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Friday, August 15, 2008

Seattle Hempfest 2008: A Celebration Of All Things Cannabis


This weekend on the Puget Sound waterfront, Myrtle Edwards Park plays host to America's largest marijuana law reform event in the 17th annual Seattle Hempfest. The festival, the purpose of which is to educate the public on the many uses and benefits of the cannabis plant, runs from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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Flanagan wins bronze

Posted by Shira Springer, Globe Staff August 15, 2008 01:49 PM

08152008flanagan600.jpg
Marblehead's Shalane Flanagan celebrates with the US flag after capturing the bronze in the 10,000 meters. (AP)

BEIJING -- When Marblehead’s Shalane Flanagan crossed the finish line in the women’s 10,000 earlier this morning (ET) at the National Stadium, she thought she won a bronze medal. She knew she had a new American record with a time of 30:22.22, but she wasn’t sure if she had captured third or fourth place. She needed a spectator to confirm it.

Once Flanagan got the word, she was overjoyed.

“I thought maybe I was third but I can’t celebrate until I really know,” said Flanagan. “I feel fortunate to have it all come together.”

To understand the historical accomplishment, you need to look back at past Olympic medal winners. In track races longer than 800 meters, Flanagan’s bronze medal is only the second US Olympic medal since 1984. That goes for men’s and women’s competition. The other medal was Lynn Jenning’s bronze in the 10,000 in 1992.

Read more about Flanagan in today's Globe.

New poll shows 71% in favor of Massachusetts decriminalization initiative!


According to a new statewide poll just released by Boston's Suffolk University and WHDH Ch. 7, an overwhelming majority of Bay Staters support the passage of Question 2 — the marijuana decriminalization initiative sponsored by MPP’s allies the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy (CSMP) — this November 4! Drawing on a 400-person sample from across the commonwealth, a full 71% of respondents indicated that they would vote to replace criminal penalties for the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana with a simple fine. This whopping level of support eclipses all numbers we’ve seen previously, which have generally been around 60% in favor, and so should be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, this clearly points to Bay Staters' support for the crucial reform proposed by Question 2 and bodes well for the initiative’s chances at the polls this November!

If Massachusetts voters pass Question 2, it will eliminate the possibility of jail for the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. And by treating such minor offenses as civil, rather than criminal, infractions, Question 2 will also get rid of the disastrous system of collateral sanctions — like the suspension of driver's licenses, a lifetime ban on adoption, and the creation of a Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) report, a black mark on an individual’s record that jeopardizes the possibility of obtaining jobs, housing, and school loans — that cripple otherwise law-abiding citizens' abilities to lead happy and productive lives.

But this landmark reform — which marks the first time in history that a binding marijuana decriminalization initiative will appear on any statewide ballot — did not materialize out of nowhere. In fact, through the efforts of numerous dedicated local activists, 30 non-binding public policy questions (PPQs) calling for civil penalties for marijuana possession have passed in districts across Massachusetts since 2000 — with an average of 62% of the vote in favor.

Question 2 simply marks the logical next step: a binding statewide vote on a policy that Bay Staters have supported by wide margins again and again. Would you please consider donating $10 or more to CSMP today to help them make the most of this groundswell of grassroots support for a sensible marijuana policy?

These successful PPQs were scattered across the commonwealth, and it's clear from the map below that the obvious and overwhelming support for reform isn't restricted to any one region. What's more, no PPQ arguing for such a sensible policy has ever failed at the polls in Massachusetts ... and some passed with 70% of the vote or more:

Map of Massachusetts PPQ wins

Clearly, this history of stated support bodes well for Question 2's chances this November, but CSMP will need your help to win. Would you please donate $10 today to help ensure that CSMP run the most robust campaign possible and make the most of this impressive history of local successes?

Thank you for supporting CSMP's efforts. With your continued help and support, the campaign will build on these local wins and institute a sensible marijuana policy for all Massachusetts residents this November 4!

Marijuana Policy Project Alert: Decriminilaztion in Massachusetts

Dear MPP Supporter:

The Massachusetts government has announced that it has certified a landmark marijuana decriminalization initiative for the November 4 ballot — which is the first time in history that an initiative to decriminalize marijuana possession will appear on any statewide ballot.*

When MPP polled Massachusetts voters in February 2007 on this question, we found that the initiative was supported by a 60% to 30% margin (with 10% undecided).

The initiative would reduce the penalties in Massachusetts so that the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana will be punishable only by a ticket and a $100 fine — similar to a speeding ticket — with no arrest, no jail or other penalties, no lawyer's fees, and no court appearances. Please visit http://www.sensiblemarijuanapolicy.org/ to learn more about the initiative.

MPP has been working closely with the Massachusetts campaign operation, the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy (CSMP), to ensure the initiative's placement on the ballot. CSMP turned in more than 100,000 signatures last November and another 20,000 last month to qualify the initiative for the ballot.

Your help is now needed to wage a strong campaign between now and Election Day to ensure that this groundbreaking initiative passes. Would you please visit www.SensibleMarijuanaPolicy.org/donate.html to donate $10 or more today?

CSMP — led by campaign manager and long-time Massachusetts activist Whitney A. Taylor — is well-positioned to make history this November: In addition to completing both parts of the intensive signature drive, the campaign successfully lobbied the Massachusetts Legislature not to take any action that would harm the campaign, in addition to building a statewide coalition of opinion leaders who support the initiative and volunteers who will be working to pass the initiative.

Would you please visit www.SensibleMarijuanaPolicy.org/donate.html to make your most generous donation to the campaign today? I want to thank you in advance for anything you can do to help.

Sincerely,
Kampia signature (e-mail sized)

Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

* Seven out of seven statewide initiatives to end various aspects of marijuana prohibition have failed over the course of our nation's history — in California (1972), Oregon (1986), Alaska (2000 and 2004), Nevada (2002 and 2006), and Colorado (2006). At a minimum, all seven initiatives would have removed all penalties for marijuana possession. The Massachusetts initiative is polling much better than any of these seven initiatives because it seeks a more modest change — to treat marijuana possession like a speeding ticket, rather than imposing no penalty at all.

P.S. You can opt out of receiving fundraising mentions in the e-mail alerts I send you in 2008 by visiting www.mpp.org/2008optoutpreference at your convenience.

Heating Bills to be up 20% this year

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Home heating bills are expected to soar this winter and Americans, already struggling with high gas and food prices, are bracing for more financial hardship.

On average, consumers are expected to pay $1,182 to heat their homes this year, up 20% from last year, according to recent estimates from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

But the outlook for the Northeast, where 8 million households depend on heating oil, is even more worrisome. Homeowners in the region are expected to spend an average of $2,725 on heating oil this winter.

The looming spike in heating costs could pose an even more serious threat to household budgets than the high price of gas, according to Tancred Lidderdale, a senior EIA economist.

"When gas prices go up consumers have options," he said. They can drive less or use public transportation. But when it comes to home heating, "households have fewer options."

While consumers have some leeway in how they manage their heating bills and can take steps to make their homes more energy efficient, most experts say there is little they can do to escape higher energy prices.

"The price of energy is what it is," said Martin Kushler, of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. "At the end of the day you're going to pay the higher cost."

Federal aid

Alarm bells have been sounding in Washington but lawmakers have remained deadlocked on legislation aimed at expanding the help low-income households need to deal with high energy costs.

Senate Democrats made a push in July to double the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) from $2.5 billion to $5.1 billion as part of the Warm in Winter and Cool in Summer Act.

Republicans opposed the bill because it did not include provisions for increased offshore drilling and it failed to pass.

The debate picked up again Thursday when Republican lawmakers in Maine called for a special session to discuss adding $10 million to the state's LIHEAP budget.

Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine has been one of the most vocal Republican supporters of the LIHEAP expansion.

"We must take action on this very basic social net program for the most vulnerable in our society and demonstrate that we do have the opportunity to reach across the political aisle and give the Americans what they deserve," Snowe said in a statement.

Senate Democrats plan to revisit the issue in September as part of a second economic stimulus package, which Republicans have called unnecessary.

The summertime heating oil bet

While more than half of America's households use natural gas for heating purposes, the Northeast has the largest concentration of home heating oil users in the country. And the prospect of a 31% increase in the price of heating oil has the region on edge.

Many Northeasterners try to get a jump on heating oil prices by filling their tanks during the late summer and fall months when prices are typically lower. But this year's run-up in crude prices has altered the usual seasonal pattern.

"This year the traditional lower summertime rate is not as low as it used to be," said David Fox, a spokesman for the National Low Income Energy Consortium.

Some dealers of home heating oil offer prebuy options that allow homeowners to hedge against higher prices.

But the service usually involves a premium, which could end up costing homeowners more if prices unexpectedly fall, according to Matt Cota, executive director of Vermont Fuel Dealers Association.

Given the "tremendous volatility" that has occurred in the oil market, "pre-buy is not the slam dunk it used to be," he said.

Leveled payment programs are another way consumers can cope with higher heating oil prices. This type of plan allows consumers to spread heating costs out over a longer period of time at a fixed monthly rate, which is based on the customer's billing history.

At the end of the year, however, if the consumer has used more or less than what is covered by the monthly payments, the bill is adjusted accordingly.

Liukin, Johnson quite a 1-2 punch for Americans

(Left to right): Silver medalist Shawn Johnson of the United States, gold medalist Nastia Liukin of the United States, and bronze medalist Yang Yilin of China pose together after the women's individual all-around artistic gymnastics final. (Quinn Rooney / Getty Images) (Left to right): Silver medalist Shawn Johnson of the United States, gold medalist Nastia Liukin of the United States, and bronze medalist Yang Yilin of China pose together after the women's individual all-around artistic gymnastics final.

BEIJING - Nastia Liukin, who had played understudy to Shawn Johnson for a year, took center stage today, winning the gymnastics gold medal in the Olympic women's all-around by six-10ths of a point ahead of her teammate, rival, and buddy, who'd come in as the world champion.

It was the second straight time the Americans had won the title and the first time they'd ever won two medals in the event at the Games. It was a sweet victory for Liukin, who'd lost the 2005 world crown by a thousandth of a point to teammate Chellsie Memmel and finished fifth in last year's global all-around after recovering from ankle surgery.

"Everything pays off for this very moment," Liukin said. "You can only think of good things."

This time, Liukin, whose father/coach Valeri won two gold medals for the Soviet Union at the 1988 Games, was at the top of her game, beating Johnson on uneven bars and balance beam and tying her on floor exercise, the final event, to prevail, 63.325-62.725, with China's Yang Yilin (62.650) taking the bronze.

"We both supported each other 100 percent, and we just wanted to go out there and give it our all and have fun, because this is the games," Liukin said. "There is nothing bigger or greater than this."

Added Johnson: "I gave my heart and soul out there today. Nastia deserved the gold."

After settling for silver behind China in Wednesday's team competition, the US had an excellent chance not only to win gold in the all-around but to go 1-2 with Johnson and Liukin, who came in as the top two qualifiers. No other countries but the Soviet Union and Romania had managed that.

As they did in the team event, the Americans and Chinese went head to head on each apparatus, with Yang and Jiang Yuyuan up for the hosts (captain Cheng Fei didn't qualify), alongside Russia's Anna Pavlova and Ksenia Semenova. They began on vault, which is one of Johnson's specialties. And though she took a big step forward on the landing of her Yurchenko 2 1/2, the difficulty of the vault earned her a score of 15.875, putting her six-10ths ahead of Pavlova and another tenth ahead of Yang, with Liukin fourth.

After the first rotation, though, the leader was Romania's Steliana Nistor, who extracted a 15.975 on bars. And though Liukin nailed her typically elegant routine there for a 16.650 and a 31.675 total, Yang outpointed her with a 16.725 to take the lead (31.900) by a quarter of a point midway through the competition.

In fifth behind Nistor (31.525) and Semenova (31.225) but still well within striking distance was Johnson (31.150), who stuck her bars landing for a 15.275 and emerged with a huge grin. Bars is not her best event but Johnson is a sturdy presence on beam, where her unshakable focus and low center of gravity serve her well.

She performed as if her feet were lined with Velcro strips, and despite a small wobble took away a 16.050 and moved up to third place (47.200). But when Liukin followed with a spot-on routine for a 16.125, she took over the lead (47.800) from Yang (47.650).

So it came down to the finale on floor, where the Americans had come to grief in the team event, losing their chance for the gold medal. They had an advantage this time, though, since Johnson is the world champion on the apparatus and Liukin a former medalist and since Yang wasn't one of the three contenders China had sent up in the team competition.

When Yang took a 15.000, the gold medal came down to Liukin and Johnson, who are the friendliest of rivals ("Love you," they'll end text messages to each other). Liukin, who'd stepped out of bounds during the team event, was superb this time, earning a 15.525. Now the moment belonged to Johnson, who needed to score higher than 16 to win.

She tumbled her heart out, sticking the landing on every pass. Once the music stopped, Johnson flashed a beatific smile, came off for a huge hug from Liukin, and burst into tears of relief. While they waited for the scores to go up, both she and Liukin were hyperventilating. When the board showed 15.525, the same score as her teammate, the day and redemption belonged to Liukin, who sobbed joyfully on the medal stand, and the US side had some history to celebrate.

"I feel like this journey has been so long," Liukin said. "There have been so many battles and injuries, just to be at the Olympic Games is amazing."

Materials from the Associated Press were used. John Powers can be reached at jpowers@globe.com.

Marblehead Flanagan is in the running - BEIJING 2008


Shalane Flanagan has her sights on a medal in the 10K. Shalane Flanagan has her sights on a medal in the 10K. (Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

BEIJING - Shalane Flanagan enters the women's 10,000-meter Olympic final tonight with the fastest time in the event this year. This is both good news and bad news for the resident of Marblehead, Mass.

Flanagan set an American record (30 minutes 34.49 seconds) May 4 in her 10,000 debut, leaving plenty of room for improvement. But that time automatically made her a medal contender, raising the stakes at the Games.

"I definitely still consider myself a 1,500, 5K runner," said Flanagan, who will run the 5,000 next week. "I've had obviously some success at the 10K, but I feel like it's really not my race, which maybe is a good thing. My heart is really in the 5K, and when I go out to race the 10K, it's one of those survival races for me. I don't know exactly what I'm doing. But in a way, naiveness is kind of nice.

"When you get emotional and attached to certain things, it can sometimes affect the actual raw racing. At the trials, I wanted to win the 5K so badly and, of course, that's the event I didn't win and I won the 10K. I consider myself more of a 5K runner still, but after the Olympics, things may change. I may say, 'I'm a 10k runner.' "

Flanagan has heard her medal chances being discussed, making it hard to avoid an emotional investment in the 10,000. Her straight-talking coach, John Cook, worries that medal talk will become a distraction.

"Shalane is now coming to kind of a crossroads," said Cook. "It's the problem with a lot of great athletes, they come to a certain level and they kind of feel they have something to prove. If Shalane continues being the Shalane I met 2 1/2 years ago, she's going to be great. If she succumbs to some of the pressures that are now being put upon her, [it will be different].

"She talks about having a target painted on her back. There's no target. You've got to enjoy the journey. People can always say, 'Is she going to medal? Is she going to medal?' Frankly, I don't give a [expletive]. If she runs great, that's all I care about. The journey is going to be long, if she allows herself to relax. I'm finding now that there are forces working that are not necessarily positive, and she starts to feel a lot a pressure. There's a lot of information out there. I hope she doesn't read all that."

Typically, the 10,000 has been an event dominated by the Ethiopians, Kenyans, and Chinese. When Kara Goucher won the bronze medal in the 10,000 at last year's world championships, she became the first American woman to take home a world medal in the event. The last time an American woman won an Olympic medal in the 10,000 was in 1992 in Barcelona, when Lynn Jennings won the bronze. So, the medal buzz around Flanagan is understandable.

"I've always told my coach that if he can put me in contention to be a medalist, I can walk away pretty happy," said Flanagan. "As long as I go out there and display some of the hard work and come away saying, 'I worked hard and it showed in that race how hard I've worked this year,' I'll be happy with that. My goal is to, at least in terms of numbers, to be in the top half of every race and make that 5K final, which is really hard to do. Just be in contention, that's all I care about."

The solid state of Radiohead

By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / August 15, 2008

radiohead
(Globe Photo/Christine Hochkeppel )
Radiohead, fronted by lead singer Thom Yorke, played the Comcast Center on Aug. 13.

Radiohead

With Grizzly Bear

At: the Comcast Center, Wednesday

MANSFIELD - Radiohead created a lot of buzz when it offered the initial release of its latest album "In Rainbows" in the form of a "pay-what-you-like" digital download late last year. But that's business; the adventurous British quintet was already near-peerless in terms of buzz status as performers.

Wednesday night at the Comcast Center, Thom Yorke and company burnished their reputation as a one-of-a-kind live experience.

Few groups are able to transport such a large audience to what feels like a separate state without employing typical psychedelic cliches or pumping hallucinogens into the air. Yet, for just over two hours every hissing tape effect, off-kilter rhythm, delicate finger pick, and well-placed Yorke howl built a fresh landscape in which to get lost.

It's possible for Radiohead to do this in part because it changes its setlist every night, so it's as individual an experience for the fan as it is for the band. Plus the dizzying yet still somehow minimal visual presentation - a multitude of dazzling light rods with cameras affixed beaming split images on central and side video screens - surely helps.

Starting with the itchy cymbal dancing of "Reckoner," the band eased into a groove and Yorke scaled his highest falsetto. The songs flowed seamlessly from there as the seductive contours of "Optimistic" oozed into the tom-tom attack of "There, There."

A sense of shrinking and expanding permeated the soundscapes as songs like "Exit Music (For a Film)" would begin almost stealthily, build to cathartic explosions, and then dwindle back down to embers.

Yorke - whose voice sailed, cracked, and moaned in all the right places - is often the focal point with his loose-limbed shimmying, but his bandmates' contributions were equally praiseworthy with a special note going to guitarist Ed O'Brien's indispensable backing vocals, especially on "The Gloaming."

There were a few snoozy bits - partially because they played all of the more-chill "Rainbows" - but just when you felt you'd wandered into some nutty, downtempo avant-garde disco, the band gave itself and the rapt audience an explosive kick in the butt. A surprisingly snarly version of "The Bends," the fuzzy wriggle of "National Anthem," and the frenzied breaks of "Paranoid Android" neatly fit that bill.

The encores included Yorke offering a piano-ballad version of "Cymbal Rush" from his solo album "The Eraser" and "Karma Police." The group called it a night with the twitch and throb of "Idioteque." It was not the most intense performance the group has given in these parts, but the level of quality and inspiration was high.

Grizzly Bear created a complementary mood toggling between ramshackle indie rockers that collapsed into trance-like drones and wispier bits of pop with yearning Beach Boys-style vocal harmonies.




New Yorker's Map of America

The World's Hottest Weather Girls (PICS)


Perhaps it's their habit of giving the weather in midriff-baring tops. Whatever the reason, these lovely ladies predict a 90 percent chance of making your trousers too tight.

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Richard Kern's guide to taking sexy (arty) photos


Whether he's snapping nubile girls with guns or taking one of his patented up-skirt portraits, Kern is on the cutting edge of erotic art photography.

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Dude, Here's Your Number: 30 Days


Ex-cop sentenced for pulling over woman for number

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

(08-13) 18:21 PDT Bloomsburg, Pa. (AP) --

A former part-time Pennsylvania police officer has been sentenced to 30 days in jail for pulling over a woman while he was off duty — just to give her his phone number. Steven Klinger, 32, was charged with official oppression, or acting outside his authority as an officer.

Police said he used red and blue lights mounted on the dashboard of his pickup truck to pull over a woman in Berwick in eastern Pennsylvania in April 2007. The woman became suspicious when he began asking her if she was married or had a boyfriend, police said.

Klinger was also sentenced Tuesday to three additional days in jail and fined $1,000 for driving drunk in July 2007. Police said he had a blood-alcohol level of .40 percent, five times the legal driving limit.

Klinger last worked for the Dallas Police Department in northeastern Pennsylvania. He is currently unemployed.

He apologized for his actions, and told the judge he had checked into treatment for alcohol abuse.

5,000 Year Old Skeletons Laid On Bed Of Flowers

A tiny woman and two children were laid to rest on a bed of flowers 5,000 years ago in what is now the barren Sahara Desert.

Researchers discovered the slender arms of the youngsters still extended to the woman in a perpetual embrace.

The remarkable cemetery is providing clues to two civilisations who lived there, a thousand years apart, when the region was moist and green.

Enlarge Proof of life: The three skeletons buried at Gobero in the Sahara desert

Proof of life: The three skeletons buried at Gobero in the Sahara desert

Enlarge The body of one of the children, an 11-year-old girl Tenerian girl buried wearing an upper-arm bracelet carved from the tusk of a hippo

The body of one of the children, an 11-year-old girl Tenerian girl buried wearing an upper-arm bracelet carved from the tusk of a hippo

Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago and colleagues were searching for the remains of dinosaurs in the African country of Niger when they came across the startling find.

Some 200 graves of humans were found during fieldwork at the site in 2005 and 2006, as well as remains of animals, large fish and crocodiles.

'Everywhere you turned, there were bones belonging to animals that don't live in the desert,' said Sereno.

'I realized we were in the green Sahara.'

The graveyard, uncovered by hot desert winds, is near what would have been a lake at the time people lived there. It's in a region called Gobero, hidden away in Niger's forbidding Tenere Desert, known to Tuareg nomads as a 'desert within a desert.'

The human remains dated from two distinct populations that lived there during wet times, with a dry period in between.

Enlarge The triple burial contained a woman and two children, their limbs intertwined

The triple burial contained a woman and two children, their limbs intertwined

The first group, known as the Kiffian, hunted wild animals and speared huge perch with harpoons. They colonised the region when the Sahara was at its wettest, between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago.

The researchers said the Kiffians were tall, sometimes reaching well over 6ft.

The second group lived in the region between 7,000 and 4,500 years ago. The Tenerians were smaller and had a mixed economy of hunting, fishing and cattle herding.

Their burials often included jewellery or ritual poses. For example, one girl had an upper-arm bracelet carved from a hippo tusk. An adult Tenerian male was buried with his skull resting on part of a clay vessel; another adult male was interred seated on the shell of a mud turtle.

Pollen remains show the woman and two children were buried on a bed of flowers.

The researchers preserved the group just as they had been for thousands of years.

'At first glance, it's hard to imagine two more biologically distinct groups of people burying their dead in the same place,' said team member Chris Stojanowski, a bioarchaeologist from Arizona State University.

Enlarge Zooarchaeologist Helene Jousse holds up a belly plate from a soft-shelled turtle found in a Tenerian garbage dump ... in the desert

Zooarchaeologist Helene Jousse holds up a belly plate from a soft-shelled turtle found in a Tenerian garbage dump ... in the desert

Stojanowski said ridges on the thigh bone of one Kiffian man show he had huge leg muscles, 'which suggests he was eating a lot of protein and had an active, strenuous lifestyle. The Kiffian appear to have been fairly healthy - it would be difficult to grow a body that tall and muscular without sufficient nutrition.'

On the other hand, ridges on a Tenerian male were barely visible.

'This man's life was less rigorous, perhaps taking smaller fish and game with more advanced hunting technologies,' Stojanowski said.

Paleontologist Paul Sereno stabilizes the nearly perfectly preserved skull of the Tenerian woman

Paleontologist Paul Sereno stabilizes the nearly perfectly preserved skull of the Tenerian woman

Enlarge Paleontologist Paul Sereno is seen with the jaw of the Eocarcharia dinops - a meat-eating dinosaur that lived on the Sahara

Paleontologist Paul Sereno is seen with the jaw of the Eocarcharia dinops - a meat-eating dinosaur that lived on the Sahara

Helene Jousse, a zooarchaeologist from the Museum of Natural History in Vienna, Austria, reported that animal bones found in the area were from types common today in the Serengeti in Kenya, such as elephants, giraffes, hartebeests and warthogs.

The finds are detailed in the journal PLoS One and the September issue of National Geographic Magazine.

While the Sahara is desert today, a small difference in Earth's orbit once brought seasonal monsoons farther north, wetting the landscape with lakes with lush margins and drawing animals and people.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to Summer 2009.


Warner Bros. Pictures today announced that it has moved back the release date of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to Summer 2009. The sixth installment of the blockbuster Harry Potter franchise will now open day-and-date domestically and in the major international markets on July 17, 2009. The announcement was made by Alan Horn, President and Chief Operating Officer, Warner Bros.

In making the announcement, Mr. Horn stated, “Our reasons for shifting ‘Half-Blood Prince’ to summer are twofold: we know the summer season is an ideal window for a family tent pole release, as proven by the success of our last Harry Potter film, which is the second-highest grossing film in the franchise, behind only the first installment. Additionally, like every other studio, we are still feeling the repercussions of the writers’ strike, which impacted the readiness of scripts for other films—changing the competitive landscape for 2009 and offering new windows of opportunity that we wanted to take advantage of. We agreed the best strategy was to move Half-Blood Prince to July, where it perfectly fills the gap for a major tent pole release for mid-summer.”

Jeff Robinov, President of Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group, confirmed, “The release date change does not alter the production schedule for this or future Harry Potter films. Post-production on Half-Blood Prince was completed on time, and the studio’s release plans for the two-part Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will not be affected by this change. We know Harry Potter fans are eagerly anticipating seeing the final chapters unfold onscreen. In fact, the good news for them is that the gap will now be shortened between ‘Half-Blood Prince’ and the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

Commenting on the release date change for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, David Heyman, the producer of all the Harry Potter films, offered, “When Jeff Robinov explained the rationale behind moving the release date of ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ to July 2009, it was immediately apparent that this offered us the potential to reach the widest possible audience. I am extremely proud of this latest film and of the work of David Yates and our incomparable cast; I believe we have developed and pushed the series further still. We are all looking forward to sharing it with Harry Potter fans around the world, even if we have to wait just a bit longer.”

David Yates, the director of both Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and who will also helm Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, added, “It has been a joy to work on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Dan, Rupert and Emma and all our returning young cast continue to blossom, and our new cast members bring fresh color and life to Hogwarts. Even as we put the finishing touches on this latest film, we are already beginning preparations on the final two films—we start filming in February—and I am excited to bring this remarkable series to the exciting and moving conclusion its loyal fans deserve.”

In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Voldemort is tightening his grip on both the Muggle and wizarding worlds and Hogwarts is no longer the safe haven it once was. Harry suspects that dangers may even lie within the castle, but Dumbledore is more intent upon preparing him for the final battle that he knows is fast approaching. Meanwhile, the students are under attack from a very different adversary as teenage hormones rage across the ramparts. Love is in the air, but tragedy lies ahead and Hogwarts may never be the same again.

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a Heyday Films production, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. David Yates, who directed last year’s summer blockbuster Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, returns to direct Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. David Heyman and David Barron are the producers, with Lionel Wigram serving as executive producer. Steve Kloves wrote the screenplay, based on the book by J.K. Rowling.

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson are reprising their roles as young wizards Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. The film also stars Jim Broadbent, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis and Julie Walters. The cast also features David Bradley, Jessie Cave, Frank Dillane, Tom Felton, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch, Helen McCrory, Natalia Tena, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, and Bonnie Wright.

10 next generation Olympic doping methods

Anti-doping officials hope to keep lab tests ahead of dopers' ability to create and hide new means of chemically augmenting their performances.
Photo: Frank Augstein/Associated Press

While the International Olympic Committee is busy trying to catch today's performance enhancers, athletes are already looking for the next big boost that will give them the edge in 2012.

Most of the positive doping tests in Beijing -- and the IOC president estimates there will be as many as 40 -- will likely be for steroids and the blood-boosting hormone erythropoietin, known as EPO.

But the future of doping could get a lot more complicated. Here are some of the most promising -- or threatening, if you're the World Anti-Doping Agency -- candidates for the next Olympics.

Use your genes to grow more muscle

Manipulating genes to block naturally occurring muscle-growth inhibitors could allow athletes to boost their muscle mass. A lot.

In tests on mice, blocking the protein myostatin gave the mice up to 60 percent more lean muscle mass. Even more promising, Johns Hopkins' Se-Jin Lee recently found that overproduction of one myostatin inhibitor pumps the mice up even more: up to 81 percent in females and a whopping 116 percent in males. Results of human clinical trials are pending.

Complicating the picture, particularly for WADA, is a small number of people with naturally inhibited myostatin who will have to be distinguished from the dopers somehow.

Pop a blood-boosting pill

Who wouldn't love a pill that delivers the same record-breaking benefits of synthetic EPO without the hassle of injections or getting caught?

Clinical trials are under way for a pill that tricks the body into thinking blood-oxygen levels have dropped, causing it to produce more red blood cells, thus improving muscle endurance.

When blood-oxygen levels drop, hypoxia-inducible factor, or HIF, kicks in to stimulate red blood cell production. Once oxygen is back to normal, the HIF breaks down and cell formation stops. The drugs, known as HIF stabilizers, stop the breakdown and keep blood production up.

Some suspect athletes may already be using HIF stabilizers, but the health risks are unknown.

Anti-doping officials hope to keep lab tests ahead of dopers' ability to create and hide new means of chemically augmenting their performances.
Photo: Frank Augstein/Associated Press

While the International Olympic Committee is busy trying to catch today's performance enhancers, athletes are already looking for the next big boost that will give them the edge in 2012.

Most of the positive doping tests in Beijing -- and the IOC president estimates there will be as many as 40 -- will likely be for steroids and the blood-boosting hormone erythropoietin, known as EPO.

But the future of doping could get a lot more complicated. Here are some of the most promising -- or threatening, if you're the World Anti-Doping Agency -- candidates for the next Olympics.

Use your genes to grow more muscle

Manipulating genes to block naturally occurring muscle-growth inhibitors could allow athletes to boost their muscle mass. A lot.

In tests on mice, blocking the protein myostatin gave the mice up to 60 percent more lean muscle mass. Even more promising, Johns Hopkins' Se-Jin Lee recently found that overproduction of one myostatin inhibitor pumps the mice up even more: up to 81 percent in females and a whopping 116 percent in males. Results of human clinical trials are pending.

Complicating the picture, particularly for WADA, is a small number of people with naturally inhibited myostatin who will have to be distinguished from the dopers somehow.

Pop a blood-boosting pill

Who wouldn't love a pill that delivers the same record-breaking benefits of synthetic EPO without the hassle of injections or getting caught?

Clinical trials are under way for a pill that tricks the body into thinking blood-oxygen levels have dropped, causing it to produce more red blood cells, thus improving muscle endurance.

When blood-oxygen levels drop, hypoxia-inducible factor, or HIF, kicks in to stimulate red blood cell production. Once oxygen is back to normal, the HIF breaks down and cell formation stops. The drugs, known as HIF stabilizers, stop the breakdown and keep blood production up.

Some suspect athletes may already be using HIF stabilizers, but the health risks are unknown.

Take a next-gen EPO

At the Tour de France in July, Ricardo Ricco got caught using a new EPO-like blood booster, CERA, recently released by Roche.

Before CERA was on the market, the pharmaceutical giant cooperated with WADA to have a test ready to trap cutting-edge dopers like Ricco, a sign that WADA is catching up to, and perhaps even staying ahead of, dopers.

Or it's a sign that WADA needs help developing tests to detect each EPO variant, a tall order considering EPO and related drugs make up a $12 billion market. There are also dozens of EPO-stimulating agents available or in the works around the world.

Pump up your muscle fiber

Athletes already have more fatigue-resistant muscle fibers than couch potatoes. But new research shows they may be able widen that gap further by boosting levels of the gene responsible for adding new fibers.

Recently, researchers at the Salk Institute in San Diego found that an existing medication, called GW1516, raises the levels of this gene, resulting in a 68 percent endurance improvement in fit mice.

The Salk researchers are working with WADA on a test to detect use of GW1516. But several other drugs are known to manipulate the muscle-fiber genes, and others are believed to do the same. A test to detect this type of gene doping would need to cover a lot of uncharted territory.

Lastly, use mustard?

Athletes turned off by the latest biotech breakthroughs can try this recipe: Strip down and rub mustard oil all over your body.

While exploring the role skin plays in the production of red blood cells, Randy Johnson's team of researchers at UC San Diego found that rubbing mustard oil on mice caused spikes in natural EPO production, and that led to increased red blood cell levels.

It's unclear how much mustard oil a human athlete would need to enhance performance, or how much mustard oil could lead to strokes and heart attacks.

With all the crazy, complicated doping schemes out there could the journey to the top of the podium simply require a trip to the grocery store?

Natural Gas to Gasoline


Fuel efficient: Synfuels has operated a demonstration facility in Texas since 2005. The company says that its gas-to-liquid technology is cost efficient enough to allow natural gas to be converted into gasoline.
Credit: Synfuels

A Texas company says that it has developed a cheaper and cleaner way to convert natural gas into gasoline and other liquid fuels, making it economical to tap natural-gas reserves that in the past have been too small or remote to develop.

The company behind the technology, Dallas-based Synfuels International, says that the process uses fewer steps and is far more efficient than more established techniques based on the Fischer-Tropsch process. This process converts natural gas into syngas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide; a catalyst then causes the carbon and hydrogen to reconnect in new compounds, such as alcohols and fuels. Nazi Germany used the Fischer-Tropsch process to convert coal and coal-bed methane into diesel during World War II.

A Synfuels gas-to-liquids (GTL) refinery goes through several steps to convert natural gas into gasoline but claims to do so with better overall efficiency. First, natural gas is broken down, or "cracked," under high temperatures into acetylene, a simpler hydrocarbon. A separate liquid-phase step involving a proprietary catalyst then converts 98 percent of the acetylene into ethylene, a more complex hydrocarbon. This ethylene can then easily be converted into a number of fuel products, including high-octane gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. And the end product is free of sulfur.

"We're able to produce a barrel of gasoline for much cheaper than Fischer-Tropsch can," says Kenneth Hall, coinventor of the process and former head of Texas A&M University's department of chemical engineering. Hall says that a Fischer-Tropsch plant is lucky to produce a barrel of gasoline for $35 but that a much smaller Synfuels refinery could produce the same barrel for $25. Under current fuel prices, such a plant could pay for itself in as little as four years, the company says.

Texas A&M University licensed its approach to Synfuels and partly owns the company, which has been operating a $50 million demonstration plant in Texas since 2005 and says that it is close to signing a deal for its first commercial refinery near Kuwait City.

Synfuels president Tom Rolfe says that the company has developed some proprietary components and catalysts, but he adds that much of the approach is based on off-the-shelf technologies. He says that Synfuels' main advantage is the efficiency by which it breaks down and reassembles hydrocarbon molecules. "Nobody has achieved as high a conversion rate of natural gas into acetylene as we have," Rolfe says.

Ali Mansoori, a professor of chemical engineering and physics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says that the process seems far less complicated than those found in a Fischer-Tropsch plant. "The numbers reported for conversion efficiency and selectivity look quite promising," he adds.

But Synfuels isn't alone in trying to make GTL more economical. Gas Reaction Technologies, a spinoff from the University of California, Santa Barbara, has developed a process that converts natural gas into bromine-based compounds that are later converted into liquid fuels.



Gas to go: Several steps are needed to turn natural gas into gasoline. Natural gas is broken down under high temperatures into acetylene and a liquid-phase step converts the acetylene into ethylene. This can be converted into a number of fuel products, including high-octane gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.
Credit: Synfuels


The goal for both companies is the same: to tap into natural-gas reserves that are too small or too remote to economically access with a dedicated pipeline. Much of this gas is a by-product of oil extraction. The World Bank estimates that more than 150 billion cubic meters of natural gas--equivalent to the combined gas consumption of France and Germany--are flared or released into the air every year by oil companies that have no economical way of getting the gas to market. The resulting greenhouse-gas emissions are a major contributor to climate change, the World Bank adds.

"With our technology, you can go into the field and process that natural gas into gasoline," Rolfe says. "Now it's a liquid, so it can be sent in existing oil pipelines. There's a huge opportunity for this in places like Russia, the Middle East, and South America."

There is also opportunity in Alaska's North Slope, where oil giants such as BP have been considering GTL projects as a way of getting natural gas to market as a by-product of oil extraction. BP spent $86 million on a demonstration Fischer-Tropsch plant in the late 1990s, with the idea that natural gas could be converted into diesel and mixed with crude oil being shipped through the 1,200-kilometer trans-Alaska oil pipeline. But the BP project never proved commercially viable.

Shirish Patil, a professor of petroleum engineering at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, says that the high cost of Fischer-Tropsch and rising oil prices now have the industry tilting toward building a dedicated natural-gas pipeline. But lower GTL costs could change that. "If there's any process that removes some of the steps of Fischer-Tropsch and reduces overall cost of conversion, that will certainly bear out in the economics," Patil says. "And it's the economics that will prevail."

Rolfe says that Alaska is certainly on Synfuels' radar. "We're working with the state of Alaska to use our plants as an alternative," he says. "The Fischer-Tropsch solution for the North Slope is not elegant at all. It's like getting an elephant up there to do your hard work, when all you need is two or three thoroughbred horses." Rolfe adds that a Synfuels refinery can be self-sufficient in remote areas because half the natural gas it taps can go toward power and heating requirements of the plant while the rest is converted into fuels. And unlike a Fischer-Tropsch plant, no hard waxes or toxic by-products result from the Synfuels process.

Synfuels estimates that only 200 of the 15,000 gas fields outside North America are big enough to justify the high capital costs of a Fischer-Tropsch plant. A handful of such plants exist today, including a Shell refinery in Malaysia and the Mossgas plant in South Africa. Another two plants are also under development, in Qatar and in Nigeria.

Devinder Mahajan, a chemical engineer with the Brookhaven National Laboratory, in New York, says that the industry will be somewhat skeptical until Synfuels has a commercial plant in operation. "There are a lot of investors out there who would put the money in if it has the claimed advantages over Fischer-Tropsch."

But such interest is building. In January, Kuwait-based AREF Energy Holding invested $28.5 million in Synfuels for a minority stake in the company and exclusive rights to market the refineries in the Middle East and North Africa. Rolfe says that sales interest is also building in Australia, Argentina, Egypt, and Kazakhstan.

Hall hopes that the last quarter of 2008 will be a "breakout" year for Synfuels and how it is perceived by the major oil companies. He understands, however, the industry's reluctance. "In this industry, everybody wants to be first to be second when adopting new technology. The Fischer-Tropsch process is at least proven. They know it works." By contrast, he says, Synfuels' approach, "hasn't been proven because there aren't any big facilities out there."

The secret tool of the US swim team(it's not the suit)


Kick start: A special device built to analyze a swimmer’s thrust (triangular structure, right) can help her stroke. Here, the red vertical line shows how much force the swimmer generates as she kicks.
Credit: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
video To see the force of swimmer Ariana Kukors’s kick, click here.

Around the time that the swimwear company Speedo was calling on NASA scientists to help create the now famous LZR Racer suit--an enhanced skin that many people credit for more than a dozen world records broken by swimmers so far this week in Beijing--a scientist in New York began working on a different tool for the swimmer's armory. Over the past five years, Tim Wei, a mechanical and aerospace engineer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has revamped an established technique in fluid dynamics to study human movement for the first time. The method allows scientists and coaches to study how fast and hard a swimmer pushes the water as she moves through it. Swim coach Sean Hutchison, who put two athletes on the Olympic swim team, says that he used Wei's insights as the basis for every technical change he made with swimmers leading up to the Olympic trials and games this year.

Wei uses a tracking technique called digital particle image velocimetry, commonly used to measure the flow of small particles around an airplane or small fish or crustaceans in water. For water-based flow experiments, researchers pour minute silver-coated beads into water and illuminate them with a laser. A high-speed digital video camera tracks the downstream flow of beads over the creature. "But ramping up to large scales is hard," says biologist Frank Fish, who studies the propulsion of aquatic mammals at West Chester University and has collaborated with Wei on dolphin studies. "Shining lasers on swimmers and immersing them in water full of glass beads may be asking them to go above and beyond in the name of science."

Wei devised a novel solution: instead of glass beads, he filtered compressed air in a scuba tank through a porous hose to create bubbles about a tenth of a millimeter in diameter. An athlete swims through a sheet of bubbles that rises from the pool floor, and a camera captures their flow around the swimmer's body. Images show the direction and speed of the bubbles, which Wei then translates into the swimmer's thrust using software that he wrote. "More force equals faster swimming," he says.

In collaboration with Hutchison, who coaches elite athletes outside Seattle, Wei filmed Olympic gold medalist Megan Jendrick and more junior swimmer Ariana Kukors in a flume swimming breaststroke, which has a froglike kick. Jendrick's velocity vectors signaled a fast speed, and they pointed straight out from the bottom of her feet. This meant that her feet threw water behind her, thrusting her forward, much the way that an ice skater who throws a ball will shoot herself in the opposite direction. By comparison, Kukors, a less experienced elite swimmer, had slower vectors that ran parallel to her feet, which meant that she slid through the water.

"[Hutchison] took that and modified the breaststroke kick of all his elite athletes," says Wei, who presented his work to USA Swimming, the sport's governing body, in 2007. In a sport in which shaving tenths of a second can be cause for celebration, Hutchison reported that by adapting her kick, Kukors dropped several seconds in a breaststroke event, although she just missed the Olympic team. Jendrick and another of Hutchison's swimmers, Margaret Hoelzer, are competing this week at the games, where Jendrick placed fifth in the 100-meter breaststroke and Hoelzer, who won a bronze in the 100-meter backstroke, hopes to win gold in the 200 back. She broke the world record in the event in July.

More recently, Wei has turned his attention to a swimmer's thrust. With funding from USA Swimming, Wei built a force balance, an upside-down triangular frame that acts like a bathroom scale. Swimmers lie outstretched in the water and kick into the frame, and it measures their propulsion over time. The output, which for an elite swimmer like Kukors showed a sinusoidal, repetitive wave, can help coaches determine whether an athlete should try to generate more force with a harder, bigger kick rather than a shallower, quicker one. "It depends on the individual swimmer," says Wei, who hopes to combine flow and thrust measuring tools into one image. He also wants to make more measurements of athletes swimming freely, rather than pushing against a wall or in a flume.

Wei will meet with USA Swimming biomechanics coordinator Russell Mark in the fall to talk about what to do next. "Russell's job is providing coaches with a sound physics base for whatever they tell swimmers to do," Wei says. USA Swimming also relies on computer-based flow analysis using whole-body scans of swimmers; these could be combined to determine how one validates the other.

If Anyone Has Any Requests I'd Be Happy to Blow It Up (PICS)


From the photographer: "High speed photography. If anyone has any requests I'd be happy to blow it up for you!" Give him some new requests!

read more | digg story

The Car Guy Country Club

Bugatti

About midway through my first ever round of golf as a teenager, it dawned on me that I was not a natural, and that becoming good at this game would require lots of money that could be better spent on cars. These days, there are more and more "country clubs" springing up for folks like me--except with way more money. Places where, for a hefty initiation fee and yearly dues, the serious enthusiast can enjoy track time, a clubhouse, and the fellowship of like-minded folk.



logo

I just spent a glorious afternoon flogging the second coming of Cadillac's CTS-V around one of the newest of such clubs, Monticello Motor Club. I can't tell you anything about how the spectacular 556-hp supercharged CTS-V performed until September 24, but I can confirm that this looks like one of the better car-guy clubs I've seen or heard about.

Track

First of all the track is pretty cool. Its 4.1 miles of pavement can be subdivided into three different circuits, the longest of which runs about 3.5 miles and includes a really long straight where the big dogs can achieve well over 150 mph. Undulating hills with a total of 150 feet of elevation change translate to about 450 feet of up-and-down per lap. With 22 unique turns, 12 distinct configurations, and over 1.5 miles of straights, this track boasts some of the fastest segments available in the world. Some of its blind rises and technical curve combinations purport to have been cribbed from the vaunted Nurburgring.

Member Event

The price of entry is steep: $125,000, plus $7500/year dues. Members will also be able to buy trackside condos, and rent club-owned cars like a Ferrari 360 Stradale, Ford GT, and Lotus 2-Eleven. The club has its own private driving instructors that can provide instruction on demand, not just during scheduled classes. New member driving skills are assessed by the instructors, who ride along and provide instruction until his or her skill level is deemed sufficient to be turned loose on the track.

Ferraris

Track time is the big payoff of such memberships, and Monticello's arrangement is the most free-form. Weekend track use is exclusively reserved for members on the full circuit, but any member can drive on the track at any time with no reservations or advanced notice six days a week. Portions of the track can be closed for special events on some weekdays. During my drive, members shared the track with us in an F430 and a Ford GT. Located just 90 minutes or so by car (20 by chopper onto the club helipad) from the tycoon-dense islands of NYC, Monticello promises to be THE club for New England's horsepower set.

Celebs

For $2500 you can spend a day touring the facilities, driving the track in your car or theirs (rental fees not included) and receiving driver training. The track, garages, and clubhouse have yet to be completed (the track still lacks one more layer of asphalt, curbing, and runoff area catch-fences), and more amenities are planned, but the 125 founding memberships are sold out and folks are already working down their lap times. Only 500 memberships will be available. If you can afford it and you're anywhere nearby, check it out.

Paddock

The Fastest thing in Foul Weather

Porsche's roll out of a new 911 is as predictable as the thunderstorms that rumble across Germany every summer. First come the Carrera 2 coupes and cabriolets, followed by the all-wheel-drive Carrera 4s. A Targa rolls in next, and then the gale-force Turbo and whirlwinds of the ferocious GTs complete the perfect storm whipped up each time Porsche reinvents its iconic sports car.

Porsche revealed its thoroughly transformed 911 Carrera 2s earlier this year, and we had no compunction about calling them the best 911s yet. Unfortunately, wet roads and pervasive squadrons of radar-wielding polizei blew away our chance to enjoy the full force of the two more powerful boxer sixes, the refined chassis, and the new twin-clutch automatic gearbox.

The C2 affair may have been less than electrifying, but all is forgotten now that we've driven the new Carrera 4 -- as a 911 should be driven, on a test track and on dry, winding back roads devoid of speed traps. At the end of a most excellent day spent behind the wheel of a 385-hp C4S Coupe, our synapses crackled as though we'd been straddling a lightning bolt. So visceral was our reaction to the car's unfettered capabilities that a series of fast laps at the Michelin proving grounds left us as giddy as if we'd been sucking on a bottle of pure ozone. (Kids, don't try this at home.)

Visually distinguished from the C2 by its 1.73-in.-wider rear fenders, retro-look rear reflector strip (framed by moderno LED taillamps), and blackout tail trim, the C4 differs underneath by the electronically controlled AWD system first offered in the 911 Turbo and by a pair of underfloor NACA ducts for improved rear-brake cooling. The many other refinements are identical to those steps recently taken along the Carrera's well-trodden path toward perfection, which means it's damn near impossible, again, to single out just one element of the C4 to describe how disdainfully it shrugs off all challenges to its powerful poise. It's equally tough to describe how only 385 hp from six cylinders can be such a kick-in-the-corpuscles hoot, or how the car's power-to-weight-to-comfort ratios are equally suited to comfortable cruising or backroad romps.

It's also hard for us to admit that Porsche's Doppelkupplungsgetriebe is one tasty treat. No, it's not an entree at the steak house planned for Porsche's new museum, it's the new twin-clutch automatic that has us, almost, forgiving the pain of enduring Tiptronic's mysterious ways. Combined with a new standard rear limited-slip differential, it's so much better at sorting out the correct gear that the transition from Tiptronic to PDK seems an inexplicable leap of evolution, the kind that can't be explained by the fossil record.

PDK, too, has weakened, perhaps fatally, our disdain for two-pedal 911s. Besides having a much cooler, more appropriately complex Germanic name than Tiptronic (which sounds like a cell-phone "app"), PDK shifts smoothly, rapidly,k and more intuitively, and the push-pull paddles are a huge improvement over Tip's wimpy plastic buttons. They're also placed perfectly for shifting while keeping both hands well placed on the wheel. Full automatic still isn't the most rewarding way to get around a test track (even if it's slightly quicker), but we certainly can see the benefit if the car is used mostly on crowded urban streets and freeways.

There's no shame in keeping Porsche Traction Management fully activated for normal use, when the car's limits are taxed usually only in emergencies. You'll want all the electronics working when you try to swerve around that jackknifed big rig, but when an inviting road opens up, the skilled will want to disengage the first step of the three-mode system. This second level allows almost 30 degrees of chassis yaw before the electronics intercede, and even then the redistribution of power is virtually transparent. Should your pal require a shot of a burnout or you getting sideways through a corner for his YouTube post, the system can be turned completely off. However, a cooler video would be a demonstration of PDK's launch control system (optional with the Sport Chrono Package). What's cooler than the quickest way from 0 to 60?

Giving up the joy of Porsche's manual gearbox adds $4080 on top of the $81,700 for a base C4, powered by the smaller, 345-hp, 3.6L six; $92,300 for the 385-hp, 3.8L C4S and C4 Cabriolet; and $102,900 for the C4S Cabriolet. Porsche expects lots of buyers to shell out the additional bucks, and it does make sense for the unfortunates who want a 911 but would never find the place or time for a track session or backroad romp.

We feel somewhat the same about the new all-wheel drive, an admittedly amazing judge of wheelslip. It makes sense for some, not for others. It now can send up to 100 percent of the engine power to either axle as needed to maintain equilibrium (30 front/70 rear was the limit in the old system), but few outside of the Ice Belt will need this more expensive, heavier technology to stay on the road. Besides, a little in-equilibrium is desirable in a sports car. Otherwise, where's the fun?



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