Monday, September 15, 2008
DÜSSELDORF, Germany — The Audi RS5, to date seen only in spy photos during testing, will make its world debut at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show, Audi has confirmed to Inside Line. However, the second-generation RS6 is not headed for the U.S.
RS6 project manager Jens Koch told Inside Line: "We had thought perhaps that it would be possible, given America's preference for the four-door version instead of the Avant, but the work required on the V10 powertrain to meet the emissions goals hurt the business case."
However, Koch and Audi spokespeople also told IL that North America has much to look forward to in the coming RS business plans. Shortly after the world premiere of the RS5 in Detroit in January 2009, Audi expects to introduce the new RS4.
Regarding the third-generation RS6, arriving in 2012, Koch strongly hinted that not only would this car be a major global player and come immediately to North America, but that the primary concerns of the current vehicle's massive weight problem, compromised handling in hot curves and fuel-gulping 5.0-liter V10 engine would all be laid to rest. He called the third-generation model "revolutionary" and said it will be "far more RennSport than anything previously developed."
On the brand image front, Audi and Quattro personnel shared with IL some details of plans for the R, S, RS, and Quattro subbrands for better head-on rivalry with the Mercedes-AMG and BMW M divisions. After the Detroit debut of the RS5 and then the next RS4, Audi will push hard globally to make the Quattro name a more clearly separate sister brand positioned distinctly above the hottest factory Audis.
Within Quattro, the R label will signify souped-up Audi range toppers like the R8. The S label will represent something a touch more sporting than the current S. At the top will be the RS, the mother of all performance brands within the Audi world, losing that weight and taking on a far more authentic RennSport attack feel.
What this means to you: Despite the tough economy, the high-end market continues to thrive, allowing Audi to bring the U.S. the best it has to offer
Posted by Chismillionaire at 2:58 PM
Posted by Gary at 2:51 PM
Lehman - Only the Stock and Bond Holders Should Expect Losses (Not Customers)
Read: Other banks are likely going to be insolvent but will not be rescued.
Posted by Chismillionaire at 10:39 AM
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Stocks plummeted Monday morning as investors contended with the biggest financial crisis in years that saw Lehman Brothers file for the biggest bankruptcy in history and Bank of America buy Merrill Lynch in a $50 billion deal.
The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) lost 290 points.
Art Hogan, chief market strategist for Jefferies & Co., said the magnitude of the financial industry fallout is unprecedented, and could only be compared to the Great Depression of the 1930s or the railroad bankruptcies of the 1800s.
"We've never witnessed this before," said Hogan. "There's no road map for this."
He said that over the course of the week, investors will be closely watching AIG, Washington Mutual and other banks to see who will be the next to get "embraced by a white knight."
Bof A-Merrill: Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) announced early Monday that it will acquire Merrill Lynch (MER, Fortune 500) for $50 billion in stock. The purchase price values the company at more than $29 a share, at least a 70% premium from Merrill's closing price on Friday of $17.05.
Merrill could use some help. Battered by bad bets in real estate, Merrill has posted net losses of more than $17 billion over the last four quarters. Last week, the stock plunged 27%.
In early trading, Merrill was up 24%, while BofA was down 16%.
Lehman bankruptcy: Lehman Brothers (LEH, Fortune 500), announced that it was filing for bankruptcy, ending a desperate three-day search for a buyer to save the investment bank. The filing came after Bank of America and Barclays pulled out of negotiations to acquire Lehman.
Lehman shares plunged 93%.
AIG sell-off: In a separate financial event, insurer AIG (AIG, Fortune 500), a Dow Jones industrial average component, was set to announce a restructuring plan that will include selling off part of its business to raise desperately needed cash and boost investors' confidence.
The subprime mortgage crisis has caused AIG to lose more than $18 billion in the past nine months, and it could face a credit downgrade unless the firm is able to raise money.
AIG stock fell 45%.
10-bank emergency fund: In a bid to calm the markets, the Federal Reserve announced plans Sunday to loosen its lending restrictions to the banking industry. A consortium of 10 leading domestic and foreign banks, including Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500), Citigroup (C, Fortune 500), Barclays (BCS) and Morgan Stanley (MS, Fortune 500), agreed to create a $70 billion fund to lend to troubled financial firms.
Oil: Oil prices plunged as early signs pointed to little damage to oil rigs and refineries in the Texas Gulf region from Hurricane Ike.
Oil prices were down $5.01 a barrel to $96.18. Oil dipped below $100 a barrel on Friday for the first time in five months.
Other markets: European and Asian stocks tumbled on the U.S. financial crisis; many major Asian markets, including Tokyo and Hong Kong, were closed for holidays.
Treasury prices soared in a flight to safety by investors; the 10-year note yield skidded to 3.51% from 3.72% late Friday. The dollar was up versus the euro and the British pound but down against the yen.
Posted by Chismillionaire at 10:01 AM
Though the Large Hadron Collider's infiltration by hackers did not disrupt the historic project, experts warn that its computer systems are vulnerable -- though at least their exploitation won't destroy Earth.
Shortly after physicists activated the Collider on Wednesday, hackers identifying themselves as Group 2600 of the Greek Security Team accessed computers connected to the Compact Muon Solenoid detector, one of four key subsystems responsible for monitoring the collisions of protons speeding around the 18-mile track near Geneva, Switzerland.
A few scientists had worried that the experiment could inadvertently create a planet-swallowing black hole. Physicists called this impossible, or at least extraordinarily unlikely. But the hack raises a different sort of worst-case scenario: the largest and most complicated science experiment in history, intended to reveal basic information about the composition of matter, derailed by malevolent intruders.
"The LHC experiments have very complex computer systems for data recording and analysis and even more sensitive systems for experiment control, trigger and data acquisition," said MIT physicist and Collider collaborator Frank Taylor. "You could imagine that penetrating the 'real time domain' could have catastrophic consequences."
The hackers were stopped before they could access the Collider's central computer system, but were described by the Telegraph as being "one step away" from full control of the CMS. They deleted one as-yet publicly unidentified file -- the hacker equivalent, perhaps, of counting coup.
"We're pulling your pants down because we don't want to see you running around naked looking to hide yourselves when the panic comes," wrote the intruders in a note left on the Collider's website.
"There seems to be no harm done. From what [the computer security team] can tell, it was someone making the point that CMS was hackable," said James Gillies, spokesman for Cern, to the Telegraph.
Computer security at the Collider has received less attention than other aspects of the historic experiment, but insiders have previously expressed concern.
In November, an article in the computer affairs newsletter of CERN -- the European Organization for Nuclear Research, home to the Collider -- warned of potential security breaches.
"Vulnerability scans at CERN using standard IT tools have shown that commercial automation systems often lack even fundamental security precautions: some systems crashed during the scan, while others could easily be stopped or have their process data altered," wrote CERN computer security officer Stefan Luders.
The consequences of a breach, wrote Luders, "are inherent to the design of CERN's accelerators and the affiliated experiments. All run a variety of control systems: some of them are complex, some of them deal with personnel safety, and some of them control or protect expensive or irreplaceable equipment. Thus, CERN's assets and their proper operation are at stake."
But those worried by hacker-unleashed black holes and Big Bang energies can rest easy. "The LHC is just a bunch of magnets that steer the proton beams plus radio frequency cavities to accelerate them," said University of Texas physicist Stephen Weinberg. "The amount of energy involved is miniscule. Similarly, the CMS is a magnet with a lot of sensors operating under a variety of voltages. Not much damage could be done there by diddling with the computer."
Of course, damage is relative when discussing the controls of a six billion dollar experiment.
"Hacking is a bad thing," said Lee Smolin, a professor at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics who is not involved with the Collider. "It can damage the work of thousands of people who have been working for decades to advance science."
Images: The endcap of the Compact Muon Solenoid Detector, from WikiMedia Commons; a screenshot of the CMS website (now unavailable) after the hack; and researchers standing inside the CMS, courtesy of the Insitute for Research on the Fundamentals of the Universe.
Posted by Chismillionaire at 9:58 AM
Home-brewed biodiesel may be ready to move from your neighbor's garage to prime time. No longer is the practice limited to a few mechanically inclined hippies with old converted electric water heaters. Now anyone can order up their own bio-brew kit online.
"We are testing some products now to make sure they work at the level of quality our customers expect," said Go Green Home Stores spokesman Dennis Healy. "We're really looking forward to having these products in our store."
And Go Green's interest in mass-marketing a processor comes on the heels of a decision earlier this year by Northern Tool, the Sears of professional-grade tools, to put biodiesel processors for home brewers in its catalog, for $3,000 to $13,500.
The Collective Biodiesel Project estimates that home brewers, who filter used vegetable oil from restaurants and then mix it with lye and methanol to create their own biodiesel, produced 450 million gallons of fuel last year. Some brewers say they got tired of waiting for alternatives to petroleum to come from big biz and set out to change their own habits.
In Europe, home-brewed biodiesel from both virgin and waste vegetable oil was so common that in 2002, police in Great Britain set up a "frying squad" to seek out and ticket chips-scented cars using the cheaper, tax-free cooking oil.
In the United States, a dozen or so niche manufacturers, such as Home Biodiesel Kits, already sell kits to home brewers who want to go beyond converting an old electric water heater. But the fact that home-brew equipment will be available at a major retail outlet rather than merely at niche sellers signals that companies believe there's demand and have faith in the safety and reliability of the equipment.
Biodiesel has two distinct faces. Big, young biodiesel companies are rising stars on angel-investor and venture-capital circles' lists of emerging alt-fuels. Their biodiesel tends to be what home brewers call virgin fuel -- made from fresh, new vegetable oil. Most of it is sold to companies and agencies large enough to have their own fleets and pumps.
And there's also the flourishing underground of brewers. From neighbors running reactors in garages, like Jules Dervaes and Hans Huth, to a Piedmont, North Carolina, cooperative that has grown to 500 members in four years and made a million gallons last year, home brewing is well-established.
Dervaes and his family have turned their home in Pasadena, California, into a green "best practices" lab. They began brewing bio about four years ago, using an open source manual on how to build a converter from an old electric water heater.
Dervaes makes about 30 gallons once a month from restaurant waste oil he gets for free. His family has a standing relationship with neighborhood restaurants glad to be rid of grease they'd otherwise have to pay to have hauled away.
"It's a big win for everybody," Dervaes said. "We're off the [petroleum] oil grid, the [vegetable] oil is being used twice, and the fuel is being made locally, not hauled around the world."
Restaurant owners like Lucas Manteca of Cape May, New Jersey, are delighted to participate, even if there are a few problems. Manteca and his wife own three Quahog's Seafood Shacks and give away about three 55-gallon drums a week.
It's great," Manteca said. "Before this, we were paying for the oil pickup, and they were just destroying the oil."
"Restaurants are such a huge source of waste, a lot of trash and oil and water, but it can be difficult and expensive to try to do things the right way," he added. "This is just easy and right."
But with rising oil prices, waste oil has become a commodity. The New York Times reported in May that restaurants in at least 20 states have had oil stolen. Waste-management companies looking for an edge over their competition, opportunistic thieves and home brewers have all been caught with their hands in the grease barrel.
"There's a lot of talk about grease wars where people do nasty stuff to get the grease," said Leif Forer, one of the founding members of the Piedmont co-op. "The waste oil used to go to rendering companies that got paid to pick it up and then sold it 'back to the animals' for pet food and livestock feed. They're not happy with us."
The co-op started six years ago in a community college class taught by Forer and co-founder Rachel Burton. They made their first batch in Mason jars, and graduated to the kitchen blender.
"Eventually we designed and built our own processor. At the end of the day, the process and mechanics are the same as the Mason jar," he said. "Now we have two plants, and we can make biodiesel in a continuous stream."
The co-op currently makes more than 120,000 gallons a month, far more than its 500 members consume.
"We got tired of waiting for a corporate solution and found a short-term answer that makes sense on a local scale," Forer said. "We'll settle for that until better fuels and technologies come."
While there have been few problems with home brewing, last month a garage biodiesel experiment ended when a chemical blast blew the front off a home in Surprise, Arizona. After the explosion, the assistant fire chief worried aloud that home brewing might mean more explosions.
But Hans Huth, another biodiesel home brewer who posted a do-it-yourself guide in 2006, says home brewers haven't had many problems -- fewer than with the commercial plants.
"Obviously, you have to be careful!" Huth said. "You are refining a fuel you intend to burn."
Besides instructions on how to build and run a processor, Huth's manual includes information on local regulations and permits.
"Good information will keep us safer," he said. "If we start causing problems, the regulators -- and I work with regulators -- will have to come in and tighten it up. As a community, that makes things difficult."
At his day job with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Huth is helping solve an international grease problem: sewage spills in Nogales, Arizona, caused by sewers across the border in Mexico that are jammed by grease from restaurants. He's helping build a biodiesel converter in Mexico.
"It looks like we'll be able to use the facility to generate enough biodiesel to fuel the Rio Rico Fire District," Huth said. "Once you start doing this, it becomes insidious, and you find yourself looking around saying, 'Where else can we go to get biodiesel?'"
The growth of home brewing from a few garages to mainstream recognition has its problems. For one, Huth says diesel cars, once the bane of used car lots, are now much harder to find and are selling for more money.
Forer, who's just returned from a national conference of biodiesel brewers in Golden, Colorado, also sees the arrival on the big stage as both a blessing and a curse.
"We have a consulting business, and we teach classes, and we're selling a half million gallons a year so we can use the money for other green projects," Forer said. "But we're closing in on the point when demand exceeds supply, and that might mean trouble."
Posted by Chismillionaire at 9:40 AM
|Credit: Technology Review|
Ever since Facebook opened its doors to third-party applications a year and a half ago, millions of users have employed miniature applications to play games, share movie and song recommendations, and even "zombie-bite" their friends. But as the popularity of third-party applications has grown, computer-security researchers have also begun worrying about ways that social-networking applications could be misused. The same thing that makes social networking such an effective way to distribute applications--deep access to a user's networks of friends and acquaintances--could perhaps make it an ideal way to distribute malicious code.
A number of research projects have demonstrated growing unease. At the Information Security Conference in Taiwan this week, researchers from the Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas (FORTH) in Greece will present details of an experiment that involved enlisting Facebook users in a potentially devastating kind of Internet attack. The researchers created an application that displays photographs from National Geographic on a user's profile page. However, invisible to the user, the app also requests large image files from a target server--in this case, a test machine hosted at FORTH. Provided that enough people add the application to their page, the resulting flood of requests can shut down the server or render it inaccessible to legitimate users.
Elias Athanasopoulos, a research assistant at FORTH who is involved in the project, says that the researchers made no effort to promote their application but found that around 1,000 Facebook users installed it within a few days. The resulting attack was not particularly severe, but Athanasopoulos says that it could disrupt a small website, and he suggests that the onslaught could be made more intense with minor adjustments to the application. The attack relies on open access to Facebook. "It's very difficult to provide a platform that will not [allow developers to] interfere in malicious ways with the rest of the Web," he says.
A more detailed analysis covering several different social-networking sites suggests that the potential for mischief may actually run much deeper. Two computer-security consultants--Nathan Hamiel of Hexagon Security Group and Shawn Moyer of Agura Digital Security--recently built examples of malicious applications on top of OpenSocial, an open application platform used by MySpace, hi5, Orkut, and several other social networks. One of their demo applications, called DoSer, logs out users who view a compromised profile page for seven seconds. Another, called CSRFer, sends unauthorized friend requests from a target user. But Hamiel says that there are plenty more ways to attack social networks and that little can be done to defend them. "[An application] hooks into the social net about as deep as it can go," he says.
researcher at Kaspersky Lab, in Belgium. "As a security professional, that doesn't give me nice feelings."
Social factors also play an important role, Hamiel says, because social networks foster an atmosphere of trust that is easy to exploit. For example, a malicious program recently spread via Facebook in the form of a fake update for Flash that was forwarded from one friend to another. "It was the social aspect that drove them to do something technically stupid," Hamiel says.
The companies behind social-networking sites are just starting to wake up to the issue of security. Facebook, for example, recently created a security page to educate users about potential risks that they could face. The company adds that its security team "is dedicated to investigating and auditing our own code for holes, as well as reaching out to people in an extended community to let us know if we've missed anything."
Hamiel warns that it may be nearly impossible to eliminate all malicious programs, and he notes that an attacker could build a legitimate application, wait until a large number of users have installed it, then make the application "go bad" by updating it with malicious code.
Limiting all applications' capabilities does not provide a solution because it would destroy what makes them so attractive to users. "You're in a tough position because the goal of a social network is to facilitate creativity and communication," he says. "If you start being too restrictive, you're basically restricting what the social network is all about. You have a functionality arms race."
A more effective solution, according to Athanasopoulos, would be to hire programmers to audit the code being used by external applications. But he acknowledges that the expense of this could make it unattractive for most companies.
As social networks become increasingly popular, Hamiel expects to see many more attacks. "People don't have the same respect for software running in their browser as they do for something they would download and install," he says. In the future, he adds, that may have to change.
Posted by Chismillionaire at 9:39 AM
| Plastic e-reader: A new electronic reader from Plastic Logic uses a lightweight, flexible polymer backplane. Its screen is the size of a standard piece of paper (14 inches on the diagonal) and won’t shatter like other displays. |
Credit: Plastic Logic
This Wednesday, Cambridge University startup Plastic Logic, which is headquartered in Mountain View, CA, will open a factory in Dresden, Germany, that will produce about 11 million large, flexible electronic-paper display units a year. The displays will be used in an electronic reader that the company showed at the Demo conference in San Diego last week. The product, which is scheduled to be commercially launched in January, uses display technology from E Ink and backplane technologies that employ polymer electronics developed by Plastic Logic's founders at Cambridge University.
Plastic Logic is banking that there's room on the market for another e-book, this one targeted at businesspeople who want to read documents and newspapers on a lightweight, robust device with a large display. Several portable electronic readers already on the market also employ the E Ink display technology and enable users to take thousands of pages of documents on the road. Amazon's Kindle and the Sony Reader have six-inch screens--about the size of a paperback book. The Readius, made by Polymer Vision--a spinout from Philips Electronics--is the size of a cell phone and has a rollable display that stows away.
The Plastic Logic reader's screen is larger, the size of a standard sheet of paper--8.5 by 11 inches--but it doesn't weigh much more than the other readers. It weighs 13 ounces--compared with 10.3 ounces for the smaller Kindle. And it has a display on a plastic substrate, unlike the glass screen used for the Kindle and Sony Reader, which means that it is rugged. (At Demo, Plastic Logic's CEO, Richard Archuleta, showed a video of the display being whacked with a shoe and continuing to operate.)
Instead of dealing with buttons, users can flip through the pages of a book, magazine, or PDF using a touch screen and a simple swiping gesture. The Plastic Logic reader includes a "sticky note" function and a soft keyboard for marking pages. The company hasn't made a final decision on what the reader's storage capacity will be. In January, Plastic Logic will reveal the unnamed reader's price and disclose which partner media companies will provide newspaper and magazine content.
The display uses flexible electronics technology developed about 10 years ago by company cofounders Richard Friend and Henning Sirringhaus, both physics professors at the University of Cambridge. At the Dresden factory, the display's backplanes will be printed with flexible polymer transistors using a rapid, room-temperature direct-writing process. Nozzles akin to those inside an ink-jet printer spray a solution of semiconducting polymers onto plastic sheets, forming transistors. The backplane is then laminated with an E Ink frontplane, an array of microcapsules filled with electrically charged black and white pigments. Several microcapsules are controlled by a single transistor. E Ink said that some modifications to the usual lamination process were required to work with the Plastic Logic backplane, but the company did not disclose details.
While the display itself is flexible, the device's case is rigid, as are the conventional electronics that store the documents. "The benefit of the plastic electronic technology arises through no glass substrate being needed, which makes the display unbreakable," says company cofounder and chief scientist Sirringhaus.
Polymer Vision's Readius, which also uses organic electronics, has a rollable polymer display and takes more dramatic advantage of its flexibility than Plastic Logic's reader does. The five-inch screen folds into the device, which is as compact as a cell phone. However, the Readius screen, while made out of unconventional materials, is manufactured using more-traditional mask-based lithography. Sirringhaus says that the direct-writing approach is necessary to make the large display in the company's reader, which is nearly 14 inches on the diagonal. Plastic Logic may make fully flexible devices in the future, says Sirringhaus.
Posted by Chismillionaire at 9:39 AM
|Credit: Technology Review|
Your computer has been breached by malicious hackers: it's completely loaded with malware and spyware. You're about to get online, connect to a financial institution, and make some transactions. Is there anything, at this point, that can keep your identity off the black market? SiteTrust, a tool released today by Waltham, MA, data-security company Verdasys, aims to protect users from fraud, even when their computers have been compromised.
"Malware is on the rise," says Verdasys chief technology officer Bill Ledingham. Many existing protection technologies don't work against all the malware that's out there, he says, partly because they're built to protect against known attacks. Users, he adds, are often inconsistent about employing antivirus software and keeping it updated, and even when they're not, some malware is sophisticated enough to get through anyway. "Our premise," Ledingham says, "is that, rather than trying to clean up the machines, assume the machine is already infected and focus on protecting the transaction that goes on between the consumer and the enterprise website."
The problem of malware on users' computers is "the number-one problem that the financial institutions are wrestling with today," says Forrester Research senior analyst Geoffrey Turner, an expert on online fraud. Financial institutions can take steps to secure the connections between their servers and their customers' PCs, Turner says; they can even ensure the security of the customer's Web browser. But they're stumped, he says, when it comes to the customer's operating system. Most successful attempts to steal computer users' identities, Turner says, involve using malware to capture their credentials or conduct transactions behind the scenes without their knowledge. "The challenge is, how do you secure the end-user computer?" he says. "Should you even, as a bank, be trying to do that?"
Verdasys thinks that the answer is yes. After licensing SiteTrust from Verdasys, a financial institution would provide it to users as a supplement to their existing antivirus software. Once SiteTrust is downloaded and installed, Ledingham says, it takes up less than a megabyte of disk space. When the user is connected to a protected site, SiteTrust consumes 1 to 2 percent of the computer's processing capacity. While the tool could work with multiple sites, the initial idea is that a customer would receive it for use with a specific website.SiteTrust bypasses malware because it is essentially a rootkit--a program designed to bury itself deep in a user's operating system, where it can take fundamental control of most of the software running on the machine. The idea, Ledingham says, is that SiteTrust will burrow down to a lower level than any malware on the system. Verdasys has put a lot of research into ensuring that SiteTrust does just that, Ledingham says, but he acknowledges that if the tool becomes successful, online criminals will probably focus on finding ways to go even deeper. He says that Verdasys plans to keep improving the tool, hoping to stay a step ahead of attackers.
When the user types in the URL of a protected site, Ledingham says, SiteTrust steps in. Without changing the appearance of the user's screen, SiteTrust separates the secure transaction from whatever else might be going on in the browser by running a fresh version of the browser code as its own "process." (A process is the series of commands that the computer executes to run a program, and modern computers can run dozens of them at once.) SiteTrust then monitors this process to make sure that no other program tries to interfere with it. As the user interacts with the site, SiteTrust bypasses many of the vulnerabilities of the operating system, instead taking information from the user's keyboard, encrypting it immediately, and sending it to the website. SiteTrust currently runs on Windows machines and works with the Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers, but Ledingham says that the company is working on Linux, Mac, and Safari versions.
SiteTrust is a new application of the technology behind Verdasys's existing product, the Digital Guardian, which is meant to protect businesses against internal theft. The Digital Guardian also uses a rootkit, installed on every computer in an organization, that watches what users do with sensitive information and flags suspicious behavior. Ledingham notes that, although rootkits have caused controversy in the past, particularly when they were installed without users' knowledge, Verdasys has years of experience designing them so that they don't interfere with a computer's normal use. SiteTrust, Ledingham says, includes an uninstall option so that users can completely remove it if they choose, and it doesn't send any background information about the user to the protected site.
Turner says that he appreciates Verdasys's approach with SiteTrust--in particular, the way that the company has planned for the inevitability of online criminals' targeting the tool itself, lining up improvements to make that more difficult. He adds that the company's distribution model is important to getting SiteTrust to consumers. "People aren't aware that they need this level of protection on their own PC," Turner says. Customers aren't likely to look for additional protection unless encouraged to do so by financial institutions that they trust. Turner also notes that receiving the tool from a trusted institution should help counter consumers' general worries about rootkits.
SiteTrust is launching to six million customers of an undisclosed online broker in the near future. The company plans to make additional deals to protect other websites.
Posted by Chismillionaire at 9:38 AM
Ever since Russia planted a flag under the North Pole last year, the issue of sovereign rights under an increasingly slushy arctic has tensed. In a race to claim ownership of some of the arctic seabed, a two-ship caravan of Canadian and U.S. scientists is sailing around the Arctic Ocean right now. Their mission, which will last from September 6th to October 1st, is to measure the seabed and the continental margins in an attempt to solidify our possible rights over the far north—an area that will become accessible to oil drilling and mining as the earth warms and arctic ice melts.
PopSci reported a few months ago on a map from Durham University researchers, showing the complicated web of conflicting arctic claims. At least six nations could own part of the arctic. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (what a mouthful), nations own the rights 200 meters out from the edge of their continental shelf—not the exposed coast, but the undersea lip of the continent. Unfortunately, there is no geophysical consensus on where those shelf edges are, hence this joint voyage.
The U.S. ship, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy will use a multi-beam echo sounder to map the sea floor, sending out sound pulses, which return at different times depending on the depth. The Canadian ship, the Louis S. St. Laurent will follow doing complementary measurements of the sub-sea floor. The hope is that the whole of the arctic does not in fact belong to Russia, and that we, or Canada might own a piece of the pie as well. Go team.
Worth a Look: Jessica Roberston, a USGS PR rep onboard the Healy is keeping a log of the mission with notes and photos, along with an updated map of the ship’s location at usgs.gov/journals/arctic
Posted by Chismillionaire at 9:36 AM
For the first time, scientists prove that the brain is able to guess possible meanings of a word before it is fully spoken
Food for thought: Your brain is wired to consider various possible meanings for a word before you've even heard the final sound of a word uttered. It's a conclusion scientists at the University of Rochester reached and also proved for the first time using a functional MRI (fMRI)—a tool for brain imaging—to see split-second activity. In the past, scientists postulated that listeners could only follow up to five syllables per second in spoken language by drawing from a small subset of words already known by the listener. It's much like Google's ability to predict words before you finish typing them during a search.
In order for researchers to test if the brain could interpret meaning, they had to create a new language. Using familiar English words like "kick" had too many nuances in meaning, they say, for them to properly capture results. So, scientists decided to test the motion part of the brain, known as V5, by creating words with similar beginning syllables to motion verbs but different ending syllables. They got test subjects to learn new words like "biduko," meaning the shape will move across the screen," and "biduka," the shape would change color. When the subjects were tested in front of a computer monitor that displayed new shapes and sounded these words, the fMRI results showed brain activity in the V5 area a split-second before participants heard the final syllable of the words. The team will continue to run more complicated tests to see how the brain responds to syntax, sound and touch sensations.
Posted by Chismillionaire at 9:34 AM
If you were to describe the perfect sports coupe, one to live with daily through all seasons and all lengths and types of travel, good fuel economy would probably be on your list of must-have attributes. And that's unfortunate for the Audi S5, a perfectly decent car that just happens to eat, drink, and bathe itself in gasoline like its uncle is the prince of Dubai. Sure, it has impressive power and an engine note that faster, more exotic cars might envy, but its EPA figures of 14 and 21 mpg fall below most mid-size crossovers. Thankfully, the A5 coupe exists.
The A5 arrived at Audi dealerships earlier this year and offers a more efficient alternative for those who want one of the most attractive coupes on the market but aren't willing to get a divorce over the S5's higher price and higher operating costs. In automatic form, the combination of a six-speed Tiptronic and a direct injection, 265-hp 3.2-liter V-6 is good for a claimed 18 city/27 highway mpg. Averaging 75 mph on a trip from Chicago to Michigan's west coast and back, we saw a fuel-economy reading that broke — just barely — 30 mpg. And all the while, old bald guys and teenage girls alike were giving this $40,000 coupe long, hundred-grand stares.
What's more, the A5 continues to affirm our earlier impressions that Audi's got a great chassis on its hands with this new A4/S4/A5/S5 platform. The company's always done comfort a bit better than sport and, indeed, the A5 serves as a better daily driver than the S5. We can't wait for Audi Drive Select to be offered this fall, though. The system allows steering, throttle, and suspension settings to be dialed in individually — we'd leave the A5 suspension alone, but the steering could use a bit more weight and the throttle could use a setting somewhere between the current "normal" and "sport" settings on the gear selector. One other option worth thinking about: sport seats. The base A5 seats aren't terrible, but they lack thigh support. The sport seats, however, are lovely.If one thing stands in the A5's way, it's that the competition within its segment is fierce. Our automatic, all-wheel-drive tester started with a $41,200 base price, and a series of packages contributed to an as-tested $48,390. It may offer more space than a BMW 335i coupe or an Infiniti G37 coupe, but at that price those cars are both more powerful and less expensive, if less gracefully styled. But if you're looking for a healthy balance of efficiency, comfort, and panache, the A5 is an excellent choice.
Posted by Chismillionaire at 9:09 AM
But Fear not. The venerable E-Class-based coupes and convertibles will remain staples of Mercedes lineup, only they will be known as, quite simply, E-Class Coupe and E-Class Convertible. The streamlining will likely spread a year later, with the CL-Class becoming the S-Class Coupe.
We’re not sure what’s behind the decisions, especially considering that neither simplicity nor clarity has ever been much of a priority for Mercedes
Posted by Chismillionaire at 8:52 AM
Viper ACR vs. Corvette ZR1 at the Nürburgring
Running the Nürburgring is now recognized planet-wide as the standard measure of sports car studliness. And it seems that every manufacturer that puts its latest super-swoopy screamer on that track can't resist bringing a video camera along on the run.
YouTube user "oppositelocksmith" grabbed onboard video of the new 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 running the 'Ring, synchronized it with similar video of the 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10 ACR doing the same thing, mashed the two together in a split screen and effectively created a race where none had occurred.
And watching these two beasts scream around Germany's legendary track is so mesmerizing that my pupils have been fully dilated for a week.
Here's another view of the Viper's run from a camera bolted outside the beast along its flanks — along with metered readouts for lateral acceleration and downforce. Way too cool.
Posted by Chismillionaire at 8:30 AM
Shares of Lehman plunged 80% in early trading Monday, dropping below a dollar a share, as investors realize their shares are likely to be worthless. It was just last week that Lehman chief Dick Fuld announced a plan to reduce the brokerage firm’s mortgage-related risk - a plan that was rejected in the market as the latest instance of the firm making promises rather than taking action, however painful.
Further complicating the picture for AIG and other financials is the wave of writedowns that’s likely to result from Lehman’s collapse. “Due to the liquidation of an unprecedented scale, we expect a broad-based decline in marks on asset values within the financial markets,” Oppenheimer analyst Meredith Whitney wrote late Sunday. “The liquidation of LEH’s assets will force the other brokers to mark down their assets accordingly and therefore pressure all capital ratios.” She adds, a propos of the steep decline of the stock futures markets in early trading Monday, that she expects financial markets “to be under unprecedented strain over the next several days as players respond to outsized industry deleveraging.”
Posted by Chismillionaire at 8:28 AM
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- After enduring one of the most dramatic days in its history, Wall Street received a climactic jolt on Monday when Lehman Brothers, a 158-year-old investment bank undermined by bad bets on real estate, said it will file for bankruptcy.
The fall of Lehman followed a wild, three-day scramble by top Wall Street executives and federal regulators who worked around the clock to come up with a solution to a still-unfolding financial crisis.
By the end of the weekend, the Federal Reserve had stepped in to try to calm the markets by announcing plans to loosen its lending restrictions to the banking industry. A consortium of 10 leading domestic and foreign banks had agreed to create a $70 billion fund to lend to troubled financial firms. And two major financial companies - Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) and Merrill Lynch (MER, Fortune 500) - were finalizing a merger while another - American International Group - was reportedly struggling to secure billions of dollars in capital.
But it was the fate of Lehman (LEH, Fortune 500) that gripped Wall Street. After weeks of speculation about its health, Lehman's fate took a turn for the worse Sunday when Bank of America and British bank Barclays, both viewed as potential "white knights," pulled out of deal talks, according to sources.
"This looks like the end," a Lehman executive, who declined to be identified, told Fortune on Sunday afternoon.
So Bank of America turned to merger talks with Merrill. By early Monday, the two had announced that BofA had bought Merrill for $50 billion in stock.
Hours before Bank of America pulled out, Barclays had abandoned talks to buy Lehman, a source close to the situation told CNNMoney.com.
All the while, top Wall Street officials and federal regulators, who began meeting Friday, spent much of their Sunday at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in the hopes of devising a plan to save Lehman and allay fears that threatened to roil U.S. financial markets Monday.
The accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers said Monday that three of its partners have been appointed administrators to Lehman's British operations.
Meanwhile, broader efforts to tackle problems plaguing the industry are underway.
The Federal Reserve announced a series of steps to support the financial markets. The Fed said it would expand its short-term lending to banks by starting to take all investment-grade debt as collateral - instead of just Treasurys and other high-grade securities.
"The steps we are announcing today, along with significant commitments from the private sector, are intended to mitigate the potential risks and disruptions to markets," said Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Similarly, a group of 10 commercial and investment banks including, among others, Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500), Citigroup, Barclays and Morgan Stanley, agreed to pony up $7 billion each to create a $70 billion lending pool to help troubled institutions.
The measure would also help resolve exposure between Lehman Brothers and its counterparties, the companies said.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who has led efforts to help get the U.S. housing market and the broader economy back on track, applauded the plan and steps taken by regulators.
"These initiatives will be critical to facilitating liquid, smooth functioning markets, and addressing potential concerns in the credit markets," Paulson said in a statement.
Yet the last-minute efforts provided little comfort to financial markets around the globe. As of Sunday evening, U.S. markets were headed for a steep selloff at the start of Monday's session.
Futures in the Dow Jones industrial average, as well as the broader Nasdaq composite and the Standard & Poor's 500 were as much as 3% lower, before paring some of their losses.
Investors already started piling into safe-haven Treasuries as the yield on the benchmark 10-year note dipped to 3.565% from 3.72% late Friday.
That nervousness also spread to the currency markets as the dollar eased against both the euro and the yen.
Adding to those concerns was news that insurance giant AIG (AIG, Fortune 500) planned to unveil a restructuring plan that will include the sale of part of its business to raise cash and boost investors' confidence, according to a published report.
What could help temper a market selloff is the Bank of America-Merrill deal, said one expert.
"This sort of offsets the Lehman thing," said Dan Alpert, managing director of the boutique New York City-based investment bank Westwood Capital. "But the reality is that it is just a short-term impact."
Still, much of the market's focus ahead of Monday was on the endgame for Lehman. The hope was that some solution could be found by early Monday morning in the U.S. - before financial markets open in Europe. Most Asian markets are closed for a holiday Monday.
But the abandonment of Barclays and Bank of America left Lehman Brothers teetering.
During the afternoon, and adding to the dark cloud hanging over Lehman, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association staged a special trading session so that big brokers could limit their Lehman Brothers risks.
The session was called "to reduce risk associated with a potential Lehman Brothers Holding Inc. bankruptcy," according to a statement on the ISDA's Web site.
Lehman - one of the nation's largest and oldest investment banks - has suffered a dramatic and rapid descent. Its shares, which sold for as much as $67 in the past 12 months, have plummeted 94% this year and now trade at $3.65.
In the past six months, the company reported $6.7 billion in losses due largely to bad bets on real estate.
In its bankruptcy announcement Monday, Lehman said that its board had OK'd the filing "to protect ... assets and maximize value." None of Lehman's broker-dealer subsidiaries will be included in the Chapter 11 petition, the firm's announcement said. Lehman said it is trying to sell its broker-dealer business and is in "advanced discussions" to unload its investment management division.
A source with knowledge of this weekend's meetings told CNN that representatives of several major financial institutions met with Paulson, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox and New York Federal Reserve Bank President Timothy Geithner to discuss Lehman and the volatile state of the financial markets.
On Saturday, several heads of big Wall Street banks, including Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain, were seen entering and leaving the offices of The Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
According to several reports, other financial firms were said to be reluctant to contribute their own funds to help keep Lehman's more toxic assets afloat without the assurance that the government would backstop Lehman's bad loans.
However, a source close to the situation told CNN Friday that the Treasury Department was adamantly against using any government money to help finance a takeover, restructuring or bailout of Lehman.
Top banking regulators, including the Federal Reserve, faced heavy criticism from lawmakers following the bailout of Bear Stearns in mid-March.
The Fed helped engineer a fire sale of the firm to JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500), agreeing to put taxpayer funds at risk by guaranteeing $29 billion's worth of potential losses on Bear Stearns' portfolio.
The talks followed what has been one of the most tumultuous weeks ever on Wall Street.
Things first started to unravel at Lehman Tuesday following reports that talks between the state-run Korea Development Bank, who was rumored to be interested in buying a stake in Lehman, had ended.
That, combined with the threat of a downgrade by some of the credit ratings agencies, led to a bloody sell-off in the firm's stock.
Hoping to finally put all the rumors to rest, the company released its third-quarter results more than a week in advance on Wednesday, booking a nearly $4 billion loss and announcing a drastic restructuring plan. Investors were unconvinced though and the sell-off in Lehman shares continued, with the stock plunging 42% on Wednesday.
By Thursday evening, it was widely reported that Lehman was actively seeking a buyer for the entire firm. The company reportedly reached out to a number of suitors, including Bank of America and Barclays.
Speculation also surfaced Friday that J.C. Flowers & Co. and other private equity firms may bid for all or parts of Lehman. Current regulatory restrictions prevent buyout firms from owning a bank outright, although the Federal Reserve has eyed loosening those restrictions as bank failures pile up.
But as Friday wore on without any news of a deal, Lehman's stock wound up falling another 13.5%. Shares plunged 77% over the course of the week, setting the stage for regulators to call upon banking executives to get together Friday night and begin talking about ways to hash out an end to the Lehman crisis.
Lehman's bankruptcy marks a bitter coda for one of Wall Street's oldest and most well-known firms. Getting its start as a modest cotton-trading firm in Montgomery, Ala., in 1850 by German immigrant brothers Henry, Emanuel and Mayer Lehman, the firm saw its fortunes rose and fell along with the rest of Wall Street.
After World War II, Lehman's profile grew as it advised such household American companies as Ford, Campbell Soup and Philip Morris on deals, before expanding overseas into Europe and Asia in the 1960s and 1970s.
The firm also became a breeding ground for high-profile dealmakers. Both Steve Schwarzman and Pete Peterson, co-founders of the private equity giant Blackstone Group, worked for Lehman in the early 1980s.
But Lehman's rise was cut short in April 1984, when the company agreed to be purchased by Shearson/American Express for $360 million. The company emerged independent just seven years later, albeit in much weaker shape than it was before.
It was around that time, however, that CEO Richard Fuld Jr., assumed the helm at Lehman and the firm went public after splitting off from American Express.
Known for his direct approach and staunch loyalty to the firm, Fuld transformed Lehman in the decade that followed from a lowly bond trading house into a worthy adversary of larger investment banks Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.
Still there were bumps along the way for the long-time Lehman chief, including the Russian credit crisis and the painful collapse of the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management in the late 1990s.
Fuld was quick to remind investors of those painful days and subsequent comeback during a conference call Wednesday, just after the company revealed its nearly $4 billion third-quarter loss.
"This firm has a history based on adversity and delivering," said Fuld. "We have a long track record of pulling together when times are tough."
But the obstacles Lehman faced this time around proved too tough for Fuld to overcome.
Posted by Chismillionaire at 8:23 AM