationwide, nearly a third of all homeowners who bought since 2003 owe more on their homes than the homes are worth. And those that, like Bell, put little or none of their own money into the home purchases, are more likely to try to sell short or simply abandon their homes.

"They hand over their keys and walk away from the homes," says Danielle Babb, a real estate investor, instructor at the University of California Irvine and author of "Finding Foreclosures."

That adds to foreclosure rates. Zillow reported that nearly 15% of U.S. existing home sales during the last 12 months involved foreclosed homes.

That trend will almost surely continue.

In Stockton, Calif., 2006 buyers now owe a median of nearly $171,000 more than their homes are worth. In Salinas, Calif., 2006 buyers now have median negative equity of $161,000, and in Merced, the figure is nearly $160,000.

Broader impact

A plethora of sellers taking losses can have a chilling effect on people's lives, says Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.

People don't want to sell at a loss, so they put off their plans, whether it's a move for a better job opportunity elsewhere or trading up to a larger home.

"That will delay the [market correction]," said Baker. "It takes time for people to recognize that [these losses] are real."

A quick turnaround is not likely. More than $200 billion in adjustable rate mortgages are scheduled to reset during the second half of 2008, according to the National Association of Realtors, and loans of all types defaulting at high rates. There is also about 11 months of inventory at the current rate of sales.

"With $3.9 million unsold homes on the market, prices will have to come down even more before the market stabilizes," said Zillow's Humphries

Racecraft 420S Mustang is what Ford should really sell.

Priced right with just enough of what you need and none of what you don't.

Saleen Incorporated is in a state of transition. The guy whose name is on the door has left and opened up shop elsewhere. The company is now merged with American Sunroof Corporation, which like Saleen, has been trying to redefine its purpose in a changing automotive landscape. Not everyone is a fan of the current Saleen lineup's heavily gilled and grilled styling, and several models are pretty pricey. But there are some sharp folks running this outfit and several of them, such as CEO Paul Wilbur and product-development whiz Chris Theodore, have considerable OEM experience. One of their responses to all this is Racecraft.

Mustang mongers will remember Racecraft as the name of Saleen's suspension components. Now, it's the new brand name for a lineup of cars that are short on frills, long on performance, and easier on the wallet. The first salvo in the Racecraft attack is called the 420 S, and it's one of the most well-balanced, fun-to-drive, not-overdone Mustangs we've tested in a good while.

The package begins with a zero-option Mustang GT and builds from there where it counts. The heart of the issue is underhood, in the form of Saleen's twin-screw supercharger. This is a slick installation, as it incorporates an intercooler, and the blower mounts low in the engine valley. That means no big snail hanging off the front of the engine nor long lengths of intake plumbing. The EMS is recalibrated and a 98mm mass airflow sensor is installed, along with a high-flow inlet tube and K & N air filter. The result is 420 hp, up from the stock GT's 300. Premium fuel is now required.

Revised underpinnings include Racecraft specific front and rear springs, revised struts and shocks, and a new front anti-roll bar. Top-level Saleens, such as the Dan Gurney and Parnelli Jones editions, use 19-in. wheels, but the company has stuck with 18s for the 420 S. They're nice-looking alloys, an inch wider than the GT's factory-optional 18s, and wrapped by Bridgestone Potenza 275/40-18s.

Inside, Saleen has replaced the factory speedo and tach faces with its own, silver-colored pieces, although the four ancillary gauges remain stock. The factory shifter remains, but is topped by a handsome (and comfortable) leather and alloy knob. Sport seats might have been nice, but are expensive, so they've added some Racecraft embroidery to the stock headrests.

Saleen has gone light on the body armor -- most exterior mods consist of matte black paint or vinyl. We're not sure about the five-foot-long R A C E C R A F T lettering along the rockers, but with the wider wheels and subtle black trim, the 420 S looks the business. It's almost too subtle; perhaps a black, factory-style aftermarket honeycomb grille that did away with the chrome horsey, or one that puts the foglights to the center, would have given it a more unique appearance. But the goal here was to put the money where it makes performance, which is hard to criticize. Besides, Mustang owners have a plethora of parts available from which to choose and can bolt on whatever else they want.

A 0-to-60 time of 4.4 sec puts the 420 S just ahead of the Paxton-supercharged Shelby GT/SC we tested (June 2008), which got there a tick slower at 4.6. The Racecraft's 10.4-sec 0-to-100 time virtually ties the Shelby's 10.5. What the times don't convey is how useable the power is. You can dawdle the Racecraft around all day and never know there's a supercharger there. Get into the pedal, and you get a pleasing blower whine and big power. No stumbling, overheating, or any of the usual tuner nonsense.

Just as important is that the handling improvements are balanced to the increased punch. The car sits a little lower than a stock Mustang, but doesn't drag the ground. It rides firmer than a stocker, but doesn't beat you up. Steering response is sharper, but not to the point of kickback. It handles better all around, although the M+S rubber limits the grip. Stickier rubber would also improve braking distances, but would wear more quickly too. If there's any additional hardware request we'd make, it would be for a sportier-sounding pipes. The stock exhaust system is 2.5-in. stainless steel, so it's good quality and exhales adequately, but a car like this ought to serve up more rumble. Probably another step necessary to keep the price under 40 grand.

The 420 S is offered in all stock Mustang GT colors. If you want a more heavily optioned car (leather seats, HID headlights, nav), your Saleen Ford dealer will accommodate, but that will of course increase the price. And the above-noted sub-$40K starter price was a huge goal of this project for Saleen; makes one question the viability of the naturally aspirated Saleen S281, which has 85 hp less and costs $6000 more. But if you want to drive the 420's price higher, you can opt for a limited slip diff, suspension upgrades, more gauges, a 475-hp power upgrade, big brakes, whatever.

Even without a single add-on, the Saleen Racecraft 420 S is a solid piece that delivers the performance it promises. It looks tough without the use of unnecessary aero trash, the components are well balanced to each other, and it addresses several of the issues noted at the top of this story. Job well done.


2009 Ram pricing announced

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Even though gas prices have eased a bit in recent weeks, significant pressure is on truck builders such as Dodge to come up with an easy-to-swallow price on their full-size 2009 pickups. Dodge on Wednesday announced that the redesigned 2009 Ram will start at a relatively modest $22,170, including a $900 destination charge, undercutting the outgoing model as well as its mainstay Japanese rivals.

The new Ram, which puts the emphasis on horsepower, arrives in showrooms in the fall.

The 2008 Dodge Ram 1500 ST 4x2 with a regular cab starts at $23,050, including a $900 destination charge. The base 2008 Toyota Tundra starts at $23,075, including a $685 shipping charge, while a base 2008 Nissan Titan XE 4x2 king cab starts at $25,170, including a $780 destination charge.

The redesigned Dodge pickup tops out at $44,140 for a Dodge Ram Laramie Ram Crew 1500 4x4 with a 5.7-liter Hemi engine. This trim level includes a power sunroof, power-adjustable pedals, AM/FM stereo with six-disc CD changer and Infinity speaker system, navigation system, Uconnect phone, bucket seats with leather upholstery, a six-way power driver's seat and 20-inch aluminum wheels.

Dodge also announced that, new for 2009, there is a Ram Crew 1500 model with a box length of 5 feet, 7 inches. The 2009 Dodge Ram SLT Ram Crew 1500 4x2 starts at $32,530; the 4x4 companion model starts at $35,750.

The 2009 Dodge Ram TRX, with such features as an engine block heater, trailer tow mirrors, two-tone exterior paint and side curtain air bags, starts at $30,920 for the TRX Quad Cab 4x2. The top-of-the-line TRX Ram Crew 1500 4x4 starts at $36,895.

Powertrain choices on the '09 Ram include a 390-horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V8 and a 310-hp 4.7-liter V8. Also in the engine lineup is a 215-hp 3.7-liter V6. As of Wednesday morning, the EPA had yet to post official fuel economy numbers for the 2009 Ram on its Web site.

As Chrysler backs out of offering corporate leasing, Dodge took pains to note in its pricing material that the Ram is available for "lease through independent sources." But the days of leasing a Ram through the automaker are over.

What this means to you: Dodge tries mightily to hold the line on '09 Ram pricing, but whether consumers will flock to it in droves in an era of high gas prices is still a major question.

Lotus's Omnivore engine

HETHEL, England —Lotus Engineering, along with help from Jaguar and Queen's University Belfast, is developing a unique research engine called the Omnivore that will maximize fuel efficiency while running on any type of alcohol or gasoline.

The cleverly named engine has biological roots, since an omnivore feeds on many kinds of food, from plants to animal flesh. The Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary also says the word can mean "making use of everything available."

"The engine design is expected to significantly increase fuel efficiency for sustainable bio alcohol fuels," said Lotus Engineering in a statement on Tuesday.

The "novel engine architecture" uses a variable compression ratio system and a two-stroke operating cycle with direct fuel injection. Lotus says the engine will be "ideally suited to flex-fuel operation."

"Alcohols possess superior combustion characteristics to gasoline which allow greater optimization. Taking full advantage of the benefits of sustainable bio alcohols will ensure a greater percentage of vehicle miles will be traveled using renewable fuels," said Mike Kimberley, CEO of Lotus Group.

Lotus already unveiled its own flex-fuel car called the Exige 270E Tri-Fuel this year at the 2008 Geneva Auto Show, which manages to output 270 horsepower with the capability to run on three different fuels: gasoline, ethanol and methanol.

What this means to you: The Omnivore engine's variable-compression-ratio system is a novel approach to maximizing fuel efficiency.

The Credit Scoring game is going to get interesting

NEW YORK ( -- Times are tough, and understanding your credit score is crucial to financial survival. But knowing your score and getting access to it isn't so easy.

Credit scores affect everything from rates on mortgages and car loans, to credit card terms and even whether you get a job. Lenders use them as an indication of how likely you are to repay a loan. The most widely used credit score is known as FICO, which ranges from 300 to 850. Credit scores change over time, depending on your credit history, which is explained in your credit report.

In recent years consumers have had the ability to access one free credit report a year. But getting an accurate reading of your credit score remains problematic and costly.

With loan delinquencies and foreclosures more common, lenders are tightening their standards and that means that a low score can prevent you from getting access to credit, and you'll need an even higher score to qualify for the best interest rates.

Last week, the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations took up the discussion in a hearing to examine credit scoring and whether consumers are granted fair access to their own three-digit numbers.

Coughing up cash for credit scores

Thanks to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, or FACT Act, enacted by Congress in 2003, consumers can get one free credit report a year from the three major agencies - Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. But that doesn't include scores, which come at an added cost of around $6 to $16. That's the "fair and reasonable" fee credit rating agencies can charge consumers under the legislation.

Some consumer advocates argue that scores should be free too, and included in the free annual credit report consumers are entitled to.

But the credit rating agencies argue that it costs them money to compile and maintain those scores, and lawmakers should not interfere with their ability to sell credit reports and credit scores at a profit.

If legislation were proposed that mandated giving consumers a score along with their annual free credit report, that would be "legislating revenue right out of my pocket," said Steve Ely, president of Equifax.

According to Ely, Equifax makes $154 million a year from selling credit reports, credit scores and credit monitoring products to consumers.

Evan Hendricks, editor of Privacy Times and author of "Credit Scores and Credit Reports: How the System Really Works, What You Can Do," argues the credit rating agencies could still maintain a profitable business, just as they did after the FACT Act mandated that they give annual reports away for free.

Originally, Hendricks said, the credit rating agencies fought the free credit report legislation but now "they're selling more reports than they are giving away for free." The credit rating agencies argue that is not the case.

"I would dispute that considerably," said Ely.

"We do give away significantly more free credit report disclosures than the reports that we charge for," confirmed Steven Katz, a spokesman for TransUnion.

Hendricks also argues that consumers pay $5.95 to $15.95 to see their credit score while lenders buy those scores from the credit bureaus for less than a dollar. Ely counters that business-to-business customers buy in large volumes, and therefore get a discount.

FICOs, FAKOs and so on

Another issue up for debate is the number of different kind of credit scores out there, often confusing or misleading consumers. FICO, the scoring system devised by Fair Isaac Corp., is the one most commonly used by lenders in determining consumer credit worthiness.

But some credit rating agencies sell "educational scores," sometimes referred to as "FAKOs," (as in a fake FICO score) that are similar to FICO scores, but can differ by up to 20 points or more.

So consumers who purchase scores directly from one of the three credit agencies might not be seeing the same score that lenders are using.

While Equifax sells FICO scores, Experian offers their own proprietary PLUS Score and TransUnion sells a "Vantage Score," another variation on the FICO scoring system created by the three credit bureaus. Vantage Scores range between 501 and 990 and includes a letter grade, which can help consumers gauge how they rank compared to others.

"Accordingly, Congress needs to act to bring the appropriate level of transparency and fairness to credit scoring," Hendricks said in his testimony before the subcommittee.

"People don't realize that the credit score they are buying isn't the score used by lenders," Hendricks said. "At a minimum, fundamental fairness dictates that sellers of knock-off scores clearly and conspicuously disclose that their scores are not used by lenders and may differ significantly from the ones that are."

Stuart Pratt, president and CEO of the Consumer Data Industry Association, the credit reporting agencies' trade association, said that consumers can't get a free credit score with their annual report precisely because there is no single universal score.

Further complicating matters, some lenders devise their own scoring systems in addition to using the ones provided by the credit agencies.

In written testimony before the subcommittee, Jack Forestell, vice president of marketing and analytics at Capital One Financial Corp. said "Capital One uses a blend of internally derived and externally available consumer data to develop its own credit scoring models."

Steven Katz, a spokesman for TransUnion warns consumers not to key in on the specific number and instead look at all the information that is provided in the report.

So what should consumers seeking credit be doing? Ultimately, focusing on a single score, whether it will one day be free with your credit report or remain available for a price, is only one aspect of your credit worthiness. The credit report shows what you can do to improve and protect your overall financial health. So viewing both the score and the report is the best way to determine your level of risk as a borrower

This day in tech 1913- Stainless Steel

Making the Delorean and hence time travel possible.

This monument to stainless steel pioneer Harry Brearley stands at the former Brown Firth Research Laboratories, where he formulated the alloy in 1913.
Courtesy David Morris/Geograph project collection.

1913: English metallurgist Harry Brearley casts a steel alloy that's resistant to acidity and weathering. Because his sponsor names it "stainless steel," Brearley will often be credited as the inventor, but there are more metallurgists than metals in this story.

Even the hometown British Stainless Steel Association acknowledges that Brearley was not alone.

English and French researchers had learned as early as the 1820s that iron-chromium alloys resisted some acids. But they were restricted to low- rather than high-chromium-content alloys, because they hadn't yet figured out the necessity of lowering the carbon content.

Two Englishmen filed a patent for an acid-resistant steel with 30 to 35 percent chromium and 2 percent tungsten in 1872. But it was a French researcher named Brustlein who in 1875 detailed the importance of low carbon content. He determined that a high-chromium alloy would need carbon content below 0.15 percent or thereabouts.

The race was on. Very slowly. Many attempts produced many failures over the next 20 years.

Hans Goldschmidt of Germany broke the logjam in 1895 with the development of the aluminothermic reduction process for producing carbon-free chromium. French metallurgist Leon Guillet forged ahead, so to speak, with work on iron-nickel-chromium alloys in the first decade of the 20th century, but seemingly ignored their resistance to corrosion. Back in Germany, P. Monnartz and W. Borchers discovered in 1911 that having a minimum 10.5 percent chromium seriously increased steel's resistance to corrosion.

Enter Harry Brearley of Sheffield, England. He started working on a project in 1912 for a small-arms manufacturer that wanted to prevent its rifle barrels from eroding away quickly from the heat and friction of gunshot. Brearley needed to etch his steel-alloy samples to examine their granular structure under the microscope, but when he used nitric acid, the high-chromium samples resisted being dissolved. His focus shifted from erosion resistance to corrosion resistance.

After trying various combinations with 6 to 15 percent chromium and differing measures of carbon, he made a new alloy on Aug. 13, 1913, containing 12.8 percent chromium and 0.24 percent carbon. It resisted not only nitric acid, but lemon juice and vinegar as well.

So he took his discovery of "rustless steel" to Sheffield cutler R.F Mosley. A manager there, Ernest Stuart, renamed it "stainless steel."

But wait, there's more. Metallurgists at Germany's Krupp Iron Works were also working on high-chromium, corrosion-resistant steel alloys of various compositions between 1908 and 1914. Elwood Haynes and two other Americans were doing parallel work in the years 1908-1911, and Max Mauermann of Poland displayed something similar at the 1913 Adria exhibition in Vienna. And there's a Swedish claimant as well.

Brearley, however, did formulate the first alloy to be called stainless steel, and he recognized potential uses others had not seen. Today is the 95th anniversary of his discovery.

Air Force suspends controversial Cyber Command


The Air Force is about to suspend its controversial effort to reorganize its forces to "dominate" cyberspace. The provisional, 8,000-man Cyber Command has been ordered to stop all activities, just weeks before it was supposed to be declared operational.

Transfers of manpower and resources, including activation and re-assignment of units, shall be halted,” according to an internal e-mail obtained by Nextgov's Bob Brewin -- and confirmed by Air Force sources. Instead, the Air Force's new leadership -- including incoming Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz -- will be given time to rethink how big the command will be, and what exactly it will do.

The suspension is yet another body blow to a service already reeling from a series of hits in recent months. Nuclear weapons have been mishandled; major contracts -- including one for a fleet of new tanker planes -- have been botched; the Air Force's civilian and military leaders have been ousted by the Secretary of Defense; a top general apparently committed suicide.

"I am surprised, but not that surprised, given the turmoil in the Air Force," cyber security specialist (and former Air Force Captain) Richard Bejtlich tells DANGER ROOM. "It makes sense for new leadership to want to pause and evaluate major projects like Cyber Command before moving forward. The Air Force is facing severe challenges right now, so leadership may want to consolidate its resources before expanding the AF cyber mission."

But even if everything all was calm at the Air Force, Cyber Command's path was far from clear. At a June conference, the command's emerging leaders could agree on what exactly the new unit would do. Some said the command's mission would be the "protection and defense of the Air Force's command and control abilities." Others argued that the "mission is to control cyberspace both for attacks and defense." (The service even changed its mission statement to read, "As Airmen, it is our calling to dominate Air, Space, and Cyberspace.") Some believed the Cyber Command would only be responsible for computer networks. Others thought it'd be responsbile for every system that had anything to do with the electromagnetic spectrum -- up to and including laser weapons.

Heavy-breathing television ads, hyping the nascent command's abilities and scope, only added to the confusion. And within the military, the command was blasted for being duplicative -- and maybe even a cheap internal power grab. As Brewin notes, "The hard sell may have been the undoing of the Cyber Command, which seemed to be a grab by the Air Force to take the lead role in cyberspace."

New uTorrent update boosts performance, improves Vista support

The popular, lightweight Windows torrent client, µTorrent, has released its first major update in some time, packing in some significant new features.

From a layout and UI standpoint, not much has changed, but under the hood µTorrent now supports Teredo, which promises much improved IPv6 support. Teredo is a tunneling protocol that allows even IPv6-unaware NAT devices to handle IPv6 traffic.

The end result is IPv6 connectivity without needing to upgrade NAT hardware, meaning better connections and improved torrent performance.

Other features in µTorrent 1.8 include better Windows Firewall registration in Vista, better skin handling for customizing the look and feel and quite a bit more. Check out the µTorrent forums for the complete change list.

Also welcome news is that with the release of 1.8, the µTorrent team plans to focus its effort on the long-anticipated Mac OS X version. No time line has been announced, but µTorrent developer Greg Hazel hints to TorrentFreak that “the first public Alpha version will be released in just a few weeks.”

As always µTorrent is free and you can grab the latest version from the downloads page.

First all Nanowire sensor

larger text tool icon

Squared away: University of California, Berkeley, researchers were able to create an orderly circuit array from two types of tiny nanowires, which can function as optical sensors and transistors. Each of the circuits on the 13-by-20 array serves as a single pixel in an all-nanowire image sensor.
Credit: Ali Javey

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have created the first integrated circuit that uses nanowires as both sensors and electronic components. With a simple printing technique, the group was able to fabricate large arrays of uniform circuits, which could serve as image sensors. "Our goal is to develop all-nanowire sensors" that could be used in a variety of applications, says Ali Javey, an electrical-engineering professor at UC Berkeley, who led the research.

Nanowires make good sensors because their small dimensions enhance their sensitivity. Nanowire-based light sensors, for example, can detect just a few photons. But to be useful in practical devices, the sensors have to be integrated with electronics that can amplify and process such small signals. This has been a problem, because the materials used for sensing and electronics cannot easily be assembled on the same surface. What's more, a reliable way of aligning the tiny nanowires that could be practical on a large scale has been hard to come by.

A printing method developed by the Berkeley group could solve both problems. First, the researchers deposit a polymer on a silicon substrate and use lithography to etch out patterns where the optical sensing nanowires should be. They then print a single layer of cadmium selenide nanowires over the pattern; removing the polymer leaves only the nanowires in the desired location for the circuit. They repeat the process with the second type of nanowires, which have germanium cores and silicon shells and form the basis of the transistors. Finally, they deposit electrodes to complete the circuits.

The printed nanowires are first grown on separate substrates, which the researchers press onto and slide across the silicon. "This type of nanowire transfer is good for aligning the wires," says Deli Wang, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who was not involved in the research. Good alignment is necessary for the device to work properly,since the optical signal depends on the polarization of light, which in turn is dependent on the orientation of the nanowires. Similarly, transistors require a high degree of alignment to switch on and off well.

Another potential advantage of the printing method is that the nanowires could be printed not only onto silicon, but also onto paper or plastics, says Javey. He foresees such applications as "sensor tapes"--long roles of printed sensors used to test air quality or detect minute concentrations of chemicals. "Our next challenge is to develop a wireless component" that would relay the signals from the circuit to a central processing unit, he says.

But for now, the researchers have demonstrated the technique as a way to create an image sensor. They patterned the nanowires onto the substrate to make a 13-by-20 array of circuits, in which each circuit acts as a single pixel. The cadmium selenide nanowires convert incoming photons into electrons, and two different layers of germanium-silicon nanowire transistors amplify the resulting electrical signal by up to five orders of magnitude. "This demonstrates an outstanding application of nanowires in integrated electronics," says Zhong Lin Wang, director of the Center for Nanostructure Characterization at Georgia Tech.

After putting the device under a halogen light and measuring the output current from each circuit, the group found that about 80 percent of the circuits successfully registered the intensity of the light shining on them. Javey attributes the failure of the other 20 percent to such fabrication defects as shorted electrodes and misprints that resulted in poor nanowire alignment. He notes that all of these issues can be resolved with refined manufacturing methods.

The researchers also plan to work toward shrinking the circuit to improve resolution and sensitivity. Eventually, says Javey, they want everything on the circuit to be printable, including the electrodes and contacts, which could help further reduce costs.

Beijing's smog experiment

Sky lab: Scientists from the University of California, San Diego, and Seoul National University will fly unmanned aerial vehicles downwind of Beijing to measure emissions reductions. The results will help climate researchers understand how pollution masks global warming.

One of the most watched projects during the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, along with the construction of the Bird's Nest Stadium and the glowing Aquatics Cube, was the Chinese government's efforts to cut emissions by 60 percent in the city. It has been a colossal undertaking in an area where air-pollution is five times higher than World Health Organization safety standards and smog can get so dense that it sometimes occludes the sun. The effort has involved ordering half of the city's cars off the roads and temporarily moving or closing dozens of steel mills, foundries, and factories across the capital.

But such a dramatic decrease in pollution could provide more than just healthier conditions for competing athletes. It may also afford scientists a rare opportunity to see how climate change responds to such a massive adjustment in emissions.

A team led by Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a climate and atmospheric scientist at the University of California, San Diego, will spend the next six weeks flying autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (AUAVs) downwind of Beijing to measure emissions reductions. "By cutting down on the pollution over Beijing during the Olympics, the Chinese have created a huge natural laboratory for understanding how pollution impacts climate," Ramanathan says. He and collaborators at Seoul National University, in South Korea, have packed an assortment of miniature instruments into 30-kilogram, three-metre-wide AUAVs and set up a research station on South Korea's Cheju Island, about 500 kilometres south of Beijing.

Using the island as their base, the researchers are flying the small aircraft in groups of three: over, under, and through the polluted plume as it travels past the island. Because different layers of wind carry air from different regions, and because the wind currents change direction, they can also sample air from other parts of China that have not implemented emissions cutbacks. "We fly up to 12,000 feet," Ramanathan says, "so I don't have to go anywhere. The mountain comes to Mohammed."

The team will also be running simultaneous flights in California, to see how far away they can detect the plume. "We want to see what the global impact of this one city is," he says. Ramanathan is especially interested in unraveling the relationship between air pollution and climate change, since prior research from his lab has shown that airborne particles in emissions can mask up to half of the greenhouse effect by reflecting sunlight back into space.

The researchers plan to combine the AUAV measurements with those from NASA satellites and back-calculated wind trajectories. The results should give them a clearer picture of what the air looks like and whether more sunlight is reaching the earth's surface as a result of the decreased emissions.

Ramanathan is concerned that worldwide efforts to reduce air pollution over the next few decades could as much as double the rate of global warming. With a huge number of unknowns in this equation, he's hoping that their work can help him better understand the problem.

In order to accurately measure the impact of Beijing's emissions reductions, the scientists must also know what normal air pollution conditions would be. Greg Carmichael, an environmental and chemical engineer at the University of Iowa, has been modeling Beijing's emissions and creating estimates for what the pollution levels would have been pre-cutbacks, as well as estimates for what they should be now.

Carmichael can't give specifics until the final numbers are in, but he can say that the air quality in Beijing is somewhere between 10 and 50 percent better than it would have been without the strict controls. This is a wide margin to be sure, he says, "but it's a very complex system. And to take Beijing and be able to reduce your emissions by 50 percent is a huge success. It's a difficult thing to do." Los Angeles and other cities have spent 20 years or more trying to improve their air quality, he notes, and they still have a ways to go.

The key to biofuels is the waste!

The key to cellulosic biofuels: Photo by iStockphoto

We all thought biofuels we’re going to be our eco-savior (what could be greener than running our cars on renewable corn, soy, or sugarcane?) That is, until it turned out eco-fuels contribute to rising food prices, put conservation land back into agricultural production, and turn into an all-around bust because fermentation of the starches and sugars put lots of CO2 into the atmosphere. But biofuels may yet make their mark on mother earth.

The quest to find the key to cellulosic biofuels—fuels derived from junk crops like corn husks and cobs, switch grass, and other non-food grade plant matter—has taken a big leap thanks to researchers Mark Mascal and Edward Nikitin at the University of California, Davis. The duo has developed an easy, economic process for creating “furanic” fuels from cellulose. Introducing microcystalline cellulose into a mixture lithium chloride and hydrochloric acid and stirring it for 18 hours, Mascal and Nikitin were able to produce 71 percent CMF, the organic compound 5-chloromethylfurfural which can be mixed with ethanol to create automotive fuel or could be used as the starting point for the synthesis of more complex biofuels.

“Our method appears to be the most efficient conversion of cellulose into simple, hydrophobic, organic compounds described to date,” reports Mascal. With luck, it will be the most eco-friendly as well.

2010 R8 spyder shows its mug

Long-rumored but yet to show its face to the public is the upcoming convertible version of Audi’s game-changing super sports car, the R8. These beautiful and clear spy shots show us a lot about Audi’s next stunner, including its long, slinky, clean bodysides and the new front and rear grille treatments similar to, but more tastefully rendered, than those on the diesel-powered R8 V-12 Le Mans concept.

What we don’t see, however, is just as interesting. For starters, thanks to the prosthetic buttresses and rear window, we can’t tell for certain what the folding top actually looks like, but we’re relatively sure it’s made from canvas, not metal, since the dedicated sports-car chassis—at least insofar as it shares key engineering traits with the Lamborghini Gallardo coupe and its softtop Spyder variant—was not engineered to accommodate a folding hardtop.

Also missing are separate sail panels around the side air intake, or any sort of body panel that would easily lend itself to the contrasting paint schemes that are a signature element of the coupe’s design.

Finally, we still haven’t seen the soon-to-be-optional LED headlamps we’ve been promised since the coupe's launch nearly two years ago.

We're certain, however, that the R8 roadster will be as quick, and as sexy as the coupe. The softtop’s interior also is certain to lose some or all of its behind-the-seats cargo space, but with the top down, sight lines will improve dramatically.

We’ll reserve judgment until we see the production version roll out during the fall auto show season, likely in Paris this October, followed by a start of production by the end of 2009. But based on what we see here, we’re thinking we’ll remain coupe fans when all the dust settles. Then again, on a gorgeous day and with the mid-mounted V-8 at full wail, we’d probably find no reason to complain about the lack of a roof. Bring it on.

Inden Design Cayman S

HAIGER, Germany — Porsche has just announced details on its peppier Cayman S Sport, but German tuner Inden Design already decided to take matters into its own hands with this sport kit for the Cayman S.

A new exhaust system ups the output of the flat-6 to 314 horsepower, a 19-hp increase over the stock figure. A control unit operates the flaps of the exhaust, and a small microprocessor is embedded in the system, allowing for a large range of programmability.

The kit also includes a set of H&R's new adjustable coil-overs as well as 19-inch alloy wheels.

What this means to you: More pep and more possibilities for the Porsche Cayman S.

Pricing for Audi RS6 released

INGOLSTADT, Germany — Audi AG released the details on its "racing inspired" RS6 on Tuesday, including the critical information that the car will start at the equivalent of $157,296 when it goes on sale in Germany in mid-October.

Audi of America on Monday confirmed that there are no immediate plans to bring the RS6 to the U.S.

Audi gushes that the engine of the new RS6 is a "high-tech work of art," bundling such race technologies as FSI direct fuel injection, dry-sump lubrication and two turbochargers. The RS6 is powered by a twin-turbo V10 that churns out 580 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. Audi says the RS6 sprints from zero to 60 mph in less than 4.5 seconds and has an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph, which can be optionally raised to 174 mph.

The engine is linked to a six-speed Tiptronic. The driver can also manually change gears using the shift lever or the paddles on the steering wheel.

The RS6 is equipped with 19-inch alloy wheels, with 20-inch wheels offered as an option. Exterior design cues include a spoiler integrated into the trunk lid, two oval exhaust pipes, a rear diffuser and flared fenders. The cabin gets sport seats, an RS leather sport steering wheel with a flat-bottomed rim and a Bose stereo system. Gauges include a boost pressure indicator for the two turbochargers.

What this means to you: You'll have to admire this beauty from afar — at least until Audi makes the decision to unleash it in the States.

The Golden Porsche

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In Russia they drive in solid gold covered Porsche cars. More than 40 pounds of the pure gold was used while decorating this particular car.

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