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Friday, September 19, 2008

How Companies Get Pitched for Product Placement in Music

Songs that refer to products and brands have been with us for years, from Simon and Garfunkel singing "Mama don't take my Kodachrome away" to Janis Joplin's plea for a new car in the song "Mercedes Benz" and beyond. Conscious of the branding value such mentions can bring, some artists have gone so far as to approach companies with offers to include brand and product names in their song lyrics.

A e-mail from Paul Kluger of the Kluger Agency, which performs such product placements, mistakenly sent to Jeff Crouse of the Anti-Advertising Agency and Double Happiness Jeans, provides a rare glimpse into the secretive market for song lyric product placement.

"I'm writing because we feel you may be a good company to participate in a brand integration campaign within the actual lyrics of one of the worlds most famous recording artists upcoming song/album," begins the opening e-mail in the eventual salvo between the two.

Yes, you read that right: things have gotten so weird in the music business that high-profile acts are inserting ads into their song lyrics. The next time you hear a brand mentioned in a song, it could be due to a paid product placement. And unlike magazines, songs are not required to point out which words are part of an advertisement.

In the e-mail, Kluger (who has represented Mariah Carey, New Kids on the Blog, Ne-Yo, Fall Out Boy, Method Man, Lady GaGa and Ludacris) explained via e-mail that for the right price, Double Happiness Jeans could find its way into the lyrics in an upcoming Pussycat Dolls song. Crouse posted the e-mail on his blog at the Anti-Advertising Agency, an art project of sorts that's basically the philosophical mirror image of a traditional ad agency.

The thing is, Double Happiness Jeans is not your everyday brand -- it's a virtual sweatshop organized by EyeBeam for a display at the Sundance Festival, which involves paying Second Life citizens 90 cents an hour to make real, customized jeans designed in the virtual factory. Crouse and Steve Lambert, his partner at the Anti-Advertising Agency, are probably the last people on earth who Kluger would want to receive this e-mail. Both men spend a fair amount of their time questioning, undermining and criticizing the pervasiveness of materialism and advertising in our culture.

"It was hilarious," Lambert told us via telephone, "that he wanted to put Jeff's fake Second Life sweatshop company in a pop song. It's this desperation that advertising has come to because you can't just tell people about your product anymore, because nobody cares. Advertisers have created this situation where they've made themselves obsolete. There's too much advertising out there, so they try to find new ways to cut through the clutter that they've created. And this is one of those ways."

Soon after Crouse posted Kluger's e-mail and his own response on the blog, a commenter wrote, "Either a spammer/con-artist is using the name of Adam Kluger PR or Adam Kluger PR are really bad at marketing themselves." Kluger asked Lambert and Crouse via e-mail and telephone a number of times to remove the post and comment. "Will you please remove the post on your blog? Now a new comment was made basically calling us 'morons,'" he wrote in one of the requests. "When I google the blog or my name, the tag line is 'spammer/con-artist' using the name Adam Kluger PR. Obviously, this is not good for business, and more importantly, I'm quite embarrassed."

Never mind that it was he who first approached them via unsolicited e-mail by using a scraper program that identified them as potential clients for his product placement service. Or that the words he objected to were in readers' comments, not in the original post. Kluger doesn't like the comments and wants them removed from the internet.

The Anti-Advertising Agency declined and has already drawn some attention to the practice of selling space in lyrics to advertisers through its blog. "Maybe Ludacris wants to rap about a luxury SUV, and is just looking for the right one," said Lambert. "We'll never know (everything about) how it works, because that takes the mystique out of it, and the mystique is one of the things that they can sell." But thanks to this e-mail, we at least have proof that the phenomenon is real.

For his part, Kluger claims that product placement can be done in such a way that artistic integrity is not affected. "We are just financially taking care of the people that should be taken care of," he told us via e-mail. "If an artist like Sheryl Crow has the same target audience as XZY brand, we feel it's nothing but a strong and strategic way to pinpoint a market.

"Now, we don't want an artist to write a song specifically to promote a brand, we just feel that if it's a product that's admired by the artist and fits his/her image, we now have the capability of leveling out the playing field and making things financially beneficial for all parties involved. 'Brand-Dropping' is the term that the Kluger Agency coined to describe discreetly advertising by product mentioning in song, and we feel we can make this the way of the future without jeopardizing any artists creative outlet or typical style."

Whether because the Anti-Advertising Agency exposed the practice of product placement in lyrics, because Kluger doesn't like being called a moron on the blogs comments section, or both, he says he's going to sue.

In an e-mail sent to Lambert, he wrote, "$5500 is what it's going to cost me to have an attorney stick you with a $150,000 judgment for the next 20 years. We've consulted with two different firms. This was written with the intent to hurt our business and we will win, period... We will go after Steve Lambert, AntiAdvertisingAgency.com, and Budget Gallery (where Lambert sells his art). Since you are intentionally damaging our California-based agency, you will have the opportunity to defend yourself in the state of California. If you think I'm bluffing, that's fine with me."

Lambert remains unconvinced. "I really don't think there's any way he can win," he told us."I have every right to have that there... Jeff's commentary doesn't say anything about this guy's company, it's just funny. And bloggers aren't responsible for people who write comments -- it would be like holding the New York Times accountable for every letter to the editor ever sent them."

Kluger's angry, litigious reaction to his offer being posted indicates that he knows he's doing something a bit shady. Bands like The Pussycat Dolls don't have much integrity to lose, but we were still sort of surprised to find that they sell elements of their songs to the highest bidder.

What's next, a song called "My Family And I Enjoy McDonalds-Brand Food Products"? A band called "Exxon/Mobil Greatly Benefits All Aspects of The Glorious Environment"?

I appreciate that artists need to embrace a variety of revenue opportunities to make it today, but selling song lyrics seems to go over the line -- assuming there's still such a thing as selling out.

Wired's Interview with Comic Icon Ed Brubaker

Incognito

Comics writer Ed Brubaker has penned iconic titles like Batman, Daredevil, Catwoman, X-Men and more for Marvel and DC Comics alike. Hell, he even tried to kill off Captain America.

He's also mashed noir and superheroes in more than a few works on his extensive comics resume. The Seattle-based writer says he's been into crime and fiction since he was a young punk making life difficult for himself and others.

"I was a juvenile delinquent, basically," Brubaker told Wired.com. "That's where I think it started."

But it looks like his career turnaround is doing just fine, thanks. The Eisner and Ignatz winner's Sleeper series is going wide-screen, with Tom Cruise and Sam Raimi currently attached. Meanwhile, his latest Marvel series, Incognito (pictured), on newsstands Dec. 10, throws a supervillain into the Witness Protection Program.

Brubaker spoke with Wired.com about Incognito, why Batman kicks much ass (and Captain America doesn't) and why noir and comics go together like peanut butter and chocolate.

Wired.com: From slacker detectives to crazy supervillains, where did you get your taste for noir and violence?

Ed Brubaker: I was a juvenile delinquent, basically. That's where I think it started. Although I grew up around old noir films, because my uncle John Paxton was a famous film noir screenwriter, so his movies were always around when I was a kid. But I got in some serious trouble as a kid, and decided to clean up my act. And when I started doing comics, noir always really appealed to me. Reading stories about criminals, I could always see some little part of myself in there, in that desperation that makes you willing to take stupid risks. Thankfully, that guy is a long, long time ago, and far from who I am now.

Wired.com: Any favorite noir flicks or books you always come back to?

Brubaker: I love my uncle's movie, Crossfire, a lot. And Out of the Past and DOA are always great.

Wired.com: Are you a fan of hard-boiled crime writer Jim Thompson?

Brubaker: Yeah, I'm a huge Jim Thompson fan. He was a major influence on my work when I first started. The way he gets into the heads of his main characters, and lets you come along for that ride as they make bad decision after bad decision. The current arc of Criminal "Bad Night" is in some ways a tip of the hat to Thompson and David Goodis, and my friend Jason Starr, who is one of their modern heirs, I think.

Wired.com: Any thoughts on the Batman iteration hitting the malls today?

Brubaker: I think The Dark Knight is one of the best superhero movies ever, honestly. Although, it was about 20 minutes too long. But I couldn't pick the 20 minutes to cut, so what are you going to do?

Wired.com: What did you learn of the character during your time with him, and why do you think he's still such an iconic figure in the 21st century?

Brubaker: Batman is just so primal. He's a revenge fantasy with a cool costume. He's the Shadow with personal grief to overcome. Sometimes I think all good characters can be equated to either Hamlet or Macbeth, and Lady Macbeth even more. And in some ways, Batman is the ultimate Hamlet. My analogy probably doesn't really work, but it's amazing how often you can see it in melodramatic stuff, especially. And I mean that as a compliment.

Wired.com: How about Captain America? What are your thoughts on his transition to the 21st century? Do you think he's an accurate symbol of where America's head is at today?

Brubaker: I think what makes Captain America work in the modern age isn't so much him reflecting where America's at, but in showing where it should be. In my series, I've had Cap quote Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Paine and Dwight Eisenhower, because Captain America isn't some partisan tool. His history as a character since the mid-'60s shows that. He can call a lie a lie, and he doesn't care which side the liar is on. I think the United States really needs an icon without those partisan blinders on right now, more than ever. But you know, with Cap what we've also done is make it feel more like a modern high-tech espionage comic, in many ways. Cap's military/government background is part of what keeps him relevant, too.

Wired.com: Any thoughts on changing his color if Obama wins? It's been done before.

Brubaker: I'll be so happy when Obama wins that you never know what I'll do.

Incognito_01_teaser1

Wired.com: Let's rap about Incognito. It seems like an antiheroic narrative.

Brubaker: I agree and disagree, actually. Incognito is about a bad guy forced to pretend to be good, forced to take pills that make him feel normal, and to live in the world of the people who were like ants to him before. And while it begins very antihero, the arc of our main character is something very different. It's about identity and morality on a few levels, as well as this twisted noir supervillain explodo fantasy. I described it earlier as a dark exploration into the nature of good. I think it explores some things about heroes and villains that we've never seen before in comics.

Wired.com: Noir and comics go together like peanut butter and chocolate.

Brubaker: I think noir and comics really do go together, yeah. I think the use of close-ups and angles and shadows in noir is really influential to modern comics in general. They taught guys like Eisner and Toth and Johnny Craig how to establish mood on the page.

Wired.com: But villains have been the heroes for awhile now, so how do you keep it fresh?

Brubaker: I think it's always about finding the right angle into any character. Incognito began with me wanting to try something I hadn't seen -- the story of a bad man who begins doing good things, but for the wrong reason -- and to see how that would affect his life and his view of himself. A huge supervillain revenge story unfolded around that, and this character began growing in my mind, and telling me who he was and why he was in Witness Protection. I think as long as you have a strong central character, that's really the most important thing.

Wired.com: It seems like the first thing you do is admit that originality is impossible.

Brubaker: A long time ago, the great comics writer and editor Archie Goodwin told me there are only five or six stories in the world. Originality is overrated. It's how you tell those stories that makes yours different. That's always stuck with me.

Incognito_01_teaser2

Images courtesy Marvel Comics

Bugatti Possibly Building 264 mph Super Veyron

The Bugatti Veyron is the world's most expensive production car and the most exclusive thing on four wheels. But with a top speed of "just" 253 mph, it's not quite the fastest car on Earth. The Shelby Supercars Ultimate Aero snatched that title from the Veyron a year ago. It appears Bugatti wants it back and figures boosting the Veyron's power by 349 horsepower ought to do the trick.

The gearheads at German car blog 925 got their hands on a juicy Bugatti memo that purportedly spells out the specs of a new super car. It's called the Veyron GT. It's got a mind-blowing 1,350 horsepower. And it could be here in March.

Then again, it might be a rumor. Bugatti isn't saying anything about it -- we asked, and the company flak was pretty snarky in saying, "We don't comment on every rumor wandering around in the internet." Either way, the guys at SSC have one thing to say to Bugatti if the memo's legit:

Bring it on.

We know what you're thinking, because we thought the same thing -- how many variants is Bugatti gonna milk out of the Veyron before reaching the self-imposed limit of 300 cars? First there was the Pur Sang, which means pure blood. Then the fashionistas at Hermes brought us a tarted-up model. And then the Veyron went topless at Pebble Beach. Each deviation allowed Bugatti to up the ante on exclusivity and, of course, price. The Pur Sang edition, for instance, demanded hundreds of thousands more for what was essentially aesthetic modifications. That didn't keep the limited run of five -- yes, five -- cars from selling out in 24 hours. To date, 240 deep-pocketed people have ordered a Veyron.

And now there's the Veyron GT. Maybe. According to a "leaked memo" 925 says an internal source at Bugatti handed them, the GT absolutely, positively will be the last variant before the Veyron jersey is hung from the rafters. The alleged memo, which reads to us a lot like a press release and leaves us a bit skeptical as to its origin, spells out what makes the GT different from the 1,001-horsepower Veyron. Unlike the previous limited-edition variants, the GT gets 35 percent more power and enough top-end power to push terminal velocity up 4 percent to 264 mph.

Should the Veyron GT pan out, 1,350 horsepower and 264 mph would, at first blush, look like more than enough to once again make the Veyron the world's fastest production car. It held that title until the guys at SSC took their 1,183-horsepower twin-turbo Ultimate Aero to a long stretch of road in Washington and blew the doors off the Veyron with a top speed of 257.41 mph. They aren't worried about losing the title to a new super Bugatti should one materialize. The way they see it, the Ultimate Aero was just getting warmed up.

"When the Ultimate Aero broke the top speed record, it wasn't maxed out -- we simply ran out of road", says marketing chief Junus Khan. "There is still more on the table and we are prepared to defend the record. We are also eager to go head to head with anyone in an ideal location like a proving ground."

Like, say, the sprawling track at Ehra Lessien that Bugatti's parent, Volkswagen, uses. The main straight is 5.59 miles long. SSC figures that's long enough to see what the Ultimate Aero can do against anything Bugatti's got to offer.

Thanks to Chilean Gaffe, Saab 9-4X Revealed


SANTIAGO, Chile — Thanks to Saab Chile — and eagle-eyed Webmeisters — we now have a few more details on the upcoming 2010 Saab 9-4X.

The Chilean subsidiary of General Motors' Swedish arm posted images and specs on the 9-4X months ahead of the crossover's launch before pulling the information, presumably at the parent's behest.

Fortunately, a number of Web sites, including Saab History, managed to download much of the pertinent data, which we share with you here.

According to the now-deleted spec sheet, the 9-4X will feature a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, delivering 245 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque and mated to a six-speed Sentronic automatic gearbox with push-button gear selection. Zero-to-60-mph acceleration is estimated at less than 6.4 seconds, with top speed limited to 155 mph. Fuel economy is projected at 25 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway.

Other features include intelligent all-wheel drive with an electronic limited-slip differential, electronic stability program, traction control, corner braking control, passive rear-wheel steering, rear parking assist, 245/55R-21 tires, leather upholstery, automatic climate control, a cooled glovebox and a full complement of airbags.

The Chilean price, including tax, was listed at the equivalent of $66,000.

From other industry sources, we know that the 9-4X will share GM's TE compact crossover platform with the new Cadillac SRX and next-generation Saturn Vue, and we know it will be assembled in Mexico — a first for the brand.

Look for the car's official debut in November at the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show.

Mayday! Mayday! How to Land a Plane in an Emergency

maydaymayday Mayday! Mayday! How to Land a Plane in an Emergency

Image by Martin Hartland

We’ve all had the thought cross our mind while flying, “What if the pilot(s) somehow became incapacitated and I had to land this thing? What would I do?” Or maybe more timely for today’s world, “What if a terrorist takes over the plane and I have to save the day by knocking him out with a Chuck Norris-style thump to the head?”

You’re a hero, boo-yah! But, if the pilot’s unconscious, you may have to get the plane on the ground. Relax, it’s not as hard as it looks and if you follow a few simple steps you’ll be on the ground safely and in one piece for your press conference and hero shots.

Maintain Aircraft Control (Straight and Level)

2352334732_6b07d340ae Mayday! Mayday! How to Land a Plane in an Emergency

When you first arrive in the cockpit take the left seat if possible, this is generally where the Captain or Aircraft Commander sits and often has easier access to some of the instruments you’ll need to fly. However, the majority of dual seat aircraft can be flown from either side.

As soon as you sit down take a deep breath and look outside to see if the aircraft is in a dive (you see more ground in the windscreen than sky), climb, turn, etc. If it appears to be straight and level then don’t touch the flight controls, the autopilot is most likely on and there’s no need to interfere. If, however, the airplane is racing towards the ground or in a steep turn, then you need to use the stick or yoke (pilot speak for steering wheel) to bring it back to wings level flight. Just like in the video games, you pull back on the yoke to make it climb, push forward to make it descend, and turn it right or left to turn.

2064910616_b462c1db29 Mayday! Mayday! How to Land a Plane in an Emergency

If you are in the clouds and can’t tell the attitude of the aircraft, then it will be necessary to use the attitude indicator, also referred to as the artificial horizon. This is an instrument that gives a representation of the aircraft in relation to the ground and sky. If you’re on a jet of some sort, chances are high that it will be displayed on the screen directly in front of you. The “w” shape in the middle represents the wings of the aircraft, the brown represents ground and the blue represents sky. So if you see half brown, half blue it means you are in level flight which is what you want. If you see anything else, then make corrections with the stick as necessary to line up the wings of the aircraft with the horizon line.

Make a Radio Call

captsidewall Mayday! Mayday! How to Land a Plane in an Emergency

After you have the aircraft under control, the next step is to contact Air Traffic Control (ATC) over the radio to explain the situation and ask for help. The majority of aircrafts have a radio mic switch on the yoke on the back where your index finger would rest when you grasped it normally. The problem is that the autopilot disconnect switch is often placed on the yoke as well and without proper knowledge of the autopilot system, an inadvertent disconnect of the autopilot could result in a major disaster. A safer alternative is using the hand-held radio normally mounted to the left of the pilot’s seat just below the side window. Use it just like you would use a CB radio, push to talk and release to listen.

Try making a call on the radio frequency currently selected and see if you get a response. Say “Mayday” and state who you are and what has happened. Don’t worry about radio etiquette, it’s an emergency so just use plain English and tell them you don’t know what you’re doing and need some help, but don’t sound too panicked. You’re a man after all and completely in control of the situation.

After talking, remember to release the mic button to listen. If no one responds, try changing the VHF radio frequency to 121.5 MHz (this is known as “Guard” and is monitored by everyone). The radio unit will normally be located on the center pedestal in between the pilot’s and co-pilot’s seats or directly in front of you on the center panel.

Do What They Tell You

Just like in the movies, what happens next is various agencies will be notified of your emergency and they will find someone who is an expert for your plane to walk you through getting it on the ground. They will know the cockpit layout and be able to tell you where a button or switch is located and what you need to do with it. They will also be working in conjunction with ATC to navigate you to an airport where you will be able to land. As long as you follow their instructions to the letter everything should turn out just fine. You may not have the prettiest landing, but you’ll survive.

Get It on the Ground

16092172_db17936603 Mayday! Mayday! How to Land a Plane in an Emergency

The reality is that many of today’s jets are fully-automated and have the capability to land themselves or at least get you lined up on the runway center line on a proper glide path so that you can take over at 50-100 feet off the ground. All you will have to manually do is:

  • Flare (pull up slightly on the stick just prior to touchdown so the main gear hit first)
  • Fly the nosewheel to the ground (push the stick forward until the front touches down)
  • Pull the throttles all the way back
  • Step on the brakes which are located on the tops of the rudder pedals down by your feet.
  • If you find yourself veering off the runway then lightly step on the rudder pedals to steer yourself back to centerline.

You’ve landed! It’s incredible; you’re now the hero of the day, congratulations! Now before you go patting yourself on the back in your imaginary scenario, here are a few additional things to consider:

2341440460_c9694c6795 Mayday! Mayday! How to Land a Plane in an Emergency

Notes, Warnings, Cautions

  • Getting the landing gear down before landing is obviously a key part of the process, but has been forgotten by countless pilots. The gear handle is almost always located just to the right of the center console on the front instrument panel, basically just above the left knee of the co-pilot if he were sitting there.
  • 2185080208_81d644ba24 Mayday! Mayday! How to Land a Plane in an Emergency

  • In order to slow the aircraft to land you must employ various drag devices such as slats (normally only in very large aircraft) and flaps. These allow the airplane to maintain lift at slower airspeeds and allow you to keep the attitude level during a descent. These are generally found right next to the throttles.
  • Slats, flaps, and landing gear all have a max speed at which they can be deployed. It’s not the end of the world if you overspeed them in an emergency situation, but it should be avoided. If you aren’t in communication with someone that can help, look on the dash for a placard with the speeds, or a card with TOLD (takeoff and landing data).
  • If you can find the airspeed indicator make sure that you keep it within the green arc while flying. Just like anything in life, green is good, yellow means caution and red means dead. If you get too slow you will lose lift and stall the aircraft (trust me, this is bad and if you’re not a pilot, you probably won’t make it).
  • If you’re flying a commercial jet like a 737, a good rule of thumb is to keep it flying at about 200 knots if you don’t have flaps or gear extended, and 130 knots once you do and are making the approach to land. A smaller plane like a Cessna is stable on approach at speeds closer to 70 knots. Of course, if you’re talking to ATC ask them how fast you should go and they’ll hopefully be able to tell you.

2348405194_a6bc108a55 Mayday! Mayday! How to Land a Plane in an Emergency

Teppanyaki...food first..





Poolside Pong

Poolside Pong is the ultimate year round inflatable beer pong table!

What is Poolside Pong?We've taken America's favorite drinking game and made it better than ever. Poolside Pong is the only year round inflatable beer pong table that has all the features of traditional beer pong and more!

Its unique and portable design allows you to bring beer pong out of homes and dorms and into pools, lakes, beaches and tailgate parties. Poolside Pong is the ultimate year round accessory that no party should be without!


Awaiting the Google Phone


Credit: Technology Review

In New York next week, Google and T-Mobile will unveil the long-awaited Google Phone. The device, made by the Taiwanese cell-phone company HTC, is expected to have a large touch screen, a QWERTY keypad, and a 3.1-megapixel camera, among other features. More significant than the gadget itself, however, is the software that it contains: a cell-phone operating system developed by Google called Android.

Google released Android in November 2007, at the same time founding the Open Handset Alliance--a consortium of hardware, software, and telecommunications companies charged with producing open standards for mobile gadgets. In developing Android, Google's goal has been simple: to revolutionize the mobile phone as we know it.

For programmers, Android is a big deal. Other cell-phone operating systems, such as Windows Mobile and Symbian, are notoriously tricky to write programs for and sometimes limit access to the underlying hardware, such as the camera or GPS chip. In contrast, Android has been designed to make it simple to build applications, and it gives programmers free rein over a phone's hardware.

Just ask Jasper Lin, who codeveloped an application that recently won $275,000 in a Google-backed Android competition. Lin's team, called Locale, wrote software that automatically changes a phone's settings, such as its ring volume, depending on the time of day, the user's location, and the events in her calendar. "Android is a really great platform from a developer's perspective," says Lin. "I've developed for Symbian, and that was quite arduous at times."

Although Android is not completely open source (the entire source code is expected to be released later this year), Lin says that it already gives developers much greater access to hardware than other devices do.

But for the average cell-phone user, the significance of Google's first phone may depend more on whether HTC's device is slicker and more desirable than other smart phones out there. Jack Gold, founding analyst of Jack Gold Associates, believes that the first Android phones will inevitably be compared to the iPhone and that they may fail to measure up. "All indications right now are that [the HTC device] is not another iPhone and that it's not going to take the market by storm," he says.

And first impressions will be vital, he believes. "If the first set of devices are not hits, will there be a second set? Mobile vendors and manufactures are not all that healthy. Most aren't making a whole lot of money."

Over the long term, however, the success of Android will also depend on the quality of its applications. And with a project as widely distributed as Android, the question of quality control--making sure that third-party applications work well and aren't malicious--arises. The iPhone App Store solves this problem by vetting each application as it comes in. Android's model, however, is more of a free-for-all, says Lin.

People who download Android applications will be able to try them out on their phone and then vote--on whether or not they work well or drain the phone's battery, for instance. "You give [users] the power, and the apps that don't work will be voted down," Lin says. This is an incentive for him to write Locale in a way that makes it extremely power efficient.

But whether this approach also translates into better applications remains to be seen, and this could be all-important. "It's not about what's powering the device," says Gold. "It's about what the device can empower a consumer to do."

Clean Coal Debuts in Germany


Clean coal: The Vattenfall pilot plant in eastern Germany is the first coal-fired power plant to capture and store its carbon-dioxide emissions. The pilot plant, which has a thermal capacity of 30 megawatts, cost roughly 70 million euros. A larger demonstration-scale plant is scheduled for operation by 2015.
Credit: Vattenfall

It used to be called stinky town, because the pollution from burning dirty coal was so appalling. But now, if a new pilot plant works, Spremberg, in eastern Germany, could become the birthplace of a clean-coal revolution.

Earlier this month, the world's first coal-fired power plant designed to capture and store carbon dioxide that it produces began operations in Spremberg. The pilot plant has been built at a power station that, under Communist rule last century, used to belch out clouds of sulfurous smoke from burning brown coal, or lignite. "Industrial history is being written," says Tuomo Hatakka, chair of the European board of Vattenfall, the Swedish power company behind the new plant. Indeed, the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is seen by many experts as essential to help the world cut carbon-dioxide emissions in coal-fired power stations.

Vattenfall's small 30-megawatt plant burns the lignite in air from which nitrogen has been removed. Combustion in the resulting oxygen-rich atmosphere produces a waste stream of carbon dioxide and water vapor, three-quarters of which is recycled back into the boiler.

By repeating this process, known as oxyfuel, it is possible to greatly concentrate the carbon dioxide. After particles and sulfur have been removed, and water vapor has been condensed out, the waste gas can be 98 percent carbon dioxide, according to Vattenfall.

The separated carbon dioxide will be cooled down to -28 °C and liquefied. Starting next year, the plan is to transport it by truck 150 miles northwest, to be injected 3,000 meters underground into a depleted inland gas field in Altmark. Ideally, in the future, the gas will be carried by pipeline to underground storage, says Vattenfall.

Compressing and transporting the carbon dioxide takes energy, as does the initial extraction of nitrogen. So these processes reduce the overall efficiency of the plant, although Vattenfall is attempting to counter this by investigating ways of boosting the efficiency of the boiler--by predrying the coal, for example.

The aim, according to the company's vice president, Lars Strömberg, is to develop a power plant with "almost zero" pollution. He says that achieving no emissions will be impossible, "but we will come very, very close to this target."

In an initial three-year testing program, the Schwarze Pumpe pilot plant is expected to assess how components function together and exactly what proportion of carbon dioxide can actually be separated. Using the information gained, Vattenfall plans to scale up to a 300-to-500-megawatt demonstration plant by 2015 and to 1,000-megawatt commercial plants after 2020.



Capturing carbon: The Vattenfall coal-fired power plant uses oxygen and a series of steps to recycle the carbon dioxide. The result is a highly concentrated carbon-dioxide waste stream that makes it easier to capture the emissions.
Credit: www.kjell-design.com

The opening of the plant divided environmental groups in Europe. Some regard CCS technology as a potentially valuable weapon in the battle against climate change, while others see it as an expensive distraction from the pursuit of cleaner renewable-energy technologies.

But the plant was greeted warmly by CCS specialists. For Stuart Haszeldine, a geologist from the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, it was "a very welcome, and tangible, statement that CCS can be made to work." The European Union wants a further 10 to 15 CCS plants in operation by 2015, he points out.

"Only by actually building plants like this can poorly known costs and risks be better understood and enable the routine deployment of CCS, which so many politicians and energy analysts perceive to be essential for climate cleanup," says Haszeldine. "This is the first; the world now needs lots more."

Oxyfuel is one of three possible CCS technologies. Another uses a scrubbing process to try to capture carbon dioxide in the flue gases emitted after coal has been burned in a conventional power plant. The third involves gasifying the coal, creating hydrogen for generating electricity and carbon monoxide, from which carbon dioxide can be formed and separated.

According to Howard Herzog, a chemical engineer at MIT Laboratory for Energy and the Environment and manager of MIT's carbon-sequestration

initiative, it's too soon to say which of the clean-coal technologies will be the best. The opening of the oxyfuel plant--which he attended in Germany--was "exciting" because it represented "a significant step forward in developing CCS technology," he says. "Vattenfall's pilot plant will not only develop oxyfuel combustion technology; it will also provide critical information on the potential of oxyfuel combustion as a CO2-capture technology.

50 Incredible Hollywod Film Posters ... From Poland


My jaw nearly hit the floor when a coworker introduced me to the wonderful world of Polish film posters a couple of years ago. These conceptual masterpieces put the original American posters to shame every time; they are truly beautiful works of art. Trimming this list down to a mere 50 posters that I absolutely love was surprisingly difficult.

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THE INCREDIBLY RARE FERRARI 456 VENICE STATION WAGON

LONDON///KUSTOM KULTURE///SPOTTED

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The Ferrari you can pick the kids up in…

As if the mass of ridiculously expensive DAMIEN HIRST art baubles inside SOTHEBY’S auction house in London weren’t enough to satiate our optic nerves, this not-for-sale little piece of eye candy just happened to be parked on the street outside to blow our little mind. The automobile in question is the incredibly rare FERRARI 456 VENICE STATION WAGON, a painfully limited-edition vehicle designed and built by Ferrari styling house PININFARINA for the royal family of the SULTANATE OF BRUNEI. Featuring four doors, a proper backseat, a hatchback, and a 20 cm longer wheelbase, this vehicle is similar in size to a BMW 5 series wagon with all the styling and cylindrical ferocity of a dancing horse. This is art on wheels. HAVE A LOOK:

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Beware of cute ducking scam

America's 10 Most Stressful Cities












Forbes magazine has put together a list of America's most stressful cities and as a product of Chicago, the winner of the dubious distinction of being America's most stressful city, I have this to say: "Yeah, so? Shut up and let me eat my hot dog in peace for once, goddamn it. No, I'm not yelling. Why are you always saying that I'm yelling? It's not like you never yell! Pass the sport peppers before this gets ugly."

Without further ado...

America's Most Stressful Cities:

10. Philadelphia, PA

9. Providence, R.I.

8. Salt Lake City, Utah

7. Cleveland, Ohio

6. San Diego, Calif.

5. San Francisco, Calif.

4. Los Angeles, Calif.

3. Detroit, Mich.

2. New York, N.Y.

1. Chicago, Ill.

The magazine considered unemployment rate, expensive gas, high population density and relatively poor air quality as its criteria for what made one city more stressful than another.

Chicago has a 7.3% unemployment rate, the eighth most polluted air in our ranking and in city where everybody drives to get around, a gallon of gas costs a nickel under $4 dollars.


The Internet of the Future

Internet Users in Beijing: Photo by state.gov

What is the Internet? Seems simple, but in truth that's an increasingly loaded question; one that we can answer only by bringing our own cultural values and historical background to the table.

In short, as long as we're working from the same baseline, we're good. Add an alternate set of norms into the experience and the definition grows messier. Add in a different language (with its linguistic consequences), platform, or even pay scheme and the idea of a singular Internet becomes unattainable. So where does that leave those of us hoping to understand the future of the Internet.

This is what Genevieve Bell is muddling over.

This afternoon, Bell, an anthropologist at Intel, outlined some of the challenges facing users and developers as the Internet grows in its reach, sophistication and speed without abandoning its most basic cultural markers.

Confused? Try this:

In July, Chinese mainland users overtook Americans for the first time. As Bell notes, "this is a trend unlikely to reverse." Most of those users are launching sites or posting content or sharing information in Mandarin—a language that, like any, has a set of signifiers unique to it. In this case, says Bell, "it's a language highly oriented to subtexts and interstices." The unsaid in an article speaks volumes about the topic.

As English speakers, how can hope we bridge this gap? Given how rarely a translation service works on a basic level (I'm looking at you, Babel Fish), making one that can understand the value of contextualization must be nearly impossible. When you unpack even the simplest and most ingrained of words (surfing the net, information superhighway) and discover that a whole slew of cultural history went into your being able to understand these metaphors, can Internet across the globe ever be a connector? That is our challenge.

Poop Power

Llama: Photo by law_keven (CC Licensed)

Will Brinton, the founder of Woods End Laboratories, a bioenergy consultancy, predicts a future without landfills. Instead we’ll use table scraps and sewage to power our homes. Just dump the waste into a household digester, and bacteria will break it down and release the natural gas methane. Farms could sell their copious poop-based energy supplies back to the grid. But how much energy do animals yield? We ran the numbers and found that you might want to consider a pet elephant.

MANURE MAKER DAILY OUTPUT METHANE YIELD POOP POWER
Elephant 200 pounds 230 feet3/day 39 kilowatts*
Cow 120 95 16
Llama 16 18 3
Pig 2.5 3 0.5
Dog 0.75 1 0.2
Chicken 0.2 0.3 0.05

*The average U.S. household consumes 30 kilowatts a day.

Ferrari Enzo Successor Specs Leaked

We’ve already reported on sightings of development mules apparently being used to test the engine for Ferrari’s Enzo successor, but now a leaked internal memo has apparently given some details about the new car.

The memo first appeared on a Ferrari fan forum, and although it’s authenticity hasn’t been confirmed, it appears to have been sent from company president Luca di Montezemolo to Ferrari’s Chinese importer.

It is written in English and confirms that the new car, still codenamed “FX150” will have 794hp and use a mid-mounted turbocharged V8 engine. The 0-62 mph time is

claimed to be just 2.7 seconds, while the top speed is quoted at 390km/h: a cool 242mph.

The memo says that the car will use an all-carbonfiber body and chassis, keeping weight down to just 1.3 tons, and will have a seven-speed “Superfast” gearbox capable of changing gear in just 50 milliseconds. It concludes by estimating that the price will be in the region of 1.3 million Euros (over 2 million dollars), and that the car will go on sale “circa 2009”.

Is it genuine? If not, it’s a very convincing forgery – and with specs as impressive as these we hope it’s the real deal.

Laetitia Casta Nude In French Elle



It’s Friday, end of the week for most working and college going folks. High time for a bit of a pick me up in the form of Laetitia Casta doing it topless for the French Elle. I’m guessing you would.

Hellboy as a girl!!


Absinthe Deemed Safe, So We Reveal Other Dangerous Drinks


Absinthe recently returned to America after being banned for nearly a century. But thanks to a restriction on the level of the chemical thujone, there's pretty much no possibility of enjoying the drink's legendary psychedelic properties.

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Michael Lohan to Barack Obama: Let go of Lindsay's past


Well, you knew this had to happen.

Michael Lohan says Barack Obama is like the pot calling the kettle black.

This week, he reacted to Barack Obama's rumored refusal of Lindsay Lohan's offer to do a fundraiser for him.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Barack's camp felt that her Hollywood party girl reputation would not be helpful to his campaign.

"For Barack Obama to condemn my daughter for past indiscretions when he admitted to the exact same himself is indicative of what kind of president he would be," Michael Lohan told Fox's News Pop Tarts via e-mail on Wednesday night.

"His visions of a positive future for this country should be representative of a positive future for people as well. It is looking beyond the difficult times and letting go of the past. Obviously, Obama can do this for himself and not others, when in fact a good president should have hope for all."

Let's face it, Michael Lohan will use any excuse and any event in his estranged daughter's life to offer his opinion, grandstand and further embarrass the girl. But maybe this time he has a point.

What do you think?

Does Barack's admitted wild teenage drug and alcohol use mean that he should not judge LIndsay Lohan so harshly, if indeed, he actually did?

Photos: WireImage

Stocks Surge 400 on Gov't Bailout Plans

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Stocks surged Friday morning as investors hailed news that the federal government is working on a plan to help take the bulk of the credit crunch burden off banks.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) added 404 points, or 3.7% at the open. The Standard & Poor's 500 (SPX) index jumped over 4%. The Nasdaq composite (COMP) gained nearly 5%.

Small cap stocks jumped too, with the Russell 2000 (RUT) up 4%.

Late Thursday, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congressional leaders that they are ready to establish a program that would let banks get rid of mortgage-related assets that are hard to value and harder to trade.

The Treasury Department said Friday it would insure money market mutual funds for finance firms that pay a fee to participate in this temporary program.

Financial stocks surged, with Morgan Stanley (MS, Fortune 500) up 31% and Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500) up 25%. The two companies have been in focus over the last few days as investors have worried about their ability to hold up in the current financial environment. Washington Mutual (WM, Fortune 500), another name that has caused worry, gained 41%.

Also lifting futures was an announcement by the Securities and Exchange Commission that it was halting short-selling in financial firms to try and help restore confidence in the markets.

Art Hogan, chief market strategist for Jefferies & Co., said the short-selling ban is a good short-term plan for helping the hard-hit finance companies pull out of their slump, while the plan for getting rid of mortgage-related assets is good for the markets on a long-term basis.

"The longer-term plan is sort of a central clearing house where [the banks and finance firms] can clear some of the bad debt that's hard to trade," said Hogan. "That's really been a drag on the market."

"Whether it's tangible or emotional, we're getting markets back up to where they should be," he added.

On Thursday, stocks staged a late-session rally, with the Dow surging 410 points, or 3.9%, as speculation about the government bailout swirled.

Company news: Late Thursday, Oracle (ORCL, Fortune 500) reported higher quarter earnings that beat estimates, on higher revenue that missed estimates.

Fuel prices: Oil prices rallied in the early going, with U.S. light crude oil for October delivery up $5.22 to $103.10 a barrel.

Oil prices had been plummeting since peaking at $147.27 a barrel on July 11, as investors bet that sluggish global growth will diminish oil demand. But over the last few sessions, prices have been bouncing back.

COMEX gold for December delivery fell $30.50 per ounce to $866.50 after jumping over $116 per ounce over the last two sessions..

Other markets: In global trade, European markets surged in afternoon trade and Asian markets rallied.

Treasury prices tumbled as investors pulled money out of the safe-haven investment and poured it into stocks. The slump boosted the yield on the benchmark 10-year note to 3.78% from 3.54% late Thursday. Treasury prices and yields move in opposite directions.

In currency trading, the dollar fell against the euro and gained against the yen.

The Volt Isn't A Prius. It Might Even Be Better

By Chuck Squatriglia Email

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The Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius look a lot alike, but they are fundamentally different cars that blaze separate paths toward the inevitable electrification of the automobile. And while the Prius is the world's most-popular hybrid and the poster child for green(er) motoring, the Volt is more technologically advanced.  

The Prius, like the Honda Civic Hybrid and the forthcoming Insight, is a parallel hybrid that uses both an electric motor and a gasoline engine to drive the wheels. It is designed to deliver optimal fuel economy at low speed or in stop-and-go traffic, when the electric motor does all the work. At highway speeds, it's just another fossil-fuel burner, albeit one that gets 45 mpg and emits less CO2 than almost anything else on the road.

The Volt, which General Motors finally unveiled Tuesday, is a series hybrid, also called a range-extended electric vehicle. Like the Prius, it's got an electric motor and a gasoline engine, but the engine merely charges the battery as it approaches depletion. Electricity alone turns the 17-inch wheels. The Volt is designed to travel 40 miles on a single charge of its lithium-ion battery, meaning most drivers will never burn a drop of gasoline.

Assuming it works, of course.   

GM is confident it will, and it's given 700 people -- many of them veterans of the groundbreaking EV1 electric car GM unceremoniously killed in 1994 2003 -- a blank check to make sure the Volt is in showrooms by the end of 2010. The company reportedly will spend $400 to $500 million on the project during the next two years. "We can do anything we want to make this happen," Andrew Farah, the Volt's chief engineer and a veteran of the EV1, tells us. Many industry analysts and battery experts say it'll be close, but GM almost certainly will meet that deadline.

"GM is staking its reputation on the Volt working and it's spent a lot of money to make sure it will work," says Mike Omotoso of JD Power & Associates. "I think they'll be able to mass produce them by 2010."

The heart of the car is a T-shaped 16-kilowatt-hour battery comprised of 220 lithium-ion cells and a 111-kilowatt (150-horsepower) electric motor good for a top speed of 100 mph. GM says the drivetrain will produce acceleration similar to that of a V-6 engine. The goal is to get the battery down to 396 pounds and no more than 64-inches long and 33 1/2-inches wide across the top of the "T." That's light-years ahead of the similarly shaped lead-acid battery that powered the earliest EV1s; it weighed 1,200 pounds and was 92.5-inches long. The Volt's battery will run the length of the cabin, taking up the space beneath the center console and the rear seat.

GM is testing batteries around-the-clock at labs in Michigan and Detroit, where engineers have as many as 40 battery packs on test rigs that measure life-cycle depletion rates, thermal behavior and load performance. "Extreme cold temperature and battery life are the biggest challenges," Denise Gray, director of advanced battery technology, says. The objective is to build a battery that works as well in Nome, Alaska or Flagstaff, Arizona as it does in the lab -- and is good for 150,000 miles. "It's a high hurdle to clear," Gray concedes. "Maximum" Bob Lutz, VP of global development for GM and the guy cracking the whip to keep the Volt on schedule, says the batteries are performing "flawlessly" and "it's almost scary that we aren't seeing any problems with them." GM is testing batteries from LG Chem/Compact Power and A123 Systems/Continental, and Lutz says the company's decided who'll get the contract but won't announce it until the end of the year.

General Motors wants the Volt to recharge in eight hours using a standard 120-volt wall outlet or three hours with a 240. Of course, that won't do you any good if you're miles from home when the batteries are winding down. At that point, the Volt's 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine kicks on, powering a 53-kilowatt generator that will keep the battery going. The original plan called for a 1-liter three-cylinder turbocharged engine, but GM went with the four because it's lighter and simpler. "To be honest with you, we've got enough technology in the Volt," says Micky Bly, director of hybrid drivetrain engineering. "We don't need the added complexity of a turbocharger."

Bly says the engine will produce less than 100 kilowatts (134 horsepower) but promises that's enough to do the job. And because the engine drives a generator that will run at a constant speed, the power band can be optimized for maximum fuel efficiency and lowest emissions. "We can run it in the sweet spot at all times," he says. Just how sweet that spot is remains to be seen, because GM isn't saying what kind of fuel economy or emissions we'll see from the Volt, although 50 mpg has been mentioned.

The engine will not fully charge the battery. Instead, it will keep the battery in what Farah calls "charge sustaining mode" at about 30 percent of its capacity, providing enough juice to keep the car going. The idea, like so much of the technology in the Volt, was born of the EV1. Engineers testing the EV1 in the early 1990s needed a way to keep its battery charged as they racked up miles on the track. They fashioned a generator from a snowmobile engine strapped to a trailer towed behind the car. Farah thought it was a great way to improve the EV1's range, and some of the engineers urged GM to incorporate it into the car.

If it had, what was the EV1 might have been the Volt.

Photo by General Motors.

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