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Monday, November 24, 2008

Sneak Peak of new Volvo S60

DETROIT — Volvo on Monday released the first exterior photo of the Volvo S60 concept that will make its debut at the upcoming 2009 Detroit Auto Show.

"It gives a clear indication of what the all-new Volvo S60 will look like when it is introduced during 2010," Volvo said in an accompanying statement.

The darkened image shows a coupelike roof line and what Volvo describes as "new shoulder contours — a gentle double wave from the headlamps at the front to the taillamps at the rear." The automaker said the concept is inspired by "the Swedish coastline's cliffs and seas."

A second photo shows the car's cabin, which gets a floating center stack made of Orrefors crystal. "We may well see interior features in crystal-like materials in the future," said Steve Mattin, Volvo Cars' design director.

Inside Line says: In stark contrast to the conservative S80, Volvo dances on the edge of daring with the S60 concept — at least from what we can make of it at this point. — Anita Lienert, Correspondent

Ten Yard Unsportsmanlike and ejection for Blass on Brady Cassell Post

Just shaking my head..

Pats have decisions to make on Cassel, Brady

November 22, 2008 10:00 AM

Stew Milne/US Presswire
Should the Patriots bank on Tom Brady returning to full health or should they invest in a young quarterback on the rise?

Posted by's Tim Graham

An innocent question to stimulate conversation ignited outrage.

One reader demanded I resign from Another implored my bosses to terminate my blog completely. They wrote in to ridicule my intelligence, mock my background and question my journalism ethics.

All for asking a question to which I didn't give my opinion.

What I dared to do was broach the subject of what's going on with the New England Patriots quarterback situation and the uncertainty clouding it.

Sporting icon Tom Brady is rehabbing his surgically rebuilt, infection-prone left knee. Information has been scarce. So much is unknown.

Matt Cassel has developed into a bona fide NFL starter before our eyes, but he will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.

This is the exact question I posed before opening the floor to comments:

Do you bank on the superstar maintaining his elite status, or invest in the rising prospect, who years from now still should be in his prime when the veteran retires?

That line didn't seem inflammatory when I typed it, but after the backlash from incensed readers, I decided to check with some professionals to see whether they thought I had raised a legitimate issue or I was nuts.

Charley Armey

Background: Former St. Louis Rams general manager, New England Patriots assistant director of player operations.

Note: As Rams director of player personnel, Armey dealt with Trent Green's season-ending knee injury and emergence of unheralded Kurt Warner en route to a Super Bowl title.

The risk is too great not to move forward with the quarterback you have right now. You have to get him signed and give your team stability at the position. There's no absolute. That's the problem. You've got to protect yourself and the organization.

I would do whatever I had to do to sign him. I would try to structure the contract so that at some point in time I could deal the player if it's convenient but keep him around until Brady is back and 100 percent.

After Brady is back, you address what you do with both quarterbacks. You have to proceed as though Cassel will be your quarterback until proven otherwise. There are no other options for the Patriots. They have to get the guy signed.

This kid [Cassel] has proven that his arm is getting better and better. They've invested the money and the time to get him to this point. He's a commodity now. You can't let him get away for nothing. I would figure out how to get it done. I would not let him out of there, period.

But the deal can be done. [Cassel] ought to feel a strong sense of loyalty for to the organization for drafting him when they did, showing faith in him and investing in him the way they did.

You know who the quarterback is when he's healthy, but it sure is a nice problem when you have two. Otherwise, you're looking for a free-agent quarterback who's 105 years old to come in and be the backup.

It took Trent Green almost two years and maybe three years until he was comfortable on that knee. Some guys come back and are comfortable on it right away.

You don't know how [Brady's knee] is going to react until you start working out in game mode. He has to step up, take a hit, pivot on it, slide to the left, slide to the right, plant it, come off it. You won't know until you get in a game situation regardless of how the off-field rehab goes.

M.I.T. Futurists Focus on Next-Gen Multimedia

Sindya Bhanoo, The Industry Standard

The MIT Media Lab has announced its latest endeavor -- the creation of a Center for Future Storytelling. The center will use new technologies to make stories more interactive, improvisational and social, according to an official statement.

media lab, multimedia, storytelling,

Graphic: Diego Aguirre
The center is being funded by a seven-year, US$25 million commitment from Plymouth Rock Studios, a major motion picture and television studio scheduled to open in 2010 south of Boston.

Three researchers from MIT's Media Lab will co-direct the center. They are V. Michael Bove Jr., who studies object-based media and interative television, Cynthia Breazeal, who focuses on robotics, and Ramesh Rasker, who researches imaging, display and performance-capture technologies.

The goal is to create "a sort of living story that can continue to evolve and shape depending on who is listening to it and how they can derive meaning from it," Breazeal said in a taped interview.

mit, research, future technology, massachusettsThe center already has more than a dozen research projects in the works. They include:

Everything Tells A Story: A project that will enable everyday objects to keep running "diaries," of what happened to them. The information could be used for "personal story creation" by individuals.

Tofu: A robot that uses cartoon-animation style movement to work with kids. The researchers describe it as "LEGO Mindstorms meets Muppets." Future versions of Tofu will allow children to design, program and remotely operate their own puppets to tell stories.

m.i.t., massachusetts institute of technology, nexi, robot, future techNexi: A project to create a social robot, or a "synthetic performer." The project combines mobility, dexterity, and most remarkably, sociality. The robot's expressive face is capable of multiple human facial expressions. A video of Nexi can be viewed below.

Programmable Movies: A research project to turn movies into a customized experience based on certain parameters like emotions, place or time. The idea is to let users piece together different images using metadata encoded in the images.

MIT's Media Lab was started more than 20 years ago to develop innovative technologies for human expression and interactivity. To read about other projects at the Center for Storytelling, click here.

Why Citi got $25B and Detroit got $0

NEW YORK ( -- Poor Detroit. The heads of the Big Three automakers had to subject themselves to two days of Congressional grilling last week while they begged for a $25 billion loan.

And what did General Motors (GM, Fortune 500), Ford (F, Fortune 500) and Chrysler get? Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

They were told to go home and write up a viable business plan and to show that they wouldn't be coming back for more money a year down the road. (Adding insult to injury, Motown's hapless football team, the Detroit Lions, is still searching for its first victory. Ouch.)

Meanwhile, Citigroup (C, Fortune 500), which just a month ago received $25 billion, had no trouble securing another $20 billion Sunday night. CEO Vikram Pandit didn't even have to fly his jet to Capitol Hill with hat in hand. (And oh yeah: the two New York football teams are a combined 18-4, with the Jets on Sunday upsetting the previously undefeated Titans. The Giants are also the defending Super Bowl champs. Go Big Blue!)

Why the apparent unfairness?

Daniel Alpert, managing director of Westwood Capital, an investment bank in New York, said that saving a bank like Citigroup has to take precedence over the auto industry.

Even though a collapse of one or more of the Big Three could have major negative implications on the economy, particularly the unemployment rate, he said preventing a Citigroup bankruptcy could forestall an even worse shock to the already fragile financial system.

"This is dramatically different. Essentially, what the government needed to do is under no circumstances allow Citigroup to fail. You can't have a financial world without the major banks," he said.

David Resler, chief economist with Nomura Securities International, added that he thinks bankruptcy could be an option for the Big Three whereas a bankruptcy for a bank would mean liquidation, similar to what happened with Lehman Brothers in September.

And that is not something he thinks the government would allow to happen.

"Citi stands at the center of the financial system. It's a huge company whose relations are intricately woven throughout the entire economy. The intent is shoring up the system in this near-term crisis, not necessarily one company," Resler said.

Sure, there are some who argue that bankruptcy for an automaker would also be its death knell. But even if one or more of the Big Three go away, some suggest that the government may allow this simply because the Big Three deserves to fail because of decades of mistakes.

"There is nothing that Detroit has done in the past 20 years to gain any support from Washington or the public," said Bob Andres, chief investment strategist for Portfolio Management Consultants, the investment consulting unit of Chicago-based asset management firm Envestnet, which has $90 billion in assets.

"There has to be an end. The government can't own everything in the country. They may have to draw a line and unfortunately Detroit may be it," he added.

Still, it's not as if Citigroup also didn't make serious mistakes. And some argue that the guarantee of future loan losses may have been sufficient to prove to the market that Citigroup wouldn't fail and there was not really a need to give the bank even more cash.

"I'm a bit dumbfounded as to what the urgency was," said Keith Hembre, chief economist with First American Funds in Minneapolis.

Still, strange as it may seem, it's politically easier to deny Detroit than Wall Street. The Big Three is being singled out as the poster child for mismanagement and is being forced to jump through hoops to get money while the banks don't have to do much other than moan about short sellers targeting their stock to get more funding.

At the end of the day, Alpert said that there are so many companies lining up for assistance, the government is going to have to prioritize and at least give the appearance that it isn't giving out cash willy-nilly.

"Washington is Oz right now. Everybody is marching in asking for a heart, a brain or a lot of cash," he said. "What Congress told the Big Three is to go back and bring them the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West." To top of page

How Axl Rose Spent All That Time

Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

W. Axl Rose, above, singing with Guns N’ Roses in 2002. Buckethead, one of many sidemen to pass through the band since the mid-1990s, is at left.

“ALL I’ve got is precious time,” W. Axl Rose sings in the title song of Guns N’ Roses’ new album, and he must be well aware of how that line sounds now. Mr. Rose, 46, the only remaining original member of Guns N’ Roses, needed 17 years, more than $13 million (as of 2005) and a battalion of musicians, producers and advisers to deliver “Chinese Democracy,” the first album of new Guns N’ Roses songs since 1991. It’s being released on Sunday, with CDs sold exclusively at Best Buy. (In another 21st-century fillip the album’s best song, “Shackler’s Revenge,” appeared first in a video game, Rock Band 2.)

“Chinese Democracy” (Geffen) is the Titanic of rock albums: the ship, not the movie, although like the film it’s a monumental studio production. It’s outsize, lavish, obsessive, technologically advanced and, all too clearly, the end of an era. It’s also a shipwreck, capsized by pretensions and top-heavy production. In its 14 songs there are glimpses of heartfelt ferocity and despair, along with bursts of remarkable musicianship. But they are overwhelmed by countless layers of studio diddling and a tone of curdled self-pity. The album concludes with five bombastic power ballads in a row.

“Chinese Democracy” sounds like a loud last gasp from the reign of the indulged pop star: the kind of musician whose blockbuster early success could once assure loyal audiences, bountiful royalties, escalating ambitions and dangerously open-ended deadlines. The leaner, leakier 21st-century recording business is far less likely to nurture such erratic perfectionists. (Mr. Rose did manage to outpace Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, which re-emerged on tour this year but hasn’t yet released a successor to its 1991 masterpiece, “Loveless.”) The new rock paradigm, a throwback to the 1950s and early 1960s, is to record faster, more cheaply and more often, then head out on tour before the next YouTube sensation distracts potential fans.

“Chinese Democracy” is such an old-school event that at this point no album could easily live up to the pent-up anticipation and fascination. Over the last two decades Guns N’ Roses’ 1987 debut album, “Appetite for Destruction,” has sold 18 million copies in the United States alone. The original band, particularly the guitar team of Slash on lead and Izzy Stradlin on rhythm, collaborated to forge a scrappy combination of glam, punk and metal behind Mr. Rose’s proudly abrasive voice, which could leap from a baritone growl to a fierce screech. Singing about sex, drugs, booze and stardom, Mr. Rose was a rags-to-MTV success story for the 1980s: a self-described abused child from heartland America who got himself out of Indiana and reinvented himself as a full-fledged Hollywood rock star, charismatic and volatile, never pretending to be controllable.

Amid tours, band members’ addictions and liaisons with models, Guns N’ Roses went on to make an EP and the multimillion-selling albums “Use Your Illusion” I and II, which were released simultaneously in 1991. Those were followed by a desultory collection of punk-rock remakes, “The Spaghetti Incident?,” in 1993, before the band splintered and left Mr. Rose as the owner of the Guns N’ Roses brand. Clearly it would be a very different band, but there was little doubt that Mr. Rose had more to say.

He has been announcing the impending completion of “Chinese Democracy” since at least 1999 and has been singing many of its songs on tour since 2001. Concert bootlegs and unfinished studio versions circulating online have defused some of the surprise from the finished album. Yet meanwhile, year after year, Mr. Rose worked on and reworked the songs. The album credits list 14 studios.

For years Mr. Rose has been tagged the Howard Hughes of rock, as his manager at the time was already complaining in 2001. That didn’t have to be a bad thing; estrangement and obsession have spawned great songs. But “Chinese Democracy,” though it’s a remarkable artifact of excess, is a letdown. Mr. Rose’s version of Guns N’ Roses, with sidemen he can fire rather than partners, leaves his worst impulses unchecked.

Guns N’ Roses is still collaborative; the songs on “Chinese Democracy” are credited to Mr. Rose along with many of the musicians who have passed through the band since the mid-1990s. The guitarists Buckethead and Robin Finck, the bassist Tommy Stinson and the drummers Josh Freese and Brain pushed Mr. Rose toward rock, others toward ballads. By way of comparison with the old Guns N’ Roses, Mr. Rose’s latter-day songwriting tilts more toward the pomp of “November Rain” than the thrust of “Welcome to the Jungle” or the pealing guitar lines of “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” The one song on “Chinese Democracy” written by Mr. Rose alone, “This I Love,” is by far the album’s most maudlin track, and he hams it up further with a vibrato vocal homage to Queen’s Freddie Mercury.

Like the old Guns N’ Roses albums “Chinese Democracy” whipsaws between arrogance and pain, moans and sneers. The present-day Mr. Rose presents himself as someone beleaguered on every front, a cornered character with nothing to lose. He’s tormented by inner demons and, from outside, by antagonists, lovers and users who constantly betray and exploit him. “Forgive them that tear down my soul,” he croaks in “Madagascar,” amid French horns playing a dirge. (The middle of that song inexplicably gives way to a collage of movie dialogue and speeches by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)

All the labors of Mr. Rose and his various lineups, both inspired and overblown, come through the finished album. Mr. Rose and his co-producer, Caram Costanzo, just keep piling up the sounds. String orchestra? Toy piano plinks? Voices muttering in foreign languages? Harp? Drum machines? Choirs? “I Have a Dream”? They’re all there, along with indefatigable drums and phalanxes of guitars.

“Chinese Democracy” reveals multiple archaeological layers, including what might have been passing fascinations as the 1990s and early 2000s rolled by: the Metallica of “Enter Sandman” in the surly, self-righteous “Sorry”; the distortion effects of Nine Inch Nails in “Shackler’s Revenge”; U2’s sustained guitars and martial beat to begin “Prostitute”; a combination of Elton John piano and strings (arranged by Mr. John’s longtime associate Paul Buckmaster) with Smashing Pumpkins guitar crescendos in “Street of Dreams.”

Some of the album’s best moments are its intros. Flaunting what time and money can accomplish, there are gratuitous ear grabbers like an a cappella vocal chorale in “Scraped,” a siren matched by a siren swoop of Mr. Rose’s voice in “Chinese Democracy” and the narrow-band, filtered beginning of “Better.” That track goes on to hurtle across so much of what Guns N’ Roses does well — from steel-clawed hard-rock riffs to metallic reggae-rock to arena-anthem melodies — that it almost makes up for the whininess and lazy “-tion” rhymes of the underlying song. “If the World” opens with acoustic guitar lines suggesting a Middle Eastern oud but segues into wah-wah rhythm guitar and sustained strings fit for a blaxploitation soundtrack, while Mr. Rose unleashes something like a soul falsetto.

Is it demented? Sometimes. Does Mr. Rose care? Apparently not. “I am crazy!” he belts over the frantic guitar and tom-toms of “Riad N’ the Bedouins,” while he’s a potentially trigger-happy maniac in “Shackler’s Revenge.” In “Scraped” he’s alternately depressive and manic, warning “Don’t you try to stop us now” over a riff fit for Led Zeppelin. “Catcher in the Rye” echoes the Beatles in its melody while it alludes to Mark David Chapman, who was carrying that book when he killed John Lennon: “If I thought that I was crazy/Well I guess I’d have more fun,” he sings.

Even when he’s presumably being himself, Mr. Rose is forever overwrought. He pushes his multiply overdubbed voice every which way — rasping, sobbing, cackling, yowling — while at the same time Mr. Finck, Buckethead and Ron (Bumblefoot) Thal are playing frantic guitar solos, with a mandate to wail higher and zoom faster.

The craziness on “Chinese Democracy” isn’t the wild, brawling arrogance that the young Mr. Rose and his rowdy ’80s band mates gave the fledgling Guns N’ Roses. It’s the maniacal attention to detail that’s possible in the era of Pro Tools: the infinitude of tiny tweaks available for every instant of a track, the chance to reshape every sound and reshuffle every setting, to test every guitar solo ever played on a song — or all of them at once — and then throw on a string arrangement for good measure. That microscopic focus is obvious throughout “Chinese Democracy”; every note sounds honed, polished, aimed — and then crammed into a song that’s already brimming with other virtuosity. At points where the mix goes truly haywire, like the end of “Catcher in the Rye,” a Meat Loaf song title sums things up: “Everything Louder Than Everything Else.”

It’s easy to imagine Mr. Rose determined to outdo his own brazen youth and his old band, but with less perspective and hundreds of new tracks as each year goes by. If Guns N’ Roses had released “Chinese Democracy” in 2000, it would still have been an event, but it might also have been treated as the transitional album in a band’s continuing career. By holding it back and tinkering with it for so long, Mr. Rose has pressured himself to make it epochal — especially if, on this timetable, the next Guns N’ Roses studio album doesn’t arrive until 2025. And fans were waiting for him to defy the world again, not to do another digital edit. Sometime during the years of work, theatricality and razzle-dazzle replaced heart.

As Mr. Rose bemoans the love that ended or vows to face life uncompromised and on his own, the music on “Chinese Democracy” swells and crashes all around him, frantic and nearly devoid of breathing space. It’s hard to envision him as the songs do, that besieged antihero alone against the world, when he’s sharing his bunker with a cast of thousands.

Japan scientists eye made-to-order bones

Japanese hospitals are running a clinical trial on the world's first custom-made bones which would fit neatly into patients' skulls and eventually give way to real bones.

If successful, the Japanese method could open the way for doctors to create new bones within hours of an accident so long as the patient has electronic data on file.

Doctors usually mend defective bones by transplanting real bones or ceramic substitutes. The Japanese implants use a powder of calcium phosphate, the substance that makes up real bones.

The new implants are called CT Bone as they are crafted using the patient's computer tomography (CT) data, a form of medical imaging.

It can match the complicated structures of the jaw, cheek and other parts of the skull down to one millimetre (0.039 of an inch), a level significant enough to make a difference in human faces, researchers told AFP.

"It can also be replaced by your own bone, which wasn't possible before" with conventional sintered ceramic bones, said Tsuyoshi Takato, an orthopedic surgeon and professor at the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Medicine.

The implants are currently limited to use in the skull because, unlike limbs, they do not have to carry the body weight.

The custom-made bones are created from the calcium phosphate powder and a solidifying liquid which is more than 80 percent distilled water, using computer-assisted design.

In the same way that an ink-jet printer propels droplets onto a piece of paper, a device squirts the liquid on a 0.1-millimetre-thick layer of the powder to form a desired shape.

The device, which was developed with Tokyo-based firm Next 21, repeats the process and builds up layers that have different shapes. For example, 100 layers create a one-centimetre thick implant.

Theoretically, a laboratory in Tokyo could one day use CT data to create a custom-made bone within hours for someone hurt in a car accident halfway across the world.

The clinical tests will last for some two years, covering a total of 70 adults at 10 hospitals. Prior to the current project, the University of Tokyo Hospital implanted CT Bone in 10 adults, who showed promising results.

The researchers expect to put it into practical use in three to four years.

The same technology has been used to make prototypes of industrial products.

"But it is the first time in the world to use materials that can and were implanted into the human body," said Chung Ung-il, a University of Tokyo bioengineering professor who is also part of the project.

Chung said previous studies showed the implants are replaced with regenerated real bone after one or two years, depending on the extent of the defects.

Takato said the host bone serves as "an incubator" that helps replace artificial bone as cells invade the implant in what could be called "in-body tissue engineering".

As ceramic implants are brittle, surgeons often have to scrape the patient's host bone instead to help conventional implants fit better, Takato said.

Doctors also often take bone from elsewhere in the body, particularly the hip, for conventional transplants.

"Nearly half of it is often wasted in the process of making an implant that fits. It is very good to be able to reconstruct bone without taking a piece from elsewhere," Takato said.

Takato hopes to use CT Bone for children if the clinical tests go well.

"Even if I want to treat their skeletal damage or development abnormality, I can't take bone from children for grafts. This technology should benefit children," Takato said.

Children usually have excellent bone growth. "Implants would be quickly replaced with their own bone, which would grow as the child grows," he said.

The technology also has narrow holes running through the artificial bones, inviting blood vessels and cells to come and help regenerate bone.

The research team is also working on a second-generation CT Bone, which contains materials that facilitate bridging between the artificial and real bone.

Experiments with implanting it in the skulls of Beagle dogs are underway with good results, he said.

The ultimate goal is to be able to construct bone from the living cells of patients, allowing them to take in larger pieces.

© 2008 AFP

Bruins Continue on their Winning Streak

Bruins continue on their winning streak beating their long time rivals, the Montreal Canadians in overtime. This was an important win because it solidified their status as a team to be reckoned with. The Canadians have dominated the Bruins over the last couple of years and this was an important win for the Bruins to improve their overall pschye and belief in themselves. To be truthful this wasn't just a regular game, both sides would have gained a lot from this win. Alas, the Bruins defeated the Habs:

On the Canadians home ice.
After they just celebrated retiring Patrick Roy's number.
This was the Canadians 100th year in the NHL and the first home game against the Bruins.
Mike Komisarek is out for 6-8 weeks due to the fight with Milan Lucic in the teams last meeting where Boston humiliated them with a 6 to 1 win.

A great game to watch, if you weren't able to here are the highlights.

The Bruins are now first in the Eastern Conference, second in the entire NHL in terms of points.

Mankind's new best friend? Trained giant rats sniff out land mines, tuberculosis

Bart Weetjens in Tanzania with one of his trained rats. Bart Weetjens in Tanzania with one of his trained rats. (Sylvain Piraux/Apopo International)
By Colin Nickerson Globe Correspondent / November 23, 2008

Reviled as vermin through the ages, rats are becoming unlikely soldiers in the struggle against two scourges of the developing world: land mines and tuberculosis.

In Mozambique, special squads of raccoon-size rats are sniffing out lethal explosive devices buried across the countryside, remnants of the country's anticolonial and civil wars of the last century.

In neighboring Tanzania, teams of rats use their twitchy noses to detect TB bacteria in saliva samples from four clinics serving slum neighborhoods. So far this year, the 25 rats trained for the pilot medical project have identified 300 cases of early-stage TB - infections missed by lab technicians with their microscopes. If not for the rodents, many of these victims would have died and others would have spread the disease.

"It's fair, I think, to call these animals 'hero rats,' " said Bart Weetjens, the Belgian conceiver of both programs.

The rat squads, at first derided by some interna tional aid officials as ridiculous, have won support from the World Bank and praise from the UN and land mine eradication groups. Now there are plans to deploy the creatures to Angola, Congo, Zambia, and other land mine-infested lands.

The rats' "noses are far more sensitive than all current mechanical vapor detectors," Havard Bach, a mine-clearing specialist with the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining, wrote in a study.

Although rats make almost everyone's short list of horrors - associated with filth, disease, and destruction of food crops - they "are really nice creatures," according to Weetjens.

"They are organized, sensitive, sociable, and smart," said the former product engineer in a telephone interview from Antwerp, Belgium, home base for Apopo International, the nonprofit organization that trains and deploys the rats.

In the 1990s, he journeyed to Africa to study land mine clearance techniques. He put his engineer's mind to the expensive, clumsy, and often risky methods employed to detect the lethal contraptions of metal and explosive that detonate underfoot.

Land mines claim casualties for decades after the last shot is fired in a conflict; millions are strewn in former and present fighting zones across Africa, Asia, and Europe. The wickedly durable antipersonnel devices kill or maim thousands of people every year, mainly in the poorest of countries. Removal of the weapons is a priority of the United Nations and other groups.

"In Africa, it came to me: Rats can be part of this great effort," Weetjens recalled.

So he started training giant pouched rats - an African species known for its large size, sunny disposition, and ultra-keen nostrils - to detect the faintest whiff of TNT and other explosives. Because the rats are too light to trigger the explosive, they are not harmed in the exercise; they simply signal the location of the explosive to a handler, who has it defused and removed.

The rat land mine-clearing program in Mozambique, although still small in scale, has been operational for two years - with 34 trained rats deployed to the field, each overseen by a pair of armor-clad handlers. Another 250 mine-detecting rats are undergoing schooling at Tanzania's Sokoine University of Agriculture. It takes 8 to 10 months to fully train a rat, said Weetjens.

A single rat can inspect 1,000 square feet in about 30 minutes, according to Apopo; that's at least a full day's labor for a human working with an electronic detector at terrible risk.

Rat teams are credited with clearing 270 square miles of former farm and village land in southern Mozambique, allowing for the return of peasant families dislocated since the 1980s.

Dogs can perform the same task. But rats are less expensive to train ($3,000 to $5,000 per animal, compared with $40,000 for a canine), easier to house and transport, and far less susceptible to tropical disease. Also, dogs can trip land mines.

Also, rats don't form deep emotional attachments to a single handler. A rat will happily work with anyone who gives the right commands and provides the correct payoff - a few peanuts or a nice ripe banana for locating a land mine, said Andrew Sully, Mozambique program manager for Apopo.

The rodents are hitched to a light leash and scamper in tight grid patterns in suspected land mine sites. When they scent explosive, they signal with furious digging motions. They typically work from 5 to 9 a.m., quitting when the ferocious African sun gets too hot.

"People are so surprised to see this" project, said Alberto Jorge Chambe, a Mozambican rat handler for Apopo. "Rats are usually considered pests or enemies of humanity. But rats are helping my country escape the shadow of death."

Meanwhile, in a conceptual leap, Weetjens decided to turn the rats' sharp olfactory sense to disease detection, starting with tuberculosis. "The medical applications, I believe, will eventually prove even more important than the hunt for land mines," he predicted.

In the pilot project in the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam and the nearby city of Morogoro, Apopo-trained rats evaluate saliva samples at a rate of 40 every 10 minutes; that's equal to what a skilled lab technician, using a microscope, can effectively complete in a day.

A TB rat signals with unmistakable paw motions when it detects sputum infected by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the infectious bug responsible for 1.7 million deaths and 9.2 million new TB cases each year, mainly in poor countries, according to the World Health Organization. Scientists at Germany's Max Planck Institute are now trying to determine whether the rats are detecting the scent of the actual TB bacteria or some metabolic reaction produced by the infection.

For both TB and land mines, the rats are trained to respond to the sound of a clicker; when the rat makes the scratching motion that means it has detected an explosive or the odor of disease, the handler or trainer responds by snapping the clicker, which means a nut or fruit is on the way.

So why don't the animals just scratch every few minutes to win a treat?

"That would be human behavior," said Weetjens. "Rats are more honest."

Colin Nickerson can be reached at

Panamera to Drive Better than it Looks

STUTTGART, Germany —Porsche has released images of the production 2010 Porsche Panamera four-door sport sedan, several months ahead of the car's official launch.

Unlike the early video of the car our spy shooters caught on the Nürburgring, these photos show the new Panamera in its "final look" form, according to Porsche. The company describes it as a "unique interpretation of the classic saloon body."

The Panamera is lower and wider than a traditional four-door at 76.0 inches wide and 55.8 inches high. In front, there are contoured air intakes in place of a traditional grille. The 911 resemblance is strongest in the wheel arches and long hoodline, Porsche notes.

The Panamera will be available with engine choices ranging from 300 to 500 horsepower, including a hybrid version. Engines will be mated to a manual six-speed or Porsche's new PDK seven-speed, automated dual-clutch transmission. The top model will have all-wheel drive as standard; it's an option on other Panameras. Full powertrain information won't be out till spring, Porsche says.

The 2010 Porsche Panamera is set for official unveiling in the spring, with an on-sale date by the end of summer 2009.

Porsche's super sport sedan will be making its world debut in Spring 2009, and the first models will be at dealerships worldwide in late summer of next year.

Inside Line says: We're almost positive the Panamera will drive better than it looks

GM Moving Forward with the Volt

MILFORD, Mich. — General Motors vice-chairman Bob Lutz late Friday tried to redirect the media toward a sunny update on the 2011 Chevrolet Volt and away from the relentless drumbeat of bad news about the automaker's dire financial straits.

Writing on the corporate GM FastLane blog, Lutz reported that GM has "moved on to the next phase of engineering development" for the Volt. He says the electric vehicle has made "great progress."

But the normally voluble Lutz refused to discuss GM's financial situation or offer his opinion on such touchy subjects as bankruptcy. "I am not going to comment here about any government loans or hearings or GM's financial situation — just like I wouldn't engage you in conversation about it if I ran into you in the produce aisle," Lutz said.

He did not address the elephant-in-the-living-room question of what happens to the Volt if GM runs out of money at the end of the year and no government help is forthcoming.

Instead, Lutz spent the bulk of the blog discussing his experience during a recent 30-mile test drive of the Volt here in late November.

"We've moved from the Volt test mules using previous-generation Malibu bodies [affectionately known as 'MaliVolts'] to test vehicles using vehicles from our next-generation global compact car architecture," he said.

"I feel terrific about the driving dynamics of that architecture," Lutz continued. "It instantly feels several price classes higher than what it actually is, due to the level of refinement."

The test Volt needs "very little in terms of additional tuning," reports Lutz. "I can say with impunity that the engine was quiet and not at all intrusive in terms of noise."

Inside Line says: Bob Lutz reassures the public that work continues on the Volt, despite GM's troubles. But don't ask him for any more details if you see him buying bananas.

17 Holiday Gift Ideas for Geeky Kids

Written by Lidija Davis


Don't know what to get the kids in your life for Christmas this year? Well it turns out that little people get the biggest thrill out of getting geeky gifts - particularly gifts you do stuff with. So, if you're stuck on what to get your niece, nephew, friend, or even your own little person, take a look at our gift suggestions below.

We have organized them from the least to the most expensive, and give you 17 gift ideas for tweens and teens.

1. Fizzy Bath Bomb Factory


This kit lets kids investigate the science of fizz by creating their own bath bombs, haunted balloons, and volcanoes using simple ingredients like glycerine, cornstarch, and food coloring.

Recommended Age: 10+
Price Tag: $14.95

2. The Brew Your Own Root Beer Kit


This easy to use kit lets kids brew up 4 gallons of old fashion root beer naturally carbonated with real yeast.

Recommended Age: 8+
Price Tag: $17.95

3. DIY Sour Candy Factory Kit


From sour lollipops to sour gummies, to straight up sour liquids and powders, kids will love every minute of creating their own candy. The activity guide has recipes as well as candy, science, and candy-science facts.

Recommended age: 8+
Price Tag: $19.99

4. Code Breaker Card Game


For the future cryptographer, this code making/breaking card game asks kids to decipher code words used by opponents on the back of cards. Eighteen sets of matching cards are spread face down and flipped over two at a time. One is revealed to all players, the other is kept private, marked for future reference by the player. Opponents need to break codes and swipe matched pairs.

Recommended Age: 7+
Price Tag: $19.95

5. RockStar


RockStar is a hub for connecting up to five sets of headphones to the same MP3 player, making it possible for kids share a music player without having to share earphones.

Price Tag: $20

6. Fly Stick Van de Graaff Levitation Wand


This battery powered wand features a mini Van de Graaff generator that lets kids create the illusion of levitation. By pushing a button on the handle, the static charge built up in the wand causes the 3D mylar shapes to move around.

Note: You have to check out the video below to fully appreciate this toy [Dur: 1 minute 28 seconds]

Price Tag: $26.99

7. Darth Vader Mugshot T-shirt


Sizes: S - 2XL
Price Tag: $29.95

8. See Me Work Auto Stapler


A fully automatic stapler with transparent casing that reveals the secrets behind stapler technology.

Price Tag: $32.00

9. R/C Animated Solar System Mobile


Kids that dream of turning to astronomy when they get older can start now by exploring the wonders of the solar system in their own room. This animated solar system mobile shows the planets in orbit around the sun. A CD and light pointer is included to help guide them around the solar system.

Recommended Age: 7+
Price Tag: $39.99

10. WowWee's FlyTech Bladestar


The Bladestar is an indoor flying machine that includes a navigation sensor to help keep it from slamming into walls and ceilings. Multiple Bladestars can engage in living-room aerial battles.

Price tag: $40
Recommended Age: 8+

11. Guitar Hero and Rock Band Guitars by Aly and AJ


For kids who love Guitar Hero or Rock Band, these guitars are the ultimate fashion accessory. Designed by the teen pop stars Aly and AJ, these guitars work on the Wii and the PS2.

Price: $49.99

12. Bicycle iPod Speaker


For future rock stars, instead of cycling with earphones, keep kids safe with this water-resistant iPod speaker that clamps directly to their bike frame. A handlebar mounted remote control keeps things safe too.

Price: $50
13. The Roll Up Drum Kit


For budding musicians, this roll up drum kit has six sensor pads that plug into the USB port of PCs running Windows XP or Vista. Software is included letting kids choose from six different drum kits, 48 rhythm patterns, eight special drum effects, and eight bass drum loops. Each pad may be programmed with different effects. Kids can record and play their own riffs.

Price Tag: $59.95

14. Customizable Remote Controlled Robot


This customizable, remote-controlled robot kit has 105 interchangeable parts that enable kids to build limitless motorized robots with flashing lights, mechanical claws, and a rolling base. A color-coded, step-by-step manual is included for building four robots, or kids can just make up their own.

Recommended Age: 5+
Price Tag: $59.95

15. Perfume Science Experiment Kit


The Perfume Science Experiment Kit teaches kids how the nose works with their brain to recognize smells. Perfume oils, decorative flacons and other important tools of the trade are included with a full-color manual to help kids design and discover how perfumes are composed.

Recommended Age: 10+
Price Tag: $59.95

16. Electronics Workshop for Beginners


A unique introduction to electronics for kids who follow the story of Robert M-3, a young robot in the year 2069, who is beginning his education in electronics with an apprenticeship to Sirius Armstrong, the chief electrical engineer on an enormous space station orbiting Earth. As kids read about Robert's lessons in electronics, they will conduct experiments alongside him using the Electronics Workshop console.

Recommended Age: 10+
Price Tag: $110

17. Flip Ultra Camcorder


For the filmmaker of the future, the Flip Ultra is considered the world's easiest camcorder to use.

Price Tag: $149.99

We hope this list gives you some inspiration in this busy time.

If you know of any other great gift ideas for kids, please share them with us.

Many thanks to the wonderful folks that inspired this post:

Fossils Are Fine; a Live Beastie Is Better

Published: November 22, 2008

A RESEARCHER at Pennsylvania State University, Stephan Schuster, said in the journal Nature last week that he might be able to regenerate a mammoth from ancient DNA for just $10 million. Given that Chicago’s Field Museum, with the help of McDonald’s and Walt Disney, recently paid $8.36 million for an especially fine Tyrannosaurus rex fossil, Dr. Schuster should be able to sell a pack of live mammoths to zoo managers around the world.

For making the past come alive, a mammoth is a good start, but it’s just a hairy elephant. What other extinct species would be good to have around again? Herein, a wish list.

Because we are so interested in ourselves, the first two resurrected species might be the two close cousins whom our ancestors drove to extinction:


The Neanderthal

THE NEANDERTHAL. This species and modern humans split apart some 500,000 years ago, and the Neanderthal adapted to the ice age climate that gripped its European homeland. Scientists in Germany are expected to report soon that they have decoded the full genome. No one knows if Neanderthals could speak. A living one would answer that question and many others.

Peter Schouten/National Geographic Society

The ‘Hobbit’

THE ‘HOBBIT.’ Remains of these downsized humans, more correctly known as Homo floresiensis, were found on the island of Flores four years ago. Paleoanthropologists have been at each other’s throats ever since as to whether the pint-size people with sophisticated stone tools were a new human species or a pathological form of modern humans. Let the little floresians speak for themselves, though first we must find some of their hair.

DNA lasts only 50,000 years or so, an eyeblink of evolutionary time, but genome engineers will eventually get so good at their job, one can surely assume, that they won’t need actual DNA; they will be able to calculate the DNA sequence of any known species by working backward from the genomes of their living descendants. Birds, for instance, evolved from dinosaurs. So put a few nips and tucks in a falcon’s genome and you could doubtless re-create that of a velociraptor. Let’s try resummoning these creatures from their rest in the fossil beds of extinction:

The Sea Scorpion

THE SEA SCORPION. These huge arthropods lived in shallow seas 450 million to 250 million years ago and grew to six feet long and more. Their champion, Jaekelopterus rhenaniae, was a monster of up to eight feet (a gigantic claw was found last year). We are used to insects and spiders being tiny creatures, confined by their breathing system to a small volume. Having a few sea scorpions around would help us understand just how big insects could grow.

Image From Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Pterodactyl

THE PTERODACTYL. The bird-lovers in Central Park could coo over something more predatory than red-tailed hawks. Quetzalcoatlus had a wingspan of 36 feet and ranged over the Cretaceous sea that once occupied the middle of the United States. This pterodactyl was one of the largest flying animals known and may represent the upper biological limit for flight. Re-creating the species would solve a lot of disputed issues about pterodactyl aerodynamics, including how it got off the ground.

Louie Psihoyos/Corbis
The Hadrosaur

THE HADROSAUR. Of course, dinosaurs of some kind must be resurrected. Best to start with something not too fierce — maybe the plant-eating Parasaurolophus walkeri, a creature with an amazing hollow head crest whose purpose has sparked a multitude of theories. The latest idea is that the crest was a resonance chamber that let the three-ton monsters generate a mighty bellow. A dawn chorus from these behemoths would get everyone’s attention.

And if the genome engineers wanted to conjure up something actually useful:

THE BIOFUELIFER ANTI-ARRHENIUS. Svante Arrhenius would never have invented the greenhouse effect if he’d heard of this cycad plant. It gulped in carbon dioxide and methane through its leaves and exuded streams of high-octane petroleum products through its bark as a defense against beetles. Not only that, it had bright red leaves that were good to eat. Though some said they tasted a little like herring. Florida was once the home of this herbaceous panacea. Converting the entire state to a plantation of these palm trees could solve a lot of problems.

New Suspect in Sports Doping Is, No Joke, Viagra

Niko J. Kallianiotis for The New York Times

The lacrosse player George Downey is part of a study testing whether Viagra can give athletes a competitive advantage.

Published: November 22, 2008

SCRANTON, Pa. — When George Downey volunteered along with other lacrosse players at Marywood University to take Viagra for a study, he received a snickering nickname from his high school coach. His parents jokingly told their friends. Inquiring minds sent messages to his Facebook page.

Niko J. Kallianiotis for The New York Times

Kenneth W. Rundell, lead researcher of the Marywood study, said Viagra “provides an unfair advantage, at least at altitude.”

“They’re making fun of me,” Mr. Downey, 19, said good-naturedly. “Deep down, I think they’re looking for tips.”

Except that the Marywood study does not involve the bedroom, but the playing field. It is being financed by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which is investigating whether the diamond-shaped blue pills create an unfair competitive advantage in dilating an athlete’s blood vessels and unduly increasing oxygen-carrying capacity. If so, the agency will consider banning the drug.

Viagra, or sildenafil citrate, was devised to treat pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in arteries of the lungs. The drug works by suppressing an enzyme that controls blood flow, allowing the vessels to relax and widen. The same mechanism facilitates blood flow into the penis of impotent men. In the case of athletes, increased cardiac output and more efficient transport of oxygenated fuel to the muscles can enhance endurance.

“Basically, it allows you to compete with a sea level, or near-sea level, aerobic capacity at altitude,” Kenneth W. Rundell, the director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Marywood, said of Viagra.

Some experts are more skeptical. Anthony Butch, the director of the Olympic drug-testing lab at U.C.L.A., said it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” to prove that Viagra provided a competitive edge, given that the differences in performance would be slight and that athletes would probably take it in combination with other drugs. Scientists have the same uncertainty about the performance-enhancing effects of human growth hormone, though it is banned. But some athletes do not need proof — only a belief — that a drug works before using it, Dr. Butch said.

“I think it’s going to be a problem,” he said.

Through the decades, athletes have tried everything from strychnine to bulls’ testicles to veterinary steroids in a desperate, and frequently illicit, effort to gain an advantage. Several years ago, word spread that Viagra was being given to dogs at racetracks, said Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, based in Colorado Springs.

Interest in the drug among antidoping experts was further increased by a study conducted at Stanford University and published in 2006 in The Journal of Applied Physiology. The study indicated that some participants taking Viagra improved their performances by nearly 40 percent in 10-kilometer cycling time trials conducted at a simulated altitude of 12,700 feet — a height far above general elite athletic competition. Viagra did not significantly enhance performance at sea level, where blood vessels are fully dilated in healthy athletes.

A 2004 German study of climbers at 17,200 feet at a Mount Everest base camp, published in The Annals of Internal Medicine, found that Viagra relieved constriction of blood vessels in the lungs and increased maximum exercise capacity.

At this point, there is no evidence of widespread use of Viagra by elite athletes, Mr. Tygart said. Yet, because the drug is not prohibited and thus not screened for, there is no way to know precisely how popular it is.

There is some suspicion that Viagra may be used to circumvent doping controls in cycling, which has faced waves of scandal. Last May, the cyclist Andrea Moletta was removed from the Tour of Italy after a search of his father’s car turned up 82 Viagra pills, as well as syringes concealed in a tube of toothpaste, according to news accounts. An investigation ended without formal accusations of doping.

The former major league baseball player Rafael Palmeiro once served as a pitchman for Viagra and tested positive in 2005 for the steroid stanozolol, although the connection, if any, between the drugs in his case is not known. Some athletes are believed to take Viagra in an attempt to aid the delivery of steroids to the muscles and hasten recovery from workouts. Others take Viagra to counter the effects of impotence brought on by steroid use, said Dr. Gary I. Wadler, the chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s committee on prohibited substances.

The agency, based in Montreal, is financing two studies related to Viagra and performance enhancement in sports. The University of Miami is studying whether Viagra benefits aerobic capacity at lower altitudes than the Stanford study — comparable to heights where elite competitions take place. This study is also examining whether there is a difference in the way Viagra affects male and female athletes.

The study at Marywood University is measuring the potential effects of Viagra as an antidote to air pollution, produced outdoors by the exhaust of factories and automobiles and indoors by ice-resurfacing machines. Studies involving animals, and children in Mexico City, have indicated that pollution causes pulmonary hypertension. If that could be alleviated for athletes by Viagra, “performance is going to be enhanced,” said Dr. Rundell, the lead researcher of the pollution study.

The Marywood study is expected to be completed by next month, and the Miami study is expected to conclude in February. The earliest that the World Anti-Doping Agency could place Viagra on its list of prohibited substances would be September 2009, five months before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, a spokesman said.

“My guess is, it’s a pretty easy decision to make,” Dr. Rundell said. “It’s a compound that’s pretty easily measured. And it clearly provides an unfair advantage, at least at altitude. I couldn’t imagine it not going down on the list, but I’m not the one who makes those decisions.”

Because the air in Beijing is so polluted, some suspected that Viagra would be a popular drug at the 2008 Olympics. But there was no attempt to measure its presence because it was not prohibited, a spokeswoman for the International Olympic Committee said.

Even if Viagra increases athletic stamina by a small amount, it could have a significant effect on results in sports like distance running, or cycling and Nordic skiing, whose events can be held at altitudes of 6,000 feet or above, Dr. Rundell said. He noted that the time between first place and fourth place in the 15-kilometer cross-country ski race at the 2006 Turin Olympics amounted to a performance differential of less than 1 percent.

Even athletes in contact sports may benefit from Viagra, Dr. Rundell said. “If you are a football player going to Denver from Atlanta, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work,” he said.

Anne L. Friedlander, an author of the 2006 Stanford study, said that she expected Viagra would be banned for sports use. But, she noted, it does not benefit everyone. Only 4 of the 10 participants in her study responded to the drug. And Viagra merely elevated the performance of those four to the level of other participants less affected by altitude, rather than enhancing performance beyond normal, the way steroids do, Dr. Friedlander said.

“That’s something to think about,” she said.

Whether Viagra is allowed or prohibited, it remains illegal for athletes to use prescription medication not ordered for them, Mr. Tygart of Usada said. He and others cautioned that the use of Viagra could also result in side effects like severe headaches, changes in vision and priapism, which may require medical attention.

Meanwhile, at Marywood University, Mr. Downey and about a half-dozen other lacrosse players have joined a group of 30 participants in the study of Viagra’s effectiveness in countering air pollution. They will ride exercise bikes in clean air and in a room with the air polluted by the exhaust of leaf blowers and lawnmowers. And they will continue to endure teasing from their friends.

“It may take awhile to live this one down,” Mr. Downey said.

At least the participants are allowed to receive a stipend.

“You’ve got to pay for college somehow,” he said.

Mr. Biden’s Nightly 90-Minute Amtrak Rides to End in January

Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

THE MAD DASH For years, Joseph R. Biden Jr. has commuted from Delaware to Washington.

NINE days after the election, in a motorcade zipping through the diagonal streets of downtown Washington, Jill Biden sat next to her husband, Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., peering out the window and scoping out her soon-to-be home city.

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

ROOM TO SPARE The official residence at the Naval Observatory.

William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

HOME SWEET HOME A policeman standing guard outside Mr. Biden’s home in Delaware in August.

“What building is that?” she asked, pointing out an unfamiliar structure in Judiciary Square, recalled Ted Kaufman, Mr. Biden’s longtime adviser and close friend, who was in the car.

Her husband, the consummate Washington insider, was stumped. “Neither of us knew what it was,” Mr. Kaufman said.

Perhaps that’s because Mr. Biden, like his wife, has never lived in Washington, despite serving in the Senate for 36 years.

Not since Jacob K. Javits took near-daily flights back to New York City (mostly to please his wife, Marian, who refused to leave Manhattan) have a senator’s commuting habits been so carefully documented. But Mr. Biden’s nightly 90-minute Amtrak rides to Wilmington, Del., will grind to a halt in January, when he and Dr. Biden, an English professor, take up residence at No. 1 Observatory Circle, on the grounds of the United States Naval Observatory, the official home of vice presidents since 1974.

Mr. Biden will be the first vice president to move into the residence without previously living in Washington, said Donald Ritchie, a Senate historian.

For the Bidens, the move will bring a drastic change in habit. Mr. Biden, 66, will abandon his long-cherished routine that cemented his reputation as “Amtrak Joe,” an average guy who rushes to make the train home to spend time with his kids. Dr. Biden, 57, will almost certainly surrender her job at Delaware Technical and Community College.

In Delaware, they live in a 10-year-old lakeside home in the aptly named suburb of Greenville, outside Wilmington, a house that Mr. Biden personally designed.

In Washington, they will inhabit a 115-year-old Victorian with 33 rooms on a heavily guarded circular lot, next to the British Embassy.

The Bidens and their aides declined to discuss their plans or the question of whether Dr. Biden would find a new job in Washington. But friends and colleagues said that in all the decades Mr. Biden worked in Washington, he never had much of a social life there. He rarely stuck around for an evening fund-raiser or a cocktail party. He was not a regular at typical lawmaker haunts like the Capital Grille or Charlie Palmer, instead inviting people to the Senate dining room if he happened to be in town for dinner.

“I think he was far more interested in his children than the social whirl,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, a longtime Biden friend. “I have to kid him a little bit, because he’s no longer going to be asking, ‘Are we going to finish this vote by 7:45?’ so he can make this mad dash to the train.”

Not that Mr. Biden will suddenly become a fixture at Washington dinner parties, predicted Mr. Leahy, who in his 34 years in the Senate has seen a few new administrations come to town. “Everybody loves to have the vice president over for dinner, and he’ll have 100 invitations piling up,” Mr. Leahy said. “But I think he can be very valuable to President Obama up on the Hill. That will be the most important place to be.”

Sally Quinn, the journalist and author, said that like the Obamas, who have spent little time in Washington, the Bidens will be social newcomers.

“I’ve never seen Joe Biden at a party in Washington,” Ms. Quinn said. “Both of those couples are going to be fresh faces, even though they’ve both been in the Senate and Biden’s been here for a hundred years. It’ll be very interesting to have them around.”

Mr. Kaufman, who has been a close Biden friend since the 1970s, said Mr. Biden was damaged politically by his absence on the social scene.

“He did not participate in it,” Mr. Kaufman said. “To be honest, it was a real hindrance, because when he ran for president in ’87, people didn’t know him. You could probably count on two hands the number of embassy functions he went to.”

That could change in January, if he and Dr. Biden make time to sample the city’s Italian restaurants (their favorite cuisine) or visit the National Theater on Pennsylvania Avenue instead of traveling to New York to see a show (their regular practice until now).

Or they could take in performances at the Kennedy Center, a place Mr. Biden was rarely spotted at when he was a senator, said John Dow, a spokesman for the Kennedy Center.

If the Bidens stay closer to home, they will be surrounded by familiar faces in their new neighborhood on Massachusetts Avenue in northwest Washington. Hunter Biden, one of Mr. Biden’s sons, lives a mile and a half from the Naval Observatory with his wife and their three daughters. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton lives around the corner in a five-bedroom brick Colonial on Whitehaven Street. They may also bring Mr. Biden’s 91-year-old mother, Jean, to live with them, as she does in Delaware.

Dr. Biden, who runs five miles a day, five days a week, will enjoy close proximity to the trails winding through Rock Creek Park, close to the Naval Observatory. (She will be closely trailed by athletic Secret Service agents.)

And the Bidens are expected to keep their home in Greenville, which Dr. Biden has said they will never sell. “In D.C., we’re so close that I would be lucky enough that we could take advantage of both places,” she recently told The News Journal, a Wilmington paper.

If Dr. Biden decides to continue working, she would be one of the few vice-presidential spouses to do so. Lynne Cheney is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, and wrote several books during the Bush administration. Lady Bird Johnson supervised her Texas broadcasting company while her husband served as vice president. But most other second ladies have devoted themselves to volunteer work and ceremonial duties on behalf of their husbands.

If she chooses to work, Dr. Biden’s chosen profession is unlikely to raise any red flags. “It’s almost impossible for me to imagine what kind of conflict there could be with a teacher,” said Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group.

An official at one Washington college said she hoped that Dr. Biden would come looking for a job there. “We would love it,” said Elizabeth Homan, a spokeswoman for Montgomery College, one of the largest community colleges in the Washington area. “I think it would be a really pleasant surprise.”

Officials at Amtrak, however, were less enthusiastic about losing their high-profile customer.

“We will miss having Senator Biden as a regular passenger,” said Karina Romero, an Amtrak spokeswoman.

'Superbad' Director Releases His 'Adventureland' Trailer

Adventureland Trailer

Duration: 1:30

Graduating from his high school Superbad days, Greg Mottola tackles college in this '09 comedy.

The familiarity of Mottola's cast is sure to bring out the laughter in this coming-of-age flick about life after college.

If you didn't get enough of Kristen Stewart in the fall hit, Twilight, get ready for more in Adventureland.