Zazzle Shop

Screen printing

Thursday, August 28, 2008

More Transformers 2 Long Beach Set Photos

/Film reader Ricky C snapped some photos of the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen shoot in Long Beach today:

Hey guys! I got some really great pictures from the Transformers 2 set in Long Beach. I tried to get more pictures of that grey car but it sped away before i could snap some good pictures. I was literally ten feet away from all of these. It was intense! Later on guys!

Green Gym Uses Human-Powered Energy

Written by Ariel Schwartz

The opening of Portland’s The Green Microgym this week seems like a perfect complement to the announcement of M2E’s kinetic charger, which can generate energy from motion. Adam Boesel, The Green Microgym’s owner, doctored up spin bikes with weed whacker motors and truck alternators so that patrons can create energy to help power the 2,800 foot space.

According to DailyTech, the Team Dynamo and Spin Bikes at the gym can each generate up to 75 watts. Next on Boesel’s list is generating power from elliptical trainers.

At first, patrons will probably generate about 25 percent of the gym’s power. But Boesel hopes that eventually they will be to generate all of it.

The Green Microgym follows in the footsteps of Hong Kong’s California Fitness gym, which uses gym-goers’ energy to power light fixtures.

Lego Batman Coming To iPhone?

The latest installment in the LEGO Thing franchise — LEGO Batman — could be heading to the iPhone, reports Pocket Gamer.

There have been earlier Java midlet versions of LEGO games - notably Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, but it would be nice to think that theiPhone would get a proper conversion..

The possibilities for manipulating LEGO bricks using multi-touch gestures could make for an interesting twist on the LEGO gameplay. Even if it is just a port of the DS version, though, it should be worth checking out providing the thorny issue of lack of D-Pad is resolved.

Pocketgamer don't mention a source for the news — hence the rumor tag — but as soon as we get more details, you shall be the first to know.

Ford Tests Improve Gas Mileage 24% with EcoDriving

by Benjamin Jones

Ford is really throwing down the guantlet by showing how dedicated it is to the new EcoDriving initiative we talked about the other day. I really liked it because it validates a lot of what we’re trying to do on the forums in terms of improving fuel economy on an individual level, but also showed that automakers were willing to commit (at least in name) to supporting fuel efficient driving. However, it seems Ford has really stepped up to the plate by offering ecodriving lessons over the course of several days to see how effective it really is.

Ford takes on ecodriving

Recently, Ford and a group called Pro Formance decided to take on ecodriving in the form of a 4-day long seminar with 48 different drivers taking part. Using the ecodriving tips taught by Pro Formance, the participants increased their fuel economy between 6-50%, with and average increase of 24%.

With the gas crunch hitting people hard, it’s good to see a company like Ford stepping up and showing consumers that there’s more than just air up your tires and cleaning out the trunk. Here’s their take on ecodriving:

“By working with Pro Formance to conduct validation testing, Ford is proving that eco-driving techniques are teachable and work across a broad spectrum of vehicles and drivers,” said Drew DeGrassi, president and CEO of Pro Formance Group. “It’s a great initiative for Ford to lead in this country. It’s not the end-all solution for America to obtain energy independence, but it is an important part of it.”

I would love to see what the training program is like, but for the rest of us Ford give us 10 ecodriving tips. Sure, they pale in comparison to EcoModder’s ecodriving tips list, but most drivers aren’t interested in getting really involved, and Ford’s hands-on approach is a good way to get results without asking too much of people.

Evidently they have been doing this since the 1990s in Germany, where gas mileage has been an issue for longer than it has in the US. Hopefully, this will encourage other manufacturers to bring their most efficient vehicles and programs to a ready-and-willing US market.

Spielberg Digs Up Clues


Steven Spielberg is having a Clues encounter of the 39 kind.

The Oscar-winning filmmaker is pumping up his already crowded slate with another would-be blockbuster. DreamWorks has acquired the big-screen rights to The 39 Clues, a multiplatform adventure series hitting stores in September from Scholastic Media—a publisher that knows a thing or two about launching mega-franchises, having foisted a little something called Harry Potter on us Yanks.

As first reported in Variety, Spielberg will produce the film and could also direct should one of several other projects he's been developing fail to get off the ground. A search is already under way for a screenwriter to adapt the franchise.

Scholastic will roll out Clues over a period of two years, beginning with the first installment, The Maze of Bones. Nine other literary adventures are expected to follow, accompanied by a set of collectible cards and an online game that will run for two years and give Netizens the chance to solve a mystery and win a $10,000 grand prize.

"The 39 Clues takes creative leaps to expand the story experience from the pages of the books to multiple stages of discovery and imagination," Spielberg said in a statement.

The franchise centers around the most powerful family in the world, the Cahills, whose relatives include Napoleon and Houdini. In the first book, Cahill matriarch Grace alters her will at the last minute to give her descendants a choice: Either accept $1 million or receive one of 39 clues hidden around the globe that will reveal the source of the family's power.

Based on Maze of Bones author Rick Riordan's outline for the 10-book series, there would be enough material for as many as three or four movies.

After reviving Indiana Jones last month to the delight of moviegoers and his accountant (the sequel has grossed nearly $400 million worldwide and counting), Spielberg has plenty in the pipeline.

The pending projects include The Trial of the Chicago 7, chronicling the 1968 protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and the high-profile conspiracy trial that followed; Lincoln, a presidential biopic starring Liam Neeson; and two Tintin adventures he's developing with Peter Jackson.

Spielberg Still Taking First Tintin Shift

Peter Jackson, Tin-Tin, Steven Spielberg Axel/ZUMA Press;Hergé;Lisa O'Connor/


The Tintin tag-teaming has begun.

Steven Spielberg is still slated to direct the first of three planned films about the mystery-solving Belgian reporter and his trusty fox terrier Snowy, despite recent word from the Brussels studio that owns the rights to the characters that Peter Jackson would be doing the honors for Tintin's first outing.

Reps for both filmmakers say that Jackson—who will serve as a producer on the Spielberg-directed installment—is still onboard to helm the next film in the would-be franchise, based on the classic European comic strip by George Remi, who published his creations under the pen name Hergé.

A rep for Hergé Studios had said earlier Tuesday that Jackson would be the first to step behind the camera and Spielberg would be indirectly involved in the filming, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Either way, the first movie will be adapted from two books in the Adventures of Tintin series—The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure, written between 1942 and 1944. Dr. Who scribe Stephen Moffat penned the script.

And now Tintin's signature carrot top will reach new heights: The originally 2-D traveler is being brought to the big screen with Polar Express-style motion-capture animation technology.

British teen Thomas Sangster (Liam Neeson's lovestruck son in Love Actually) will wield Tintin's heavily stamped passport and motion-capture veteran Andy Serkis, of Gollum fame, is stepping into the role of his crusty sailor pal, Captain Haddock.

Before it's Jackson's turn to fashion a Tintin adventure, he will finish postproduction on The Lovely Bones and cowrite The Hobbit with Guillermo del Toro, who was tapped to direct the Lord of the Rings prequel after Jackson dropped out.

Viper owners and fans react to news that Viper could be on the block

AUBURN HILLS, Michigan — As owner's clubs and fan sites buzzed Wednesday with news that Chrysler may sell the Dodge Viper brand, fans of the brawny halo car expressed concern for what the car might become, rather than who owns it.

On the Viper Club of America forum, members were generally appreciative that Chrysler is looking at a future for the V10-powered car, rather than killing it off. Chrysler Chairman and CEO Bob Nardelli announced on Wednesday that the company was exploring "strategic options for the Dodge Viper business" and had been approached by companies interested in the Viper nameplate.

"I have only one hope, whoever buys it, keep it a Viper," wrote a Viper Club of America member going by the name V10SpeedLuvr. "I don't want a backseat or a V8. I'd rather see it die completely than become a mass produced, babyseat hold-down having, family version of the Corvette."

Many owners and enthusiasts were speculating on potential buyers — and voicing dreams of an even more powerful Viper produced by a niche manufacturer like Pininfarina, Roush or Saleen. Still, some fans worried that eliminating the halo car from the lineup would harm the entire Dodge brand. On Red Letter Dodge, a Web site devoted to the entire company lineup, the news drew just two comments, but both posters expressed disappointment.

"Having a high-end car in the lineup gives Dodge the credibility that they are a high-performance, quality manufacturer that will always be a few notches above the competition because they can build exotic cars," wrote user TexasMopar.

What this means to you: Viper fans don't seem too concerned with what logo is on the hood, as long as the car stays true to its performance pedigree. — Eric Tingwall, Correspondent

Is College Still worth the Price?

Costs are soaring twice as fast as inflation, even as salaries for graduates are falling. Time to examine the old belief that college is worth whatever you can pay.

(Money Magazine) -- In May, more than 20,000 spectators gathered under blue skies at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. to hear Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama deliver the commencement address.

After recalling his days as a low-paid community organizer, Obama urged the graduates to consider careers in public service. "I ask you to seek these opportunities when you leave here," Obama declared. "The future of this country - your future - depends on it." His message was received with enthusiastic applause.

Calls to "give back" always seem to resonate at elite schools like Wesleyan, a picture postcard of academic abundance on its 360-acre wooded campus, complete with state-of-the-art film center, 7,500-square-foot fitness facility, skating rink, 11-building arts complex and a new $47 million student center offering everything from Mongolian grill entrées to organically grown coffee.

As for actually entering a career in public service, Graduate, good luck with that. Given the steep price tag for a Wesleyan degree ($200,000 for four years) and the substantial amount you may have borrowed to pay those bills ($21,500 for the average student, with some families carrying loans of $50,000 or more), choosing a profession that often pays less than $30,000 a year might be, well, let's just say a bit of a financial challenge.

For more than two decades, colleges and universities across the country have been jacking up tuition at a faster rate than costs have risen on any other major product or service - four times faster than the overall inflation rate and faster even than increases in the price of gasoline or health care (see the chart to the right). The result: After adjusting for financial aid, the amount families pay for college has skyrocketed 439% since 1982.

Granted, the fact that college costs are spiraling wildly out of control is not exactly a news flash. The real eye-opener is why.

College finance experts point to a record number of applicants in recent years as the baby boomlet comes of age (many of the more selective schools reported double-digit increases for 2008); that trend, coupled with growing demand for degrees (undergraduate enrollment has jumped more than 20% over the past decade), puts heavy upward pressure on prices. Dwindling support for higher education from cash-strapped federal and state governments doesn't help the situation.

Normal supply and demand can't begin to explain cost increases of this magnitude, though. If the usual rules applied, tuition would eventually stop rising because families would cut back enrollment, especially at the most expensive private schools, just as they curtailed consumption of gas once prices hit $4 a gallon.

Colleges would then be forced to cut costs or entrepreneurs would flood the market with lower-cost alternatives. But for the most part - all those invitations you see to get your degree online notwithstanding - that hasn't happened.

Instead, prices for college have begun to follow their own peculiar logic. In the absence of any objective measure of the value of an education, price becomes the default yardstick. The more expensive a college is, the better the education it presumably provides. (After all, if other families were willing to pay this much to send their kids here, it must be worth it.)

And the better the education is presumed to be, the higher the price the college can charge. In that respect, it's like home values during the housing boom or dotcom stocks during the late-'90s tech frenzy: Prices go up on sheer momentum.

But families don't shell out money for college in the belief that their investment will someday bring them riches, as they did with real estate and tech stocks. Rather, the perceived payoff is that going to a brand-name school will one day make their children richer.

Even if the financial value of a degree is hard to measure, however, one thing's for sure: It's not infinite. Already a backlash is brewing in Congress about the spending and pricing policies of the wealthiest schools, and some parents may soon join in.

Says Charles Miller, who chaired the U.S. Department of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education: "If college costs continue to escalate at this rate, you may reach a point where the investment simply isn't worth it."

The critical question for you to ask: When it comes to college, will you and your child get what you think you're paying for? Here are the facts. You decide

If colleges were spending most of their money on initiatives that improve the quality of education for students, you might regard price hikes running at two to four times the rate of inflation as a necessary evil. But spending on palatial dorms, state-of-the-art fitness centers and a panoply of gourmet dining options? Maybe not.

Yet that's precisely what many schools are doing to attract students - engaging in a luxury arms race, fueled by the wealth of such elite institutions as Harvard and Yale.

Sure, they're also putting funds into cutting class sizes and hiring top professors. But they're spending even more on building Hogwarts-style dorms with mahogany casement windows of leaded glass (Princeton's newest $136 million student residence); installing 35-foot climbing walls and hot tubs big enough for 15 people (Boston University); providing multiple eateries with varied cuisines and massive fitness and recreation centers (too many schools to name).

"There's a lot of competition from other colleges," says Steven Knapp, president of George Washington University. "In today's consumer culture, parents and students expect a certain level of comfort - and they compare the amenities."

The goal of all this collegiate bling is to entice more people to apply. Not just because the school gets a bigger pool of qualified students to choose from but also because the more students who apply, the more it can ultimately reject. That lowers its acceptance rate and makes it appear more selective in the critical U.S. News & World Report college ranking system.

"The rankings are a measure of wealth, exclusivity and fame, not quality," says Kevin Carey, research manager at the nonprofit Education Sector. "Still, they've become a de facto standard for parents, students and the colleges themselves."

The rankings generate a lot of criticism, and nearly 70 colleges refuse to participate. Many more try to work the system to their advantage by spending in ways that will boost their standing - say, offering more merit aid to attract top students.

Here's the rub: More merit aid means less money for need-based aid - which means many families end up paying more, unless their child is one of the lucky few to earn a scholarship.

The appearance of misguided spending by colleges has prompted some lawmakers to question whether wealthy schools still deserve their tax-exempt status. After all, they argue, the colleges are spending only a small fraction of their endowments on the public good - often less than 5%, which is the mandatory payout for private foundations.

The implied threat caused a minor panic attack in academe and prompted many wealthy colleges to announce plans to raise their spending on financial aid. Harvard, the nation's richest university with a $35 billion endowment, now guarantees that families earning up to $60,000 will pay nothing and those earning $180,000 or less will pay no more than 10% of their income.

Yale ($23 billion) promises that families earning $120,000 or less will pay no more than 10% of their income. Many other highly selective colleges, including Wesleyan, have followed the Ivy League leaders. Says Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a leading voice on the issue of college affordability: "The quick response by the schools is admitting that something's not right."

The improved aid for the fortunate few, however - less than 1% of students attend Ivy League schools - may result in higher costs for everyone else. Public colleges and less wealthy private ones are now under intense pressure to compete, yet few can afford to match the largesse of the rich schools.

At the University of California-Berkeley, for example, a family earning more than $90,000 would get little or no aid, so they'd have to pay the total cost of nearly $25,000. At Harvard they'd now pay less than $9,000.

"That puts middle-class families at a huge disadvantage in our system," says Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau. "Many colleges may have to raise fees to funnel more money into financial aid or risk losing many of the best middle-class students."

The high sticker price is actually part of many colleges' marketing strategy. For as counterintuitive as it seems, schools have often found that raising tuition attracts more applicants because families tend to equate high price with quality. Marketers call it the Chivas Regal effect.

In 2000, for example, Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa. boosted tuition and fees by 17.6%. The following year the school received nearly 200 more applications than the year before, and within eight years the freshman class had grown 56%.

Hendrix College in Conway, Ark. had a similar experience in 2005 when it hiked its tuition rate by 29% to $22,000. The college in effect gave back much of the increase as financial aid or merit scholarships to 99% of the students; still, it seemed that tuition was as high as at places like the University of Richmond. Since then the number of incoming freshmen has increased by nearly 40%.

Says Hendrix College president Timothy Cloyd: "We are competing with schools that charge more, so it was hard to convince people that we were as good as our rivals when we charged so much less."

The outlet for students who can't play this game has always been public colleges, which 80% of undergraduates attend. But as states struggle to meet the growing cost of Medicaid and federal requirements for elementary and high school education, less money is available for colleges.

Twenty years ago, nearly 75% of state university general funds came from state appropriations vs. 63% today. And in the current economic downturn, which is reducing tax revenue in many states, college officials worry, rightly, about additional cutbacks.

Public colleges have been making up the shortfall by raising tuition at an even faster clip than private schools -31% compared with 14% over the past five years. Last year alone, Illinois public colleges raised rates 12%, while in Colorado costs jumped 16%.

And prices at some flagship public universities are starting to look more like what you'd pay at a private institution. At the University of Michigan, for instance, in-state freshmen now pay nearly $20,000, and out-of-state first-year students pay almost $42,000 - $10,000 more than the $32,000 cost of the average private institution, although still less than the $50,000 or so charged by top private schools.

Colleges could help ease the pressure by adopting cost-containment practices that are standard in private business. But most schools are nonprofits. And without the pressure to produce earnings, they have little incentive to slash expenses or improve productivity.

Says Ron Ehrenberg, an economics professor at Cornell University and author of "Tuition Rising": "For nonprofits the goal is to raise all the money you can, then spend it."

Then too, teaching is an inherently labor-intensive process that isn't conducive to economies of scale. "It's not like automating a factory - one professor can only grade so many papers and teach so many classes," says Vassar College president Catharine Hill. "If you were to double the class size, the quality would go down."

Classroom instruction is just one part of a college's budget, however, and not even the biggest part. In a study of spending at nearly 2,000 public and private schools over 18 years, researchers for the Delta Cost Project found that the percentage of operating expenses going to classroom instruction (mainly professor salaries and benefits) accounted for 34% to 44% of spending - and those percentages actually fell over the period reviewed.

By contrast, an increasing amount was being spent on such items as faculty research and recruiting. "We see indications that institutions are spending more money in areas that may not fit in with the public priority of preparing more graduates," says Jane Wellman, the project's executive director.

That ought to leave plenty of room to cut costs without sacrificing quality. Brit Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, has kept tuition level for three years with moves such as centralizing purchasing and increasing faculty teaching hours. Meanwhile, 20 private colleges and universities in Wisconsin have banded together to consolidate administrative functions, saving $16 million over the past three years.

These schools are largely the exception, though. Most colleges don't approach cost-cutting in a systematic way. The American Association of State Colleges and Universities has found that more than three-quarters of schools fail to devote significant resources to identifying and carrying out cost-containment measures and 60% do not regularly quantify results.

Runaway college costs are a matter of growing concern in Washington. In addition to pushing wealthy schools to spend more of their endowments, Congress recently passed legislation that requires greater disclosure about pricing and encourages states to maintain steady funding for public colleges by promising to withhold federal grants if they don't.

But in the end, no matter what lawmakers do, college costs will continue to defy gravity as long as we parents are willing to pay ever-higher prices to give our kids a head start in life. We assume that an expensive college will provide a superior education (there's that "high price equals better quality" bias) and an inside track to a high-paying job after graduation.

After all, at a brand-name school, your child will hang out with the scions of senators, hedge fund managers and captains of industry, and those connections can only help, right?

Well, maybe not. Says Ohio University economics professor Richard Vedder, author of "Going Broke by Degree": "There's virtually no data that allow families to evaluate the quality of [an elite college's] educational offerings or the outcomes of its graduates."

In theory you could quantify the added value you get from going to a highly selective school - which, in turn, would help determine what a reasonable tuition premium would be - by comparing the salaries earned by its graduates with those of workers who attended less selective schools.

Colleges, however, don't hand out that information. And some independent studies suggest the value is less than people think. Take a well-known 1999 paper by Princeton economist Alan Krueger and researcher Stacy Berg Dale at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The study compared the salaries of graduates who earned degrees from top-tier colleges with those of graduates who were accepted by these schools but chose to attend less selective institutions.

The research found that the two groups of students ended up with similar incomes. It appears that bright students excel no matter where they get their degree. The one exception: Low-income students did benefit from attending the most selective colleges - in their case, the impact of social networking seemed to pay off.

In today's fast-changing economy, however, the value of those old-boy networks may be eroding. According to a 2004 University of Pennsylvania study, prestigious degrees aren't as valuable at major corporations as they were a generation ago.

The study looked at the top executives at Fortune 100 companies in 1980 and 2001. During that time the percentage of top guns with Ivy League undergraduate degrees dropped by nearly a third, from 14% to 10%, while the percentage who attended other highly ranked schools, such as Williams or Notre Dame, fell from 54% to 42%.

Meanwhile, public university graduates soared to nearly 50% from 32%. Meritocracy in corporate America is a good thing, but it doesn't support the notion that whatever you pay for an elite education is worth it.

Given the steep price tag on the Ivies and similar schools and the uncertainty of the payoff, families need to do a harder-nosed evaluation when determining which college is right for their child. When you compare the best private and public undergraduate programs, says Vedder, you'll find that private schools rarely confer an unbeatable advantage.

If a student is considering engineering, for example, Cooper Union (where tuition is free to all) and the University of California at Berkeley have top-ranked programs. For economics, the University of Texas-Austin, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and UCLA are highly regarded.

There are, of course, situations where the expensive degree may trump the less costly alternative. Maybe Deluxe U. offers the most comprehensive courses in astrophysics or Korean literature. Perhaps a dream employer routinely recruits there and not at other schools. Or perhaps your child simply falls in love with the storied tree-lined campus and fieldstone halls.

Then you'll face some tough decisions. Just keep this in mind if opting for Deluxe U. will force your family to borrow heavily: After decades of steady increases, the median salary for workers with a bachelor's degree fell 4.6% from 2001 to 2006. (College grads still earn far more than workers with only a high school diploma, though, as the chart on page 1 shows.)

Meanwhile, salaries rose 4.3% for workers with professional degrees and shot up 9.4% for those with doctorates. So you don't want the debt from getting that B.A. to make grad school unaffordable.

Mind you, some borrowing can actually be a good thing, giving students a built-in investment in their education. But today many kids leave school with unprecedented amounts of debt - $20,000 on average, up from $9,000 a decade ago - and one in 10 private college students borrows over $40,000.

Moreover, that figure doesn't include parent loans, home-equity loans and credit-card debt. "It remains to be seen whether this kind of borrowing is economically sound or just a form of faith-based financing," says Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

One chilling sign: Among students who graduate from four-year schools with more than $15,000 in debt, the default rate is nearly 20%.

As a rule of thumb, financial advisers recommend that student-loan payments not exceed 10% of a young adult's starting salary. At New York University, for example, about 60% of last year's graduates had loans, which averaged a hefty $34,000.

If they took out the maximum in federal loans and made up the difference with private loans, the typical borrower would owe about $460 a month, which is considered affordable if you earn at least $55,000.

That may be no problem for chemical engineers, with an average starting salary of $63,000, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. But the typical liberal arts major earns just $33,000, which would make those payments a real challenge.

Of course, for most families, choosing a college is not simply a financial decision; it's a highly personal one as well. Yes, you have to think about what kind of career that degree will lead to.

College, though, is also about forging lifelong friendships, being challenged by professors and students and sharing traditions - all of which are impossible to quantify. Still, there's no reason to overpay for the experience. From a purely economic point of view, the best advice might be this: Save your money; you'll need it for graduate school.

Making a killing by exporting tiny buildings to China and the Middle East

(Fortune Small Business) -- Edward Leftwich loves to show visitors around the Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens. It's a massive 4,000-building mixed-use project that he just finished constructing for a client in Dubai, complete with hundreds of waterways, roads, and parks. But you don't have to fly to Dubai to see it - the miniature city fits inside Leftwich's office in Atlanta.

Leftwich, 51, is the CEO of Real Model, a company that creates scale replicas of projects for real estate developers. The replicas can fetch several hundred thousand dollars.

Rather than rely on the troubled U.S. real estate market, Real Model expanded its operations to Dubai, financial capital of the Gulf region. Since opening an office there two years ago, Real Model has seen annual revenues shoot up from $200,000 to nearly $2 million.

Founded in 1985, the company won lucrative contracts during the 1990s housing boom. It built replicas of the Augusta National Golf Course, the Trump (TRMP) Towers in New Orleans, and Atlanta's Olympic facilities. But Leftwich was always wary of a slump.

"One market isn't a feasible business model," he says. "You have to be ready when it stops performing."

In 2006, just as the U.S. building boom started grinding down, Leftwich took a trip to Dubai. The large-scale projects he saw convinced him that the future of real estate lay in the Gulf. Real Model promptly opened a second office in Dubai, hiring 18 local employees. (He still has a staff of eight in Atlanta.)

The bet paid off: Real Model's Middle Eastern sales have soared, while the company's U.S. business has stagnated. The company recently landed deals with major firms such as Emaar, Nakheel, and Dubai Properties.

"In many cases architectural modeling is being replaced with sophisticated computer programs," says Ian Rusk, executive vice president at Zweig White, a construction research firm in Boston. "But replicas are still widely used for high-profile projects, which are concentrated in Dubai."

Real Model's replicas are filled with meticulously crafted touches such as layers of laser-cut Plexiglas, each less than a thousandth of an inch thick, and tiny pedestrians with hand-painted faces. Customers can control hundreds of LED lights via a touchscreen remote. Such attention to detail is how Leftwich aims to compete with his rivals in Dubai, who increasingly outsource their models to China.

"The Chinese prices are lower," admits Reza Khalili, founder of Dubai-based model maker I-CAM. "But the quality isn't as good."

Leftwich hopes to open another office next year in Abu Dhabi - the next hot spot for tiny buildings. To top of page

Flying in the Hawker 4000 Chismillionaire style

Fortune's Sue Zesiger Callaway hops a ride on the Hawker 4000, a $21 million aircraft that boasts cutting-edge avionics. Plus: Jet etiquette.

By Sue Zesiger Callaway

(Fortune Magazine) -- When it comes to business jets, the holy grail has long been a reasonably priced jet with enough range to zip you across the Atlantic. (After all, what mogul wants to refuel in Greenland en route to London?)

Which is why I was particularly curious to take a joy ride in July on the brand-new Hawker 4000, the first plane to offer big-jet safety and technology features at a midsized-jet price.

Okay, so it's still $21 million. But consider: It's $2 million cheaper than a Gulfstream G200 and $7 million less than a Falcon DX, and it has a range of 3,280 nautical miles - that's coast to coast or New York to London nonstop.

The 4000 boasts cutting-edge avionics, auto throttle, and multiple duplicate systems (for safety) unavailable in comparable-size jets - only on the big boys.

A body like no other

Hawker Beechcraft is also the first manufacturer to certify a composite-body jet with the FAA. "It was six steps back to do composite," says chairman and CEO Jim Schuster of the 20-year, $1 billion development process. But the resulting body is 70% stronger than aluminum, doesn't corrode, is easier to repair, and has no life limit.

Amazingly, the fuselage is composed of three enormous pieces - vs. more than 10,000 on a traditional competitor. It's also three times thinner, meaning there's noticeably more room inside the standup, flat-floor ten passenger Hawker.

Tucked into its fine leather - HBC offers limitless leathers, woods, and exotic materials - I felt the obvious power during takeoff. The next thing I noticed was the relative peace: The 4000 has the quietest cabin in its class.

There's already a two and a half year wait list, in part thanks to orders from fractional-jet companies like NetJets and BJETS, so even those who won't be buying a 4000 may still be able to hop aboard one soon.

Private jet etiquette

So you have friends in high places, and they've offered to bring you along. Follow these rules if you want to be invited back.

  • Ask in advance how much luggage you may bring.
  • Don't take your seat until after the owners find theirs.
  • Never tip the staff. That's entirely up to the owner.
  • Nix bringing your own meal. But offering to feed everyone - preferably by air caterer - is a nice gesture.
  • Skip the red wine. You don't want your hosts to remember you every time they see the stain on the carpet.
  • Arrange for transportation when you land. Asking for a lift is an inconvenience.
  • Show your thanks. One owner gives a gift equal to a first-class commercial ticket when she flies with other owners. You may not need to go so far, but don't skimp either. -- Diane Tegmeyer

Gasoline Prices Tumble further

NEW YORK ( -- Gas prices continued their slide, falling 11% from highs reached in July, according to a national survey of gas station credit card swipes released Thursday.

Gas was selling at $3.660 a gallon, a decrease of seven tenths of a cent from the previous day's price of $3.667, according to motorist group AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. Thursday's decline is the fifth consecutive day that retail gas prices have fallen.

Prices have fallen more than 45.4 cents since hitting a record of $4.114 on July 17, AAA reported.

The average price of a gallon of gas has been falling as crude oil prices have come sharply off their recent highs. Crude futures hit a record high of $147.27 on July 11 but have since fallen more than 18% as global demand slackened in reaction to the high energy costs.

While gas prices have fallen off their recent highs, however, prices at the pump are still 33% above the same time last year, when a gallon of gas cost $2.758.

State prices: Gas prices change from one state to the next due to differences in state and local gasoline taxes. In addition, gas prices vary by state according to how far the state is from oil and gas facilities in the Gulf of Mexico.

Gasoline remains above $4 a gallon in only two states, according to the survey. Alaska had the highest prices at $4.529 a gallon, down slightly from the previous day's price of $4.546. Hawaii was second at $4.386, down from $4.393 yesterday.

Missouri had the cheapest gas, with prices falling to $3.424 a gallon. South Carolina had the second least expensive gas, with a gallon costing $3.442.

Diesel: The average price for diesel fuel, which is used in most trucks and commercial vehicles, fell to $4.275 a gallon from $4.283 the previous day, according to AAA.

The price of diesel has risen almost 46% in the last year, when a gallon of diesel cost $2.930. Because it is used in transporting goods, the rise in the price of diesel fuel has pushed up the prices of products and services.

Ethanol: Many Americans have turned "flex-fuel" vehicles powered in part by ethanol as the price of petroleum-based fuels climbed to record levels in the past year.

The price of E85, an 85% ethanol blend, fell to $3.009 a gallon on average from $3.030 in the previous day, AAA reported.

Ethanol, made out of corn, is cheaper than regular gas, which is made from pricey crude oil. However, ethanol is only readily available in the Midwest, where much of the nation's corn is produced,and it's not even sold in some states.

Ethanol contains less energy than petroleum-based gasoline and burns less efficiently. Drivers of vehicles capable of running on ethanol or gasoline would pay about $3.959 a gallon to get the same mileage from ethanol as from regular gas, according to AAA's estimates

Medical-pot limit needs to be larger, some say

More than 100 weigh in on proposal at Health Department forum

By Adam Wilson | The Olympian • Published August 26, 2008

What sounds like a lot of marijuana for pleasure isn't enough for medication, more than 100 people at the state Department of Health headquarters said Monday.

How much is enough?

The state of Washington considered allowing a patient to keep 35 ounces of marijuana and 100 square feet of growing space for plants.

Gov. Chris Gregoire supports a new plan that would allow 24 ounces, up to six mature plants and up to 18 immature plants.

Medical marijuana supporters are suggesting a limit of 71 ounces and 99 plants.

The agency was directed by the state Legislature to define how much medical marijuana a patient is allowed to have, something that hasn't been settled since Washington residents voted to allow the product in 1998.

Thomas McCoy of Vancouver, Wash., said he had a stroke more than three years ago and decided to use marijuana to control his pain.

"I called the cops and said what I'm doing," McCoy said, explaining that he raised 75 plants at his home.

Later, the police suspected he had too much, took his plants and destroyed his equipment, he said.

"They told us, 'Oh, we don't target medical patients.' That's bull," McCoy told a Department of Health panel. "Please give me some answers."

There were no answers Monday, however. Instead, supporters of medical marijuana who have cancer, multiple sclerosis, AIDS and other ailments lined up for 21/2 hours, explaining why the department's proposal would be too restrictive.

At one time, the agency considered a rule allowing a patient to keep 35 ounces of marijuana and 100 square feet of growing space for plants. But Gov. Chris Gregoire pushed for reconsideration, and the new plan would allow 24 ounces, up to six mature plants and up to 18 immature plants.

Over and over again, people at the hearing said such a small supply would not produce enough marijuana to relieve major pain. They also opposed the definition of a mature plant as being more than a foot tall, saying many plants are several feet tall and produce none of the flowers actually used.

Without an adequate garden at home, patients will turn to illegal purchases on the street, several people said. Many wore "71/99" buttons, suggesting a limit of 71 ounces and 99 plants.

Although many of the people who spoke said scientific evidence supports giving patients more marijuana than the agency has proposed, Karen Ann Jensen, assistant secretary of Health Systems Quality Assurance, said she was skeptical.

"There are many, many studies. Our staff has looked at the studies," she said. "The problem is we don't have the kind of definitive science we do with other types of medication."

The state's proposed limits come from Oregon regulations, which seem to be working, Jensen added.

Dr. Francis Podrebarac said he flew in from California because he helped write Initiative 692, which legalized medical marijuana in 1998. The definition of a 60-day supply was deliberately vague because marijuana affects people differently and can be ingested in many forms, he said.

The department's proposal "lacks sincere compassion and understanding of patients," he said.

Sue Watson of Seattle said she stopped taking most of her prescription drugs and instead smokes a quarter of an ounce of marijuana a day, as well as eating it in capsules and rubbing it on her skin.

And Dr. William Robertson, former director of the Washington Poison Center, said few people complain of having too much marijuana.

The testimony, as well as written comments on the proposal, will be summarized and given to Health Secretary Mary Selecky before she makes a final decision.

"At this point, it's really too early to say whether there will be a change in our proposal," Jensen said.

How MythBusters Will Shut Up Moon Conspiracy Theorists 2nite

On the eve of one of their biggest busts yet, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage take us behind the scenes to explain how they made their own fake photos, built a moon set in an hour—and even went weightless themselves. No, they didn't build a rocket ship and actually go ... yet.

read more | digg story

Muppet Show to return to TV after 27 years

Kermit the frog and friends could return in the first new Muppet Show TV series for 27 years.
Muppet Show to return to TV after 27 years
The Muppet Show, which ran from 1976 to 1981, won an Emmy in 1978 for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series Photo: REUTERS

The Jim Henson-created characters may be on their way back thanks to a new Disney Film.

In the movie, written by Forgetting Sarah Marshall star and writer Jason Segel, the Muppets reunite to save their studio with one last variety show.

Should the film go well, it opens up the possibility of a television programme, also written by 28-year-old Segel.

A source said: "Jason is a massive Muppets fan and is seen as the man to finally bring The Muppet Show back to TV.

"It will obviously have all its old fans but Jason's comedy is hugely popular with youngsters so it will open it up to a whole new audience."

The source added: "If the movie script is popular Jason will write the TV series too. He is already coming up with ideas for it."

Although there have been a number of spin-offs, including Muppets Tonight in 1996, The Muppet Show originally ran from 1976 to 1981, and made famous characters such as Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and Gonzo - the show won an Emmy in 1978 for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series.

In the original series, Kermit, arguably the world's most famous frog, was the show's stage manager, attempting to keep order amidst the chaos, while being pursued by Miss Piggy.

The Muppet characters went on to star in a number of movies including The Muppets Take Manhatten, The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppets from Space.

More Proof That Dolphins are Bad Ass

Joe Jansen (left) and Brian Simpson with Endris's destroyed surfboard, at the spot where they pulled him onshore.

When a two-ton shark caught surfer Todd Endris in its jaws, an unlikely group of swimmers came to his rescue.

read more | digg story

Two-headed boy born in Bangladesh

A baby boy born with two heads in Bangladesh has been placed under police protection because of the curiosity his birth has caused among thousands of locals.

The boy, named Kiron, was born by Cesarean section on August 25, weighing 5.5 kilogrammes
The boy was born by Cesarean section on August 25, weighing 12 lbs 1 oz Photo: AFP

The boy, named Kiron and weighing 12 lbs 1 oz, was born by Cesarean section on Monday at a clinic in Keshobpur, 85 miles from the capital, Dhaka.

But an estimated 150,000 people from the region descended on the clinic to try to catch sight of the boy so he was moved to a larger hospital. Police are now mounting a round-the-clock operation to protect him and his family from intrusion.

Dr Mohamad Abdul Bari, his mother's gynaecologist, said: "He has one stomach and he is eating normally with his two mouths. He has one genital organ and a full set of limbs.

"He was born from one embryo but there was a developmental anomaly."

The clinic had been unable to determine whether the baby had one or two sets of vital organs, Dr Bari said.

Kiron's life was not in immediate danger but he and his 22-year-old mother were moved to the hospital in the nearby city of Jessore city because of the large crowds that had gathered at the clinic, the doctor said.

"Around 150,000 people gathered yesterday from different areas. It became tough for us to care for the baby.

"We called police to tackle the situation and they are guarding the hospital in Jessore as well," he said.

The Samakal newspaper said that many well-wishers had left money for the baby's family.

Bill Clinton Democratic Convention Speech

Bill Clinton was greeted by an extended round of applause as he walked on stage to deliver his speech that lasted nearly three minutes. Watch as Clinton tries to calm down the enthusiastic crowd.

I am honored to be here tonight to support Barack Obama. And to warm up the crowd for Joe Biden, though as you'll soon see, he doesn't need any help from me. I love Joe Biden, and America will too.

What a year we Democrats have had. The primary began with an all-star line up and came down to two remarkable Americans locked in a hard fought contest to the very end. The campaign generated so much heat it increased global warming.

In the end, my candidate didn't win. But I'm very proud of the campaign she ran: she never quit on the people she stood up for, on the changes she pushed for, on the future she wants for all our children. And I'm grateful for the chance Chelsea and I had to tell Americans about the person we know and love.

I'm not so grateful for the chance to speak in the wake of her magnificent address last night. But I'll do my best.

Hillary told us in no uncertain terms that she'll do everything she can to elect Barack Obama.

That makes two of us.

Actually that makes 18 million of us - because, like Hillary, I want all of you who supported her to vote for Barack Obama in November.

Here's why.

Our nation is in trouble on two fronts: The American Dream is under siege at home, and America's leadership in the world has been weakened.

Middle class and low-income Americans are hurting, with incomes declining; job losses, poverty and inequality rising; mortgage foreclosures and credit card debt increasing; health care coverage disappearing; and a big spike in the cost of food, utilities, and gasoline.

Our position in the world has been weakened by too much unilateralism and too little cooperation; a perilous dependence on imported oil; a refusal to lead on global warming; a growing indebtedness and a dependence on foreign lenders; a severely burdened military; a backsliding on global non-proliferation and arms control agreements; and a failure to consistently use the power of diplomacy, from the Middle East to Africa to Latin America to Central and Eastern Europe.

Clearly, the job of the next President is to rebuild the American Dream and restore America's standing in the world.

Everything I learned in my eight years as President and in the work I've done since, in America and across the globe, has convinced me that Barack Obama is the man for this job.

He has a remarkable ability to inspire people, to raise our hopes and rally us to high purpose. He has the intelligence and curiosity every successful President needs. His policies on the economy, taxes, health care and energy are far superior to the Republican alternatives. He has shown a clear grasp of our foreign policy and national security challenges, and a firm commitment to repair our badly strained military. His family heritage and life experiences have given him a unique capacity to lead our increasingly diverse nation and to restore our leadership in an ever more interdependent world. The long, hard primary tested and strengthened him. And in his first presidential decision, the selection of a running mate, he hit it out of the park.

With Joe Biden's experience and wisdom, supporting Barack Obama's proven understanding, insight, and good instincts, America will have the national security leadership we need.

Barack Obama is ready to lead America and restore American leadership in the world. Ready to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. Barack Obama is ready to be President of the United States.

He will work for an America with more partners and fewer adversaries. He will rebuild our frayed alliances and revitalize the international institutions which help to share the costs of the world's problems and to leverage our power and influence. He will put us back in the forefront of the world's fight to reduce nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and to stop global warming. He will continue and enhance our nation's global leadership in an area in which I am deeply involved, the fight against AIDS, TB and malaria, including a renewal of the battle against HIV/AIDS here at home. He will choose diplomacy first and military force as a last resort. But in a world troubled by terror; by trafficking in weapons, drugs and people; by human rights abuses; by other threats to our security, our interests, and our values, when he cannot convert adversaries into partners, he will stand up to them.

Barack Obama also will not allow the world's problems to obscure its opportunities. Everywhere, in rich and poor countries alike, hardworking people need good jobs; secure, affordable healthcare, food, and energy; quality education for their children; and economically beneficial ways to fight global warming. These challenges cry out for American ideas and American innovation. When Barack Obama unleashes them, America will save lives, win new allies, open new markets, and create new jobs for our people.

Most important, Barack Obama knows that America cannot be strong abroad unless we are strong at home. People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.

Look at the example the Republicans have set: American workers have given us consistently rising productivity. They've worked harder and produced more. What did they get in return? Declining wages, less than ¼ as many new jobs as in the previous eight years, smaller health care and pension benefits, rising poverty and the biggest increase in income inequality since the 1920s. American families by the millions are struggling with soaring health care costs and declining coverage. I will never forget the parents of children with autism and other severe conditions who told me on the campaign trail that they couldn't afford health care and couldn't qualify their kids for Medicaid unless they quit work or got a divorce. Are these the family values the Republicans are so proud of? What about the military families pushed to the breaking point by unprecedented multiple deployments? What about the assault on science and the defense of torture? What about the war on unions and the unlimited favors for the well connected? What about Katrina and cronyism?

America can do better than that. And Barack Obama will.

But first we have to elect him.

The choice is clear. The Republicans will nominate a good man who served our country heroically and suffered terribly in Vietnam. He loves our country every bit as much as we all do. As a Senator, he has shown his independence on several issues. But on the two great questions of this election, how to rebuild the American Dream and how to restore America's leadership in the world, he still embraces the extreme philosophy which has defined his party for more than 25 years, a philosophy we never had a real chance to see in action until 2001, when the Republicans finally gained control of both the White House and Congress. Then we saw what would happen to America if the policies they had talked about for decades were implemented.

They took us from record surpluses to an exploding national debt; from over 22 million new jobs down to 5 million; from an increase in working family incomes of $7,500 to a decline of more than $2,000; from almost 8 million Americans moving out of poverty to more than 5 and a half million falling into poverty - and millions more losing their health insurance.

Now, in spite of all the evidence, their candidate is promising more of the same: More tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that will swell the deficit, increase inequality, and weaken the economy. More band-aids for health care that will enrich insurance companies, impoverish families and increase the number of uninsured. More going it alone in the world, instead of building the shared responsibilities and shared opportunities necessary to advance our security and restore our influence.

They actually want us to reward them for the last eight years by giving them four more. Let's send them a message that will echo from the Rockies all across America: Thanks, but no thanks. In this case, the third time is not the charm.

My fellow Democrats, sixteen years ago, you gave me the profound honor to lead our party to victory and to lead our nation to a new era of peace and broadly shared prosperity.

Together, we prevailed in a campaign in which the Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be Commander-in-Chief. Sound familiar? It didn't work in 1992, because we were on the right side of history. And it won't work in 2008, because Barack Obama is on the right side of history.

His life is a 21st Century incarnation of the American Dream. His achievements are proof of our continuing progress toward the "more perfect union" of our founders' dreams. The values of freedom and equal opportunity which have given him his historic chance will drive him as president to give all Americans, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability, their chance to build a decent life, and to show our humanity, as well as our strength, to the world.

We see that humanity, that strength, and our future in Barack and Michelle Obama and their beautiful children. We see them reinforced by the partnership with Joe Biden, his wife Jill, a dedicated teacher, and their family.

Barack Obama will lead us away from division and fear of the last eight years back to unity and hope. If, like me, you still believe America must always be a place called Hope, then join Hillary, Chelsea and me in making Senator Barack Obama the next President of the United States.

The 7 Weirdest Super Mario Bros.Theme Song Performances

The main theme from Super Mario Bros. is iconic. Any gamer with an inkling of musical talent has learned to play the song on their instrument of choice. When the chosen instrument is completely bizarre, the results are the 7 Weirdest Mario Theme Performances.

click here for the videos | digg story

Going From one cell type to another without a stem cell

By Brandon Keim EmailAugust 27, 2008 | 12:57:26 PMCategories: Stem Cell Research

In an unprecedented flourish of genetic alchemy, scientists used a virus to coax one type of cell to become another, without the intermediate stem cell step.

The research, conducted with cells from the pancreas, could soon be used to treat people with diabetes -- but its long-term impacts could be even greater.

"This represents a parallel approach for how to make cells in regenerative medicine," said Douglas Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. "And now that it's shown that you can turn one of your cells into another, it makes you think of what other cells you'd like to convert."

Cell transformation has traditionally been accomplished by harvesting and reproducing stem cells. These are able to become other types of cells, raising the much-anticipated possibility of replacing disease-damaged and age-ravaged organs and tissues.

But stem cells are tricky. Using highly-versatile embryonic stem cells requires embryo destruction, a steady supply of human eggs and potentially dangerous hormone treatments for the women who produce those eggs. Adult stem cells, though ethically uncontroversial, are also hard to handle. Another technique, known as de-differentiation, can turn skin cells to stem cells -- but tends to introduce cancer-causing mutations.

Melton's team avoided stem cells, and their baggage, altogether by using a virus to tweak three developmental genes in pancreatic tissue cells in mice. Three days later, these became insulin-producing beta cells, and appear free from the complications that have frustrated stem cell researchers.

If the technique, described today in Nature, is replicated in humans, it could be used to treat insulin deficiencies in people with diabetes -- and that's just the start.

"Neurodegenerative diseases come to mind, as does cardiovascular disease," said Melton.

Arthur Caplan, a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist who wasn't involved in the study, called the findings a "breakthrough" for both diabetes and the field of regenerative medicine.

"It's a system that's easier to manipulate than getting a new stem cell to turn into something you want," he said. "The kind of work done here has the promise to go into clinical practice in a relatively short time."

Caveats remain, the foremost being the replication of the work in human tissue. The team managed to cause the transformation inside the mice, but in humans the transformation will need to be done in a tissue culture, producing cells than can be injected into recipients. And though Melton's team used a safe and well-characterized virus to induce the changes, the long-term safety of the new cells isn't proven.

Melton must also coax the transformed cells into forming groups known as islets, which produce the insulin used in humans.

"We've made a cell type, but we haven't yet made a whole tissue," said Melton. "But we're reasonably confident."

Melton's team is also seeing whether the same kind of cell transformation can be achieved in liver cells, or triggered by drugs.

Other researchers, he said, will apply the technique to other diseases.

"If you've got extra cells of one type and need another, why go all the way back to a stem cell?" said Melton.

Peter K Austin's top 10 endangered languages

The linguistics professor and author shares a personal selection from the thousands of languages on the brink of disappearing

Khomani bushmen visit ancestors' graves in Kalahari Gemsbok Park in South Africa

On the way out ... Khomani men visit ancestral burial grounds in South Africa. Photograph: Obed Zilwa/AP

Peter K Austin has published 11 books on minority and endangered languages, including 12 Australian Aboriginal languages, and holds the Märit Rausing Chair in field linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies where he is also director of the Endangered Languages Academic Programme. His most recent book is 1000 Languages: The Worldwide History of Living and Lost Tongues, which explores the state of languages around the world.

Buy 1000 Languages from the Guardian bookshop

There are more than 6,900 languages used around the world today, ranging in size from those with hundreds of millions of speakers to those with only one or two. Language experts now estimate that as many as half of the existing languages are endangered, and by the year 2050 they will be extinct. The major reason for this language loss is that communities are switching to larger politically and economically more powerful languages, like English, Spanish, Hindi or Swahili.

Each language expresses the history, culture, society and identity of the people who speak it, and each is a unique way of talking about the world. The loss of any language is a loss to both the community who use it in their daily lives, and to humankind in general. The songs, stories, words, expressions and grammatical structures of languages developed over countless generations are part of the intangible heritage of all humanity.

So how to choose a top 10 from more than 3,000 endangered languages? My selection is a personal one that tries to take into account four factors: (1) geographical coverage - if possible I wanted at least one language from each continent; (2) scientific interest - I wanted to include languages that linguists find interesting and important, because of their structural or historical significance; (3) cultural interest - if possible some information about interesting cultural and political aspects of endangered languages should be included; and (4) social impact - I wanted to include one or more situations showing why languages are endangered, as well as highlighting some of the ways communities are responding to the threat they currently face.

1. Jeru

Jeru (or Great Andamanese) is spoken by fewer than 20 people on the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean. It is generally believed that Andamanese languages might be the last surviving languages whose history goes back to pre-Neolithic times in Southeast Asia and possibly the first settlement of the region by modern humans moving out of Africa. The languages of the Andamans cannot be shown to be related to any other languages spoken on earth.

2. N|u (also called Khomani)

This is a Khoisan language spoken by fewer than 10 elderly people whose traditional lands are located in the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa. The Khoisan languages are remarkable for having click sounds – the | symbol is pronounced like the English interjection tsk! tsk! used to express pity or shame.The closest relative of N|u is !Xóõ (also called Ta'a and spoken by about 4,000 people) which has the most sounds of any language on earth: 74 consonants, 31 vowels, and four tones (voice pitches).

3. Ainu

The Ainu language is spoken by a small number of old people on the island of Hokkaido in the far north of Japan. They are the original inhabitants of Japan, but were not recognised as a minority group by the Japanese government until this year. The language has very complicated verbs that incorporate a whole sentence's worth of meanings, and it is the vehicle of an extensive oral literature of folk stories and songs. Moves are underway to revive Ainu language and cultural practices.

4. Thao

Sun Moon Lake of central Taiwan is the home of the Thao language, now spoken by a handful of old people while the remainder of the community speaks Taiwanese Chinese (Minnan). Thao is an Austronesian language related to languages spoken in the Philippines, Indonesia and the Pacific, and represents one of the original communities of the Austronesians before they sailed south and east over 3,000 years ago.

5. Yuchi

Yuchi is spoken in Oklahoma, USA, by just five people all aged over 75. Yuchi is an isolate language (that is, it cannot be shown to be related to any other language spoken on earth). Their own name for themselves is Tsoyaha, meaning "Children of the Sun". Yuchi nouns have 10 genders, indicated by word endings: six for Yuchi people (depending on kinship relations to the person speaking), one for non-Yuchis and animals, and three for inanimate objects (horizontal, vertical, and round). Efforts are now under way to document the language with sound and video recordings, and to revitalise it by teaching it to children.

6. Oro Win

The Oro Win live in western Rondonia State, Brazil, and were first contacted by outsiders in 1963 on the headwaters of the Pacaas Novos River. The group was almost exterminated after two attacks by outsiders and today numbers just 50 people, only five of whom still speak the language. Oro Win is one of only five languages known to make regular use of a sound that linguists call "a voiceless dental bilabially trilled affricate". In rather plainer language, this means it's produced with the tip of the tongue placed between the lips which are then vibrated (in a similar way to the brrr sound we make in English to signal that the weather is cold).

7. Kusunda

The Kusunda are a former group of hunter-gatherers from western Nepal who have intermarried with their settled neighbours. Until recently it was thought that the language was extinct but in 2004 scholars at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu located eight people who still speak the language. Another isolate, with no connections to other languages.

8. Ter Sami

This is the easternmost of the Saami group of languages (formerly called Lapp, a derogatory term), located on the Kola Peninsula in Russia. It is spoken by just 10 elderly people among approximately 100 ethnic Ter Sami who all now speak Russian as their daily language. Ter Sami is related to Finnish and other Uralic languages spoken in Russia and Siberia, and distantly to Hungarian.

9. Guugu Yimidhirr

Guugu Yimidhirr is an Australian Aboriginal language spoken at Hopevale near Cooktown in northern Queensland by around 200 people. A wordlist was collected by Captain James Cook in 1770 and it has given English (and the rest of the world's languages) the word kangaroo. Guugu Yimidhirr (like some other Aboriginal languages) is remarkable for having a special way of speaking to certain family members (like a man's father-in-law or brother-in-law) in which everyday words are replaced by completely different special vocabulary. For example, instead of saying bama dhaday for "the man is going" you must say yambaal bali when speaking to these relatives as a mark of respect and politeness.

10. Ket

Ket is the last surviving member of a family of languages spoken along the Yenesei River in eastern Siberia. Today there are around 600 speakers but no children are learning it since parents prefer to speak to them in Russian. Ket is the only Siberian language with a tone system where the pitch of the voice can give what sound like identical words quite different meanings. (Much like Chinese or Yoruba). To add to the difficulty for any westerner wishing to learn it, it also has extremely complicated word structure and grammar.

Revealed: The Internet's biggest security hole


Two security researchers have demonstrated a new technique to stealthily intercept internet traffic on a scale previously presumed to be unavailable to anyone outside of intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency.

The tactic exploits the internet routing protocol BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) to let an attacker surreptitiously monitor unencrypted internet traffic anywhere in the world, and even modify it before it reaches its destination.

The demonstration is only the latest attack to highlight fundamental security weaknesses in some of the internet's core protocols. Those protocols were largely developed in the 1970s with the assumption that every node on the then-nascent network would be trustworthy. The world was reminded of the quaintness of that assumption in July, when researcher Dan Kaminsky disclosed a serious vulnerability in the DNS system. Experts say the new demonstration targets a potentially larger weakness.

"It's a huge issue. It's at least as big an issue as the DNS issue, if not bigger," said Peiter "Mudge" Zatko, noted computer security expert and former member of the L0pht hacking group, who testified to Congress in 1998 that he could bring down the internet in 30 minutes using a similar BGP attack, and disclosed privately to government agents how BGP could also be exploited to eavesdrop. "I went around screaming my head about this about ten or twelve years ago.... We described this to intelligence agencies and to the National Security Council, in detail."

The man-in-the-middle attack exploits BGP to fool routers into re-directing data to an eavesdropper's network.

Anyone with a BGP router (ISPs, large corporations or anyone with space at a carrier hotel) could intercept data headed to a target IP address or group of addresses. The attack intercepts only traffic headed to target addresses, not from them, and it can't always vacuum in traffic within a network -- say, from one AT&T customer to another.

The method conceivably could be used for corporate espionage, nation-state spying or even by intelligence agencies looking to mine internet data without needing the cooperation of ISPs.

BGP eavesdropping has long been a theoretical weakness, but no one is known to have publicly demonstrated it until Anton "Tony" Kapela, data center and network director at 5Nines Data, and Alex Pilosov, CEO of Pilosoft, showed their technique at the recent DefCon hacker conference. The pair successfully intercepted traffic bound for the conference network and redirected it to a system they controlled in New York before routing it back to DefCon in Las Vegas.

The technique, devised by Pilosov, doesn't exploit a bug or flaw in BGP. It simply exploits the natural way BGP works.

"We're not doing anything out of the ordinary," Kapela told "There's no vulnerabilities, no protocol errors, there are no software problems. The problem arises (from) the level of interconnectivity that's needed to maintain this mess, to keep it all working."

The issue exists because BGP's architecture is based on trust. To make it easy, say, for e-mail from Sprint customers in California to reach Telefonica customers in Spain, networks for these companies and others communicate through BGP routers to indicate when they're the quickest, most efficient route for the data to reach its destination. But BGP assumes that when a router says it's the best path, it's telling the truth. That gullibility makes it easy for eavesdroppers to fool routers into sending them traffic.

Here's how it works. When a user types a website name into his browser or clicks "send" to launch an e-mail, a Domain Name System server produces an IP address for the destination. A router belonging to the user's ISP then consults a BGP table for the best route. That table is built from announcements, or "advertisements," issued by ISPs and other networks -- also known as Autonomous Systems, or ASes -- declaring the range of IP addresses, or IP prefixes, to which they'll deliver traffic.

The routing table searches for the destination IP address among those prefixes. If two ASes deliver to the address, the one with the more specific prefix "wins" the traffic. For example, one AS may advertise that it delivers to a group of 90,000 IP addresses, while another delivers to a subset of 24,000 of those addresses. If the destination IP address falls within both announcements, BGP will send data to the narrower, more specific one.

To intercept data, an eavesdropper would advertise a range of IP addresses he wished to target that was narrower than the chunk advertised by other networks. The advertisement would take just minutes to propagate worldwide, before data headed to those addresses would begin arriving to his network.

The attack is called an IP hijack and, on its face, isn't new.

But in the past, known IP hijacks have created outages, which, because they were so obvious, were quickly noticed and fixed. That's what occurred earlier this year when Pakistan Telecom inadvertently hijacked YouTube traffic from around the world. The traffic hit a dead-end in Pakistan, so it was apparent to everyone trying to visit YouTube that something was amiss.

Pilosov's innovation is to forward the intercepted data silently to the actual destination, so that no outage occurs.

Ordinarily, this shouldn't work -- the data would boomerang back to the eavesdropper. But Pilosov and Kapela use a method called AS path prepending that causes a select number of BGP routers to reject their deceptive advertisement. They then use these ASes to forward the stolen data to its rightful recipients.

"Everyone ... has assumed until now that you have to break something for a hijack to be useful," Kapela said. "But what we showed here is that you don't have to break anything. And if nothing breaks, who notices?"

Stephen Kent, chief scientist for information security at BBN Technologies, who has been working on solutions to fix the issue, said he demonstrated a similar BGP interception privately for the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security a few years ago.

Kapela said network engineers might notice an interception if they knew how to read BGP routing tables, but it would take expertise to interpret the data.

A handful of academic groups collect BGP routing information from cooperating ASes to monitor BGP updates that change traffic's path. But without context, it can be difficult to distinguish a legitimate change from a malicious hijacking. There are reasons traffic that ordinarily travels one path could suddenly switch to another -- say, if companies with separate ASes merged, or if a natural disaster put one network out of commission and another AS adopted its traffic. On good days, routing paths can remain fairly static. But "when the internet has a bad hair day," Kent said, "the rate of (BGP path) updates goes up by a factor of 200 to 400."

Kapela said eavesdropping could be thwarted if ISPs aggressively filtered to allow only authorized peers to draw traffic from their routers, and only for specific IP prefixes. But filtering is labor intensive, and if just one ISP declines to participate, it "breaks it for the rest of us," he said.

"Providers can prevent our attack absolutely 100 percent," Kapela said. "They simply don't because it takes work, and to do sufficient filtering to prevent these kinds of attacks on a global scale is cost prohibitive."

Filtering also requires ISPs to disclose the address space for all their customers, which is not information they want to hand competitors.

Filtering isn't the only solution, though. Kent and others are devising processes to authenticate ownership of IP blocks, and validate the advertisements that ASes send to routers so they don't just send traffic to whoever requests it.

Under the scheme, the five regional internet address registries would issue signed certificates to ISPs attesting to their address space and AS numbers. The ASes would then sign an authorization to initiate routes for their address space, which would be stored with the certificates in a repository accessible to all ISPs. If an AS advertised a new route for an IP prefix, it would be easy to verify if it had the right to do so.

The solution would authenticate only the first hop in a route to prevent unintentional hijacks, like Pakistan Telecom's, but wouldn't stop an eavesdropper from hijacking the second or third hop.

For this, Kent and BBN colleagues developed Secure BGP (SBGP), which would require BGP routers to digitally sign with a private key any prefix advertisement they propagated. An ISP would give peer routers certificates authorizing them to route its traffic; each peer on a route would sign a route advertisement and forward it to the next authorized hop.

"That means that nobody could put themselves into the chain, into the path, unless they had been authorized to do so by the preceding AS router in the path," Kent said.

The drawback to this solution is that current routers lack the memory and processing power to generate and validate signatures. And router vendors have resisted upgrading them because their clients, ISPs, haven't demanded it, due to the cost and man hours involved in swapping out routers.

Douglas Maughan, cybersecurity research program manager for the DHS's Science and Technology Directorate, has helped fund research at BBN and elsewhere to resolve the BGP issue. But he's had little luck convincing ISPs and router vendors to take steps to secure BGP.

"We haven't seen the attacks, and so a lot of times people don't start working on things and trying to fix them until they get attacked," Maughan said. "(But) the YouTube (case) is the perfect example of an attack where somebody could have done much worse than what they did."

ISPs, he said, have been holding their breath, "hoping that people don’t discover (this) and exploit it."

"The only thing that can force them (to fix BGP) is if their customers ... start to demand security solutions," Maughan said.