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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dodge Unleashes SRT10 Challenger

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Scion may be toying around with such things as vehicles with dog beds and shower stalls as it gets ready for the 2008 SEMA show. But Dodge is adopting a more classic approach, dropping the Dodge Viper's 8.4-liter V10 into the Challenger and unleashing the potent 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT10 Concept.

The Viper's influences on Challenger continue to be exerted on both the production and concept level. The 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT8, for instance, can be ordered with the six-speed manual transmission first offered on the 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10. The new SEMA-bound Challenger concept not only gets the Viper's V10, which churns out 600 horsepower and 560 pound-feet of torque, it also gets the Viper's red engine start push button on the dash.

Other SEMA-worthy touches on the Challenger concept are "Tornado Red" exterior paint and a carbon fiber deck lid and hood. "The ‘shaker hood' is a nostalgic representation of the 1970 Hemi 'Cuda, giving the 600-hp Viper V10 engine room to breathe," said Dodge in a statement. The cabin has sport seats and carbon fiber accents.

The Challenger concept raises even bigger questions, given the fact that Chrysler is shopping the Viper brand to potential suitors. It appears that the Challenger is poised to become Chrysler's halo car after the Viper era here ends. At the very least, the Challenger concept looks to be one of the show stoppers at the fall aftermarket event.

Inside Line says: The mighty Challenger continues to grow in stature and importance for Dodge, since this may be the final SEMA show for Viper as a Dodge brand.

Big Two in the Making?

Big Three Bosses

General Ford? Chrysler Motors? How about we just merge all three big U.S. automakers into one, call it GMCF and be done with it?

A flurry of news reports this weekend said General Motors Corp. has held talks recently with Chrysler and Ford about a merger, and yet others said Ford is thinking of selling its one-third share of Mazda to shore up its financial position. Given the turmoil in the stock and credit markets these days, there seems to be strong incentives to arrange some kind of corporate marriage or major asset sale -- and almost as many barriers.

Sources at the automakers confirmed on Friday night and Saturday that talks between GM, Chrysler and Ford had occurred, but would not describe them as anything more than preliminary. The talks between Ford and GM, a source said, were not merger-oriented; rather they focused on an alliance or other partnership, and in any event have broken off.

Officially, both Chrysler and General Motors released statements acknowledging efforts to explore new business opportunities, but neither would confirm specific talks of a tie-up with the other.

"We frequently have conversations with other automakers on subjects of mutual interest," said GM spokesman Tony Cervone. "That is not related to this particular rumor, which we are not, as a matter of policy, confirming or denying." The lead spokesperson at Chrysler made a similar statement. "The company is looking at a number of potential global partnerships as it explores growth opportunities around the world," Lori McTavish said. "Beyond those partnerships already announced, however, Chrysler has not formed any new agreements and has no further announcements to make at this time."

One scenario has GM, the largest U.S. automaker, taking control of No. 3 Chrysler, giving the combined entity roughly 35% of the U.S. market while providing possibilities of significant cost savings for the automakers.

Another possibility would have ...

GM trade its 49% stake in GMAC for Chrysler. Chrysler's parent, Cerberus Capital Management, already owns 51% of GMAC, which is GM's lending arm. A source familiar with General Motors downplayed the chances of such a swap, suggesting it would be overly favorable to the private equity firm.

GM sold the majority stake in the automotive and mortgage lender to a consortium led by Cerberus in late 2006 for $7.9 billion. Cerberus acquired 80.1% of Chrysler from German automaker Daimler in August 2007.

All three U.S. automakers have run into financial difficulties amid the current economic downturn. Rising gas prices and sinking consumer confidence have hurt the entire industry. For GM, Ford and Chrysler, lineups heavy on unpopular trucks and SUVs have pushed down sales even faster than most rivals. Through September, GM's sales are down nearly 18% compared to last year, Ford's are off 17%, and Chrysler's sales have decreased 25%.

Questions about liquidity have plagued GM and Ford since the spring. GM is burning through roughly $1 billion per month, eating heavily into its reserves, which stood at $21 billion at the end of the second quarter; Ford's cash stockpile weighed in at $26 billion at the end of June.

This week, renewed doubts about sales and cash supplies drove shares of GM down to 58-year lows, reaching as low as $4.76 on Thursday and putting the company's market capitalization under $3 billion, while Ford dropped to $1.99 on Friday, its lowest level since 1982.

Chrysler executives have repeatedly said the company is meeting the expectations of managers at Cerberus, but have not specified what those are. Over the summer, Chrysler was unable to find sufficient funding for a major credit facility is hoped to renew. That, combined with huge declines in residual values of its vehicles, forced Chrysler to abandon automotive leasing.

Word of conversations between GM and Ford illustrate the pressures all three automakers are facing. With limited access to capital on the open market, terribly weak September sales, and increasingly negative assessments from Wall Street, the Big Three would appear to be considering all options at this point.

Although sources suggest that talks between the two giants stopped short of a merger, a working alliance between the two would be a significant break from nearly a century of rivalry. A potential sale of highly profitable Mazda underscores the seriousness of Ford's cash situation. Earlier this year, Ford sold both Jaguar and Land Rover. It also owns Volvo, but has denied it will sell that unit.

All three companies have taken aggressive steps to cut costs. They have reduced production, laid off tens of thousands of workers, and announced plans to overhaul their lineups to include more smaller, fuel-efficient cars, while producing fewer trucks and SUVs.

In July, GM revealed a plan to raise $15 billion, largely through $10 billion in cost cuts. And additional $5 billion would be raised through secured borrowing and asset sales, including its Hummer brand, which it put on the block. That sale has not gone through, and reports suggest that the nearly frozen capital markets have made such a deal all but impossible at the moment.

Given such challenges, industry experts say a merger would provide ample opportunities for GM and Chrysler to further cut costs. Because both automakers have a large number of similar vehicles in their lineups, combining forces could allowsome vehicles to be taken out of production, with concomitant reductions in acquisition, distribution and marketing expenses.

That would likely lead to further job losses. This year, the auto industry has laid of 80,000 workers in the U.S., and last year another 70,000 workers were pink-slipped. In September, sales reached 15-year lows, and recent reports indicate that the 2008 total for the U.S. sales could be as low as 13 million units, almost 20% below last year's total.

Most of those cuts have come from the Detroit automakers. On Thursday, Volvo, a unit of Ford, said it would lay off 6,000 workers, triple the number it had announced in June.

Chrysler's previous link-up with another automaker, Daimler, proved an unhappy match. Chrysler was acquired by the German maker of Mercedes-Benz vehicles in 1998 for $37 billion. That mashup proved unworkable in great part because the two carmakers made vastly different kinds of vehicles, and because, ultimately, Chrysler's money-losing ways proved too much of a drag on Daimler's results.

Prior to Chrysler's 2007 sale to Cerberus, GM had considered a purchase of the automaker, which makes Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler vehicles.

More recently, Chrysler was again object of speculation, this time from France, where it was rumored Renault-Nissan was interested in acquiring a stake in the Detroit company, or in forming a joint venture or other partnership. That has not materialized.

Last month, Daimler said it was in talks with Cerberus to sell the remaining 19.9% stake it holds in Chrysler.

GMAC, meanwhile, has had its own problems. Founded by GM to finance sales of its vehicles through dealer showrooms, the lender in the past decade invested heavily in home mortgages through its ResCap, or residential capital, division. While ResCap was among the lender's most profitable areas for a number of years, it has taken heavy losses as the value of its mortgage holdings has plummeted in the subprime lending crisis.

Like other lenders, GMAC has been hampered in its ability to raise capital due to its holdings. However, it has also been impaired, some say, by its close association with GM, which has had its credit rating cut from AAA to B, or junk, status in recent years.

By separating GM and GMAC, one line of thinking goes, the lender could potentially improve its own credit ratings. And GM, by acquiring Chrysler, could have access to the large reserves of cash -- as much as $5 billion -- that the smaller automaker has on hand.

Sources reached on Saturday, however, suggest that GM would not be interested in such a deal, indicating that the trade rumors may have come from Cerberus, which has shown confidence in the lender's operations of late, calling mortgage-backed securities undervalued.

Although the GM and Chrysler talks continue, a source said that they are unlikely to result in any deal for weeks, if not months.

-- Ken Bensinger

Beer commercials: From the men in beige to the Man in Black

Guinness Shadow

When I was a child in the 1970s, beer commercials were not particularly interesting. Obviously, I was far too young to drink so they weren’t really aimed at me, but, even with the benefit of hindsight, it is apparent that they were produced with a very specific customer in mind: A young, working class male who spent his weekends getting drunk with friends who were very much like himself and who wore a lot of beige. Women were rarely seen in such ads, and when they did appear it was in the role of a barmaid or waitress. The emphasis was usually on quantity rather quality, in other words buying as much beer as possible for as little as possible. In the late 1980s this all changed with the appearance of a new and interesting batch of Guinness commercials featuring the enigmatic Rutger Hauer.

The Guinness brand has a long history of successful campaigns which go beyond simply highlighting the taste or potency of their product, instead creating a place in popular consciousness for a drink which most people have quite fixed opinions about - people have a positive impression of Guinness even if they don’t actually drink it.

Way back in 1862 when the brewers adopted the harp of the iconic Irish king, Brian Boru, as their logo, they established Guinness as a drink with a tradition and pedigree, and as something uniquely Irish.

Later in the 1930s, Guinness was advertised as a beer that was ‘good for you’, a slogan still used colloquially today. When the ‘Good for you’ slogan was banned in the 1980s, they bounced back with ‘Guinnless’ - something that wasn’t at all good for you. In fact it was so bad, a support group ‘Friends of the Guinnless’ were featured in the ads. However, despite this clever marketing, Guinness still targeted their advertising at the traditional young, working class male. This all changed in 1987.

By the late ‘80s established British and Irish breweries were facing stiff competition from imported beers from mainland Europe and the US. Traditional beers were struggling to compete with fashionable lagers and light beers. Guinness in particular came in for criticism because of the length of time it takes to pour a pint - 119.5 seconds to be precise. This was crunch time. In a world that moved ever faster, Guinness was in danger of becoming a beer only consumed by old men. However, just when it seemed it’s heyday was over, along came an advert that not only boosted sales by over 20%, but probably revolutionised the way beer was advertised in the UK and Ireland.

In 1987 the first of a series of Guinness commercials featuring the Dutch actor, Rutger Hauer, was aired and became an instant hit. The adverts were the work of Mark Wnek who chose his leading man very well. Hauer was most famous for his performance in the classic sci-fi film, Blade Runner. He exuded charisma, mystery, and gravitas, he appealed to women (well, this woman) and he had no problem waiting 119.5 seconds for his pint of Guinness. Wnek had cleverly turned the waiting time into a plus point, subtly reminding us that while lagers and light beers may be instant, ‘good things come to those wait’.

Rutger Hauer was the front man for Guinness for several years, finally downing his last pint in 1994. Subsequent Guinness adverts maintained the dark, mysterious theme and the emphasis on the slow pouring time as a selling point. Some wandered off into the realms of the surreal with offerings such as, the fish on a bicycle, others capitalised on aspects of popular culture, such as the use of Louis Armstrong’s song All the Time in the World. However, it wasn’t until 2000 that an advert caught the public imagination in the way the Hauer ads had.

Directed by Jonathan Glazer, Surfer was actually inspired by a Guinness cinema commercial from the 1980s, but was in no way derivative. This ad was breath-taking, a work of art. It went beyond a mere 30 second commercial, it was a beautifully crafted short film which happened to promote a drink. Eminently watchable, Surfer was based around what had, by now, become Guinness’s most positive feature - the long wait. The star is (not surprisingly ) a surfer, but he’s no perky, young beach dude. He’s older, wiser, a little battered by life but no less determined. He knows that one day he will catch the perfect wave, all he has to do is wait. Later voted the best advert of all time in a poll run by The Times newspaper and Channel 4 television, Surfer is still referenced as a high point of advertising 8 years after it was shown.

It’s now 2008 and inter-country beer marketing has become inter-continental. European breweries are now competing against imports from those in places as far afield as India and South America. While there are still some companies who promote their beers using the quantity rather quality method, most have risen to the new challenges with intelligent and distinctive adverts designed to fix their brand in the mind of the viewer. Guinness are no longer exceptional in using commercials which highlight the quality and uniqueness of their product, many other brewers have followed the same path - notable examples are Stella and Kronenberg. It is now the norm to see beer commercials which are not aimed at the traditional demographic of 20 - 45 year old men. Some adverts even feature women actually drinking beer, who could have expected that back in the beige days of the 1970s.

One more thing - this post wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of the aforementioned Guinness commercial, Surfer. It’s a classic, and spell-binding to watch. If you haven’t seen it, do take a look, and if you have, it’s always worth one more viewing!

Guest post by Kate, who is pretty sure Guinness is good for you, but only in moderation, of course. Find out more about me here or follow me on twitter. This post is also participating the “Design you Love” group writing project.

Archaeological Dig Uncovers Roman Mystery

Archeologist Roger Wilson pulls out the clay amphora from its 1,500 year hiding place. (Credit: Photo courtesy of Roger Wilson)

ScienceDaily (Oct. 14, 2008) — University of British Columbia archaeologists have dug up a mystery worthy of Indiana Jones, one that includes a tomb, skeletons and burial rites with both Christian and pagan elements.

This summer, Prof. Roger Wilson led excavations at Kaukana, an ancient Roman village located near Punta Secca, a small town in the south-eastern province of Ragusa in Sicily.

Combing through the sand-buried site, the 15-member team made a series of startling discoveries. Central to the mystery was finding a tomb inside a room in a house dating from the sixth century AD.

Wilson explains that tombs during this period are normally found only in cemeteries outside the built-up area of a town, or around the apse of a church. And since the building was substantial with mortared walls and internal plaster, this would have been likely a tomb for the wealthy.

“It’s extremely unusual to find an elite burial set inside a house in the middle of a settlement, even as late as the sixth century,” says Wilson, who heads UBC’s Department of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies.

The UBC initiative -- in collaboration with Prof. Giovanni Di Stefano of the Superintendency for the Cultural Heritage of Ragusa -- is the first major exploration of this historic site since 1972.

Locals first stumbled upon the late Roman village during the 1960s when a bulldozer preparing for new houses uncovered the tops of some 24 ancient buildings. Only a few, among them a church, were explored at the time, by renowned Italian archaeologist Paola Pelagatti.

Wilson directed students from UBC and Sicily in their painstaking work, focusing on what proved to be an “exceptionally well-preserved” structure on the south side of Kaukana, only yards from the beach. The walls uncovered stand nearly six feet high.

Once the cover was lifted off the tomb, one team member spent 10 days sieving the contents with great care. Two skeletons were found. One was of a woman between the ages of 25 and 30, with teeth in excellent condition and no signs of arthritis.

“She was in pretty good nick, so we know this wasn’t a peasant working in the field,” says Wilson.

The other skeleton was a child of indeterminate sex between the ages of five and seven. The position of their bones showed that the woman had been laid to rest first. The tomb was then re-opened to bury the child and the woman’s spinal column was pushed to one side. A hole in the stone slab covering the tomb allowed visitors to pour libations for the dead.

“This shows that the long-established, originally pagan, rite of offering libations to the dead clearly continued into early Byzantine times,” observes Wilson.

Yet, the presence of a Christian cross on a lamp found in the room and on the underside of a grave slab suggests that the deceased were Christian. As well, the skeletons were wrapped in plaster, a practice believed to be Christian for preserving the body for resurrection.

“It is the first plaster burial recorded in Sicily, although the practice is known from Christian communities in North Africa,” says Wilson.

What also intrigued the archaeologists was learning that the tomb was opened one further time, an intrusion that disturbed the bones of the child and caused its skull to be placed upside down. Wilson says he wondered whether it was grave robbers in search of expensive jewelry or other loot.

“But the tomb was tidied up again afterwards.”

Around the tomb was plentiful evidence of periodic feasting in honour of the dead. The archaeologists found cooking pots, glass and several large clay containers (amphorae), of which one is virtually intact. These would have been used to carry oil and wine to the site. The team also found the remains of two hearths where meals had been prepared.

As well, the room was designed with niches along one wall. Wilson says a knife, seafood, and fragments of stemmed goblets and other glass vessels were left on these shelves, “as though placed there after the last party.”

UBC’s snapshot of late Roman and early Byzantine life has stirred considerable interest among the Italian media and historians worldwide. With support for three years of study from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Wilson says the team is eager to further unravel the skeins of history.

When they return to Kaukana next summer, they will attempt to solve the riddles encountered this first year. “Along with questions of when the house was built and whether it was still occupied when the tomb was inserted, we want to find out why the woman and child were buried in the tomb at all.”

Adapted from materials provided by University of British Columbia.


No one reliable is claiming it, but several sources, including MSN, are reporting that Sam Ronson proposed to Lindsay Lohan while the two were in Los Cabos last week.

Lindsay was thrilled when DJ Samantha suggested a civil partnership and presented her with the Cartier diamond band during their break in Mexico.
The lovers were having dinner by the beach in Cabo San Lucas when a waiter came over with the ring which was hidden inside a covered silver tray.
A source at the £1,500-a-night Esperanza hotel told Britain's Star magazine: 'Sam brought Lindsay down at 9pm to a huge dining table laid out by the water's edge.
'Sam really went all out and even arranged for a group of Mexican singers to entertain them with songs.
'It was a gorgeous ring with a big diamond that Sam had bought before the holiday. Sam asked her if she would marry her and the waiter popped a champagne cork as Lindsay accepted.
'It was such a beautiful setting with perfect weather and was really romantic.'
So I guess that might be the ring in the banner picture of Lindsay shopping in SoHo yesterday (and yes I know that would seem to be the wrong hand. she's had it on the left in other pictures), although she wasn’t wearing a ring last night when she and Sam went to the Madonna concert. So maybe it's not an engagement ring. Maybe Sam just wanted her girlfriends finger to have some studs and extra girth. I don’t really know how all that works for lesbians.

Apple's all-new MacBook Pro packs new NVIDIA GPUs, glass trackpad

by Paul Miller,

Oh, don't act so surprised. A refresh of Apple's long-in-the-tooth MacBook Pro line was pretty much the only sure thing slated for today's event, and Apple certainly delivered. As for looks, you probably know the score by now: chiclet keyboard, Air-inspired aluminum stylings, and a glossy screen that's flush with a new iMac-like black bezel (there's no non-gloss option for the purists out there). What's new is confirmation of a multi-touch glass trackpad, which suspiciously rids the computer of a single mouse button and adds some new gestures like app switching. Apple's also put in some effort on slimming down the computer, bringing it down to a mere 0.95-inches thick (though at 5.5 pounds it's a hair heavier than the original), but much of the real excitement happens under the hood. There's a new internal structure, that rumored "brick" of aluminum that helps Apple make the new Pro thin, strong and leaves room for the real goodies: the specs. Apple's using NVIDIA's new 9400M GPU + chipset 1-2 punch for integrated graphics, supplemented by 9600M GT switchable discreet graphics chip for heavy lifting, and pumping out those graphics over a Mini DisplayPort connector, if you'd like to supplement the LED backlit screen. As expected there's an SSD option, with drive accessible underneath the battery. The 15.4-inch base model retails for $1999, with a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of DDR3 RAM and both GPUs. Step up to $2499 and you get a faster CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 320GB HDD. The 17-inch MacBook Pro comes in a similar configuration with a 2.6GHz processor, starting at $2799, but sans the redesign and GPU love.

Gallery: Apple's new MacBook Pro

Gallery: New MacBook Pro

2010 Camaro Pricing Announced

DETROIT — Chevrolet avoided bargain-basement pricing on its 2010 Chevrolet Camaro, positioning the eagerly anticipated coupe slightly higher than the base models of its main competitors, the 2009 Dodge Challenger and 2009 Ford Mustang. The 2010 Camaro starts at $22,995, including a $750 destination charge, for the V6 LS model; the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS, with an estimated 400 horsepower, starts at $30,995.

In comparison, the base 2009 Dodge Challenger SE with a 3.5-liter V6 is priced at $21,995, including a $675 destination charge. The base 2009 Ford Mustang with a 4.0-liter V6 starts at $20,790, including a $795 destination charge. The uplevel 2009 Dodge Challenger R/T with a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 starts at $29,995, including destination, while the 2009 Ford Mustang GT with a 4.6-liter V8 starts at $27,570, including destination.

However, it's a different story with the top-end models. The 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT8 significantly outpaces the 2010 Camaro in price with its $39,995 sticker. The 2009 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Cobra with a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 is the king of the hill in terms of pricing with its $43,480 sticker. In comparison, a top-of-the-line 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS starts at $34,180.

The 2010 Camaro sticker can rapidly inflate if a consumer loads up on a long list of options. An RS appearance package, which is available on Camaro LT and SS models, is priced between $1,200 and $1,750. It bundles HID headlamps with integrated halo rings, a spoiler, specific taillamps and 20-inch wheels. Cyber Gray metallic stripes or white stripes add another $395, an automatic six-speed transmission adds $995 and a power sunroof adds $900. Expect to pay $295 for Red Jewel Tint premium paint, $495 for a Boston Acoustics systems and $500 for an interior trim package.

The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS will undoubtedly be the most coveted model in the lineup. It is equipped with the new L99 V8 on automatic-transmission-equipped SS models and makes an estimated 400 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque. Chevrolet says this version delivers an estimated 23 miles per gallon on the highway. However, as of Tuesday morning, the EPA had not yet listed Camaro fuel economy numbers on its Web site.

As part of its pricing announcement, Chevrolet said Camaro will be included in the new NBC drama "My Own Worst Enemy," starring Christian Slater. The show premiered on Monday, the same day that Chevy dealers began taking orders for the Camaro.

Inside Line says: The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro is carefully priced and should go flying out of showrooms with little problem.

Incredible Images of the Sun [PICS]

The Sun is now in the quietest phase of its 11-year activity cycle, the solar minumum - in fact, it has been unusually quiet this year - with over 200 days so far with no observed sunspots. The solar wind has also dropped to its lowest levels in 50 years. Seen below are some recent images of the Sun in more active times.

click here for pics| digg story

Spectacular Crystals & Mines Explored [w/PICS]

Interesting piece on discovery & exploration of 1 of richest crystal mines in world -- with huge crystals among largest in world. [Check out attached photo gallery; excellent pics.]

read more | digg story

UK Hydrogen House Connected to Grid

hydrogen house

Hydrogen power is usually associated with vehicles, but a house in the UK is showing that there are a multitude of uses for fuel cells. The grid-connected West Midlands home is powered by hydrogen as part of a £2 million University of Birmingham and Black County Housing Group (BCHG) project.

The grid-connected house generates all its energy from a fuel-cell unit in a shed behind the house, which converts bog-standard natural gas into hydrogen. A 600 liter tank placed next to the fuel cell unit stores hot water, and excess electricity from the unit is sent to the grid.

The house’s fridge-sized fuel cell unit can generate 1.5kW of electricity and 3kW of heat—including hot water and space heating.

Apparently, the team behind the house believes that everyone will have hydrogen fuel cell units in their homes at some point in the future. But much more research needs to be done before fuel cells are energy and cost-efficient enough to be worth a switchover from natural gas.

Photo Credit: SmartPlanet

AT&T to sell U-verse at Wal-Mart, Circuit City

NEW YORK (Reuters) - AT&T Inc plans to sell its U-verse high-speed Internet and video service at Wal-Mart and Circuit City stores starting this month, stepping up competition against cable service providers.

AT&T said on Monday that it would sell U-verse at 600 Circuit City Stores Inc and Wal-Mart Stores Inc stores in parts of Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Texas and several other states where the service is available.

The company said the retail deals, the first for U-verse, would help create a powerful distribution channel and provide customers with a convenient way to order the service.

Both AT&T and No. 2 phone company Verizon Communications Inc have invested heavily in high-speed Internet and video services to stop a rapid decline in home phone lines.

Many of those consumers have canceled wired phone services in favor of Internet, video and phone services offered by cable service providers.

Consumers are currently able to sign up for cable service at major electronics stores.

AT&T aims to have more than 1 million U-verse television customers in service by the end of the year. It also plans to expand the network and have the service available to more than 30 million homes by the end of 2010.

(Reporting by Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

Awesome Spaghetti Junction: What City is this?

Baioke Tower II, Thailand's tallest building.
Here's a map/satellite view:

Top 5 Disney Controversies

By Tyler Esposito


Over the years (especially beginning with the Disney renaissance of the early 90's) people have been reporting obscene and inappropriate material hidden within several Disney films. Most of these accusations came from kids who would watch these movies over and over again on VHS. How the kids would even understand such content is beyond me, but lets have a look.

5. "Good Teenagers, Take Off Your Clothes!"

From: Aladdin (1993)

With a genie and a magic lamp, it's hard to imagine a teenage boy not wanting some hooters. Even the folks at Disney knew this, or so they say. According to an indistinguishable line of dialog and a couple of dirty minds, Prince Ali Ababwa wants "good teenagers" to "take off their clothes!" Have a listen for yourself!

4. "Nude woman in The Rescuers"

From: The Rescuers (1977)

It will take more than a team of good natured mice to rescue this film from the chopping block. Disney got a lot of flack from this film when a 1999 home video release contained a subliminal message. Apparently, during a high speed chase sequence, the image of a topless woman appears in the background for a split second. We'll let you be the judge.

3. "Phallic image on VHS cover"

From: The Little Mermaid (1989)

Whoever designed this undersea castle was probably a spokesman for Viagra. If you look closely at the artwork on the VHS release of this Disney classic, a phallic type structure is clearly seen in a portion of the castle. Disney claims that it was a mistake. They did not intend the image to resemble a phallus. Sure.

2. "Baby Herman flips the bird"

From: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

In the opening scene of this critically acclaimed marriage of live action and animation, Baby Herman allegedly sticks his middle finger up a woman's dress. The discovery of this frame of animation resulted in many more accusations, including a racist Donald Duck remark, a nude frame of Jessica Rabbit, a dirty message written on the bathroom wall in Toon Town, and drawings of people being murdered on a train. Sounds like these animators wanted to make a different kind of film.

1. "S-E-X"

From: The Lion King (1994)

One of the most infamous Disney urban legends is the appearance of the word "sex" in a scene from The Lion King. Most of this story's public awareness comes from the fact that The Lion King is Disney's most popular film. Some claim it's just a message from the special effects team (S-F-X), but the more perverted viewers see the letters (S-E-X). What do you see?

It's interesting to note that all of these accusations occured within roughly the same decade. Disney has not been in hot water over such issues for a long time now, but don't write them off yet.

Seven Dwarfs

The seven dwarfs always left to go work in the coal mine early each morning.

As always, Snow White stayed home doing her domestic chores.

As lunchtime approached, she made their lunch and carried it to the mine.

But one day as she arrived at the mine with the lunch, she saw that there had been a terrible cave-in.

Tearfully, and fearing the worst, Snow White began calling out, hoping against hope that the dwarfs had somehow survived 'Hello!...Hello!' she shouted. 'Can anyone hear me? Hello!'

Just as she was about to give up all hope, she heard a faint voice from deep within the mine, singing ♪'Vote for John McCain! -♫ Vote for Sarah Palin!'♫

Snow White fell to her knees, crossed herself and prayed, 'Oh, thank you, God! At least Dopey is still alive...'

13 Things Your Bank Won't Tell You

1. Just because you deposited a check today doesn't mean you can start living it up tomorrow. It takes us three days on average to post the money to your account. (And why should we hurry? If you bounce a check, we collect around $30.)

Financial Advice for Banking Customers
Why tell you about checking accounts with higher interest rates when you're already willing to sign up for an account that pays less?
2. Yes, we know the line is long and only one teller window is open, but no, the guy in the cubicle can't come over to help out. He may not be allowed to do a teller's job.

3. Call or visit in person to resolve a problem. Filling out online forms will usually get you the by-the-book reply, but a rep will often forgive a fee over the phone so we can all just get on with our lives.

4. Unless you're Wolfgang Puck, our loan officers have pretty much decided before you walk in that you're not getting a loan for your dream bistro. But they'll let you apply for one anyway. We're not crazy about lending to nonprofits and houses of worship either. We don't want the bad publicity when we go after them.

5. Our tellers routinely press you into opening new accounts because their jobs depend on it. Banks hire “mystery” customers who secretly test whether a teller is cross-selling services.

6. Don't blame us -- it's not our fault you can't control your spending. "The bank didn't make you swipe your card or write a check that you didn't have money for," says one teller in Akron, Ohio.

7. Postdating a check rarely works. With stacks of deposits to process, we look at account names, not dates. If the check bounces, you're liable.

8. Please don't haul in plastic bags of loose change. We really don't have the time or manpower to count it. Ask for free wrappers and bring in rolled coins next time.

9. Keep receipts for every ATM transaction -- and please don't feed cash directly into the machine without first putting it into an envelope (yes, people actually do this).

10. A consumer's brain registers an immediate "Ouch!" whenever he's hit with an itemized penalty, such as a bounced-check fee, so most people keep a much higher balance in their checking accounts than necessary, says personal-finance writer Jason Zweig. "Banks make a ton of money off this mental quirk since they would have to pay interest on the money if we left it in our savings accounts, where it belongs."

11. Banks don't always promote their checking accounts with the highest interest rate. Why tell you about those when you're already willing to sign up for an account that pays less?

12. A bank has the right to pay itself back out of your next deposit for any fees or overdraft loans that you owe.

13. Sorry, we can't afford to give out free toasters anymore to new customers. Business is brutal.

Interviews by Neena Samuel

Sources: David Bach, author of Fight for Your Money (spring 2009); Jason Zweig, author of Your Money & Your Brain (2007); Jean Ann Fox, director of financial services, Consumer Federation of America; anonymous bank employees in New York, Ohio, and Texas

Yahoo/AOL merger a Done Deal

Silicon Alley Insider blogger Henry Blodget is reporting that "Yahoo's acquisition of AOL is now a done deal, a source close to AOL tells us." The official annoucement could come tomorrow, he says.

Blodget notes with some glee "the amusing sighting of a full-length Yahoo 18-wheeler semi-truck near AOL's Dulles campus," per his source.

Near .... Hmmm.

It should be noted that Blodget's last big story was the relay of a iReport item which claimed that Apple's Steve Jobs had suffered a heart attack. Apple quickly shot down that story, and Blodget spend a lot of the rest of his day sparring with commenters and critics about his news judgement.

But, we're pulling for him that he's correct this time since we're right out there now on the limb with him ...

AOL - Yahoo Merger A Done Deal, Says Source [Silicon Alley Insider]

The Train as Art

Photographer Jim Shaughnessy first turned his lens on trains in 1946 at age 13. Over the following 20 years, he chased trains around New England and Canada, documenting the fall of steam engines and the rise of diesel locomotives — all in gorgeous black and white.

Shaughnessy approaches the machines with a documentary eye, with art as a welcome byproduct. His extensive body of work includes some of the most important historical photographs of locomotives from the era.

Still an avid train photographer, Shaughnessy lives in his hometown of Troy, New York, a formerly bustling railroad hub that shrank as railway use dwindled. talked with him about his photography and his fascination with trains. Click through the gallery to read the interview and see selections from Shaughnessy's upcoming book, The Call of Trains, to be released Nov. 3.

Canadian National Spadina Avenue engine-servicing facility in Toronto, Ontario, 1957

"This is an arty picture which I normally wouldn't have taken," Shaughnessy said. "But I had taken every other possible angle so I thought this would be good. And it turns out it really fills the bill for people who like arty photos.

"And the more I look at it, the more I like it. It's just a big industrial-type scene and the fact that it's backlit only increases the drama and enhances its dirty effect.

"A lot of the pictures we used in the book have never been printed by me before for any purpose. As it turns out, I wish I had taken double the pictures I did take, because you can't go back now."