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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tuesday Tunes - Travis Tritt

Just a quickie this week. Long Haired Country Boy slings a mean guitar!

Feds cut Target Rate to .25%

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Federal Reserve has cut its target for a key interest rate to the lowest level on record and pledged to use "all available tools" to combat a severe financial crisis and prolonged recession.

The central bank on Tuesday said it had reduced the federal funds rate, the interest that banks charge each other, to a range of zero to 0.25 percent. That is down from the 1 percent target rate in effect since the last meeting in October. Many analysts had expected the Fed to make a smaller cut to 0.5 percent.

The Fed's aggressive move was greeted enthusiastically by Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average rose about 210 points in late-afternoon trading.

The Fed's action and statement made clear that economic conditions have worsened since its last meeting in October.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues said they will use unconventional methods to try to contain a financial crisis that is the worst since the 1930s and a recession that is already the longest in a quarter-century. For example, the Fed last month said it planned to purchase up to $600 billion in direct debt and mortgage-backed securities issued by big financial players including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in an effort to boost the availability of mortgage loans.

That move was one of a series the central bank has taken to increase its loans by hundreds of billions of dollars as a way to deal with the worst financial crisis to hit the country in more than 70 years.

The Fed on Tuesday also made clear that it intends to keep the funds rate at extremely low levels.

"The committee anticipates that weak economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for some time," the central bank's panel that sets interest rates said in a statement.

Even before the announcement of a lower target, the funds rate has been trading well below the old target of 1 percent. For November, the funds rate had averaged 0.39 percent. Analysts said it was likely to fall further with the Fed setting the new target as low as zero.

The Fed's decision is expected to be quickly matched by a reduction in banks' prime lending rate, the benchmark rate for millions of business and consumer loans. Before the Fed announcement, the prime rate stood at 4 percent.

The Fed has never pushed its target for the federal funds rate as low as zero to 0.25 percent. The lowest target rate before had been 1 percent, a level seen only once before in the past half-century.

Given how low interest rates are, the central bank said it planned to use a variety of unconventional methods to flood the banking system with credit and drive interest rates lower.

"The Federal Reserve will employ all available tools to promote the resumption of sustainable economic growth and to preserve price stability," the Fed said.

The announcement on the deployment of unconventional methods had been expected given that Bernanke and other Fed officials have sought in recent comments to let financial markets know that the central bank will not be out of ammunition to battle the economic downturn even with the funds rate at such low levels.

In its statement Tuesday, the Fed said that since its last meeting in late October, "labor market conditions have deteriorated, and the available data indicate that consumer spending, business investment and industrial production have declined. Financial markets remain quite strained and credit conditions tight."

The central bank acknowledged that it had room to battle the economic weakness because inflation pressures have "diminished appreciably" as the price of energy and other commodities has fallen sharply.

The Fed action came only hours after the government announced that consumer prices dropped by a record amount of 1.7 percent in November, reflecting a record decline in the price of gasoline and other energy products.

Ball Buster

10 Cool Gifts Under $50


Joy to the world, the holiday season has come! I just love this time of year: the colorful strings of lights adorning trees, the glistening snow on the ground, and the pleasant sounds of carolers singing "Silent Night." Yes, it really is the most wonderful time of year. That is, until you snap out of your holiday reminiscences and realize you haven't even started shopping yet. (I won't tell you I've already finished. Oops.)

Buzz up!on Yahoo!

While your first reaction is to panic, wondering how you're going to get your shopping done in time, it's going to be alright. Most folks wait until the last minute to shop anyway, because they just don't know what to buy. Luckily, you won't have that problem, because we're letting you in on some cool tech gifts for everyone on your list—all pleasantly priced at less than $50.

So get that mouse hand ready and add these great gifts—from customizable earphones to battery-heated glove liners—to your shopping cart.

Here are some of the products featured in today's 10 Great Gifts Under $50 slideshow:

For the Stylish Teen: Customizable Earphones
Teenagers always want what's hip in the fashion and technology world—if you can find that perfect gadget that marries those two worlds, they'll forever be grateful. iFrogz's new EarPollution line of customizable earphones offers a total of more than 200,000 stylish colors, artwork, and components. There are three models in the collection to choose from: Hype earbuds, Fallout on-ear headphones, or Nerve Pipes on-ear headphones. Personalize your music sessions for $19.99 to $34.99, with 2-day shipping.

For the Outdoor Enthusiast: Battery-Heated Glove Liners
Baby, it's cold outside, so warm up your significant other with the Battery-Heated Glove Liners ($49.95) from Brookstone. Simply slip on the microfiber liners before you put on your gloves, and your hands will stay nice and toasty throughout the winter. Each glove liner is individually controlled with a choice of three levels of warmth. Available in S/M and L/XL sizes, each liner uses three AA batteries. Get free shipping with a $100 purchase using code FREESHIP at checkout.

10 Cool Gifts Under $50
For the Stylish Teen: Customizable Earphones
For the Stylish Teen: Customizable Earphones
For the Music Aficionado: Electronic Drum Kit Shirt
For the Music Aficionado: Electronic Drum Kit Shirt
For the Disorganized Homeowner: UFO Surge Protector
For the Disorganized Homeowner: UFO Surge Protector
For the Chef: Digital Thermometer Pan
For the Chef: Digital Thermometer Pan
For the Frequent Traveler: Digital Luggage Scale
For the Frequent Traveler: Digital Luggage Scale
For the Wine Lover: Automatic Wine Opener
For the Wine Lover: Automatic Wine Opener
For the Sound Sleeper: Alarm Clock for iPod nano
For the Sound Sleeper: Alarm Clock for iPod nano
For the Chatterbox: Cordless Phone System
For the Chatterbox: Cordless Phone System
For the TV Fan: Digital TV Tuner
For the TV Fan: Digital TV Tuner
For the Outdoor Enthusiast: Battery-Heated Glove Liners
For the Outdoor Enthusiast: Battery-Heated Glove Liners

Copyright (c) 2008Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Top 10 Outrageous Celeb Contract Demands

From Blige's Toilet Seat to Aguilera's Flintstones Vitamins, Celeb Requests Reveal Quirks

By SONA CHARAIPOTRA


tour riders
(ABCNews Photo Illustration)
More Photos


Want the inside scoop on your favorite band? Take a peak at the contract rider for their latest tour, where you'll find requests for everything from clean socks and underwear to pot, pork rinds  and more.

"In their 1982 rider, Van Halen infamously wanted a bowl of M&Ms  with all the brown ones picked out," said Andrew Goldberg, managing editor of theSmokingGun.com, which showcases more than 300 crazy celeb riders on its Backstage page.

"Clearly, it was a test," he said. "If you put in something really odd  like no brown M&Ms  and they catch it, it means the promoters are paying attention. If they miss that, what other, more important points are they missing? Lighting, security, microphones, amps? For musicians, that's a big deal. If you don't pay attention to the little things, you may be missing the bigger things."

Blender magazine senior editor Tyler Gray says that these often-obscure celebrity demands are also a power play.

"They're pushing it to see how far they can go," he said. "It's a control issue. They've reached a certain point in their careers where they expect respect. And they want a physical manifestation of it. Typically, the more D-list the celebrity, the bigger the demands. A Screech-type will gripe and complain, but a J.Lo type is not even dealing with it. You meet her demands or she simply goes home."

But the Smoking Gun's Goldberg also points out the practicality of some rider demands.

"People are living on the road, out of suitcases, in these cramped vans," he said. "So new underwear and socks are really popular requests. They just dump the old stuff and pull on the new ones. It's so much easier than trying to do laundry on the road. Still, when they start getting specific, like silk Calvin Klein boxers, that's a little insane."

And, Blender's Gray notes, these day-long pit-stops are as close to home as these stars will get for a while  so might as well make them as comfortable as possible.

"If you've been backstage at one of these venues, you know it's disgusting, it's where people are drinking and sweating and throwing up after the show," Gray said. "So in these contracts, they're aiming really high just to get something that is remotely acceptable, not barf-ridden and smelly.

"They definitely are a window into a celebrity's quirks, phobias, mental illnesses," gray said. "Like Aretha Franklin's fear of flying or Jennifer Lopez's fetish for white. But these contract riders also demonstrate how desperate these celebs are for some semblance of home on the road."

The cultural relevance of these celebrity contract riders was elevated to a new high last week on Bravo TV's "Top Chef." The Foo Fighter's manager wrote an amusing contract rider complete with a request for vegetarian soup. What's funny about that? "Meaty soups make roadies fart," said the rider.

On "Top Chef," "they basically took the Foo Fighters rider and turned it into an episode last week," said Goldberg. "The challenge was to prepare a meal for the band based on their contract rider. Then the Foo Fighters got to pick who got to stay and who got sent home that week. It was awesome."

Quirky Celebrity Requests on Tour

Herewith, a look at the quirkier celeb requests.

The Foo Fighters

"This sets the standard for really fun, witty contract riders," said The Smoking Gun's Goldberg, "because it had a sense of humor. The manager requests bath towels, and threatens a wedgie if they're brand new. He calls bacon 'God's currency.' The humor makes it fun to read  and that's hard to do with a contract." CLICK HERE FOR MORE.

Jennifer Lopez

"This was a rider for a African Aids charity video she did, and she was really demanding," said Goldberg. "White flowers, white furniture, white curtains. And Cuban food. Come on, Jennifer, it's a cameo in charity video. She was there for a little more than an hour and I heard she didn't even touch the food. It was obscene, really."

Mary J. Blige

At the top of germaphobe Mary J. Blige's list? "The queen of hip-hop-soul"  who checks into hotels as a Mrs. Jefferson  "demands that a brand new toilet seat be installed at any venue she plays," said Blender's Tyler Gray. "Now that's what being a star is all about."

Christina Aguilera

Health-conscious singer Christina Aguilera requests real coffee mugs for her java, along with soy milk, soy cheese, Echinacea, vitamin C and Flintstones chewable vitamins  guess she still hasn't outgrown them.

Paul McCartney

The very vegan former Beatle won't ride in a limo with leather seats or stand for leather or animal print furniture in his dressing room  not even the fake stuff. And while his meals are obviously vegan, too, the Smoking Gun site points out one major faux pas on Paul's part. The singer requests 24 bars of Ivory soap  which contain trace amounts of animal fats. Ooops.

More Demands by Stars On the Road

Coldplay

Sure, they asked for the standard vodka, cotton socks and "nibbles." But ever the family men, Brit rockers Coldplay also had a sweet request: eight pre-stamped local postcards set to send off to faraway family. So lead singer Chris Martin could send his love to wife Gwyneth Paltrow and the kiddies.

Dustin Diamond

Actor-turned-amateur porn star Dustin Diamond demands that there be no references to his teen alter ego  "Saved By the Bell" icon Screech  at venues where he's performing his stand-up routine. In fact, each offending mention incurs a $100 penalty. "I don't know if he can really enforce that," Gray said. "Come on. What kind of contract is Screech getting? No one cares enough to worry about it."

John Mayer

Turns out that the celeb player has a penchant for perfect teeth. Along with his organic fruit and soy milk, on his 2005 tour, singer John Mayer requested four "soft head" toothbrushes, Listerine mouth wash and mint-flavored Sensodyne or Tom's of Maine toothpaste, plus Altoids. No word on what items groupie, uh, girlfriend Jennifer Aniston has added to Mayer's contract rider on his 2008 jaunt.

M.I.A.

Brit hip-hop artist M.I.A. is particular about her cheese. She requests an organic cheese tray featuring cave-aged Gruyere, Swiss and sharp cheddar, along with organic berries, fresh  not canned  olives and Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Belly full, she then pockets a $25-per-head dinner buyout from the promoter. "All in all, not a bad deal," said Blender's Gray. "But where do you get cave-aged Guyere?"

Ben Kweller

"Apparently, singer Ben Kweller is really into fishing," said Blender's Gray. "So he requests bait on all his riders. It's a bit odd when you're nowhere near the water, but it's his prerogative. And if he can get them to give it to him, more power to him."

SmartHand: Cyborg Limbs Will Feel Like User's Own

| posted by Kit Eaton

SmartHand is a European collaborative project to develop a next-generation robotic prosthetic limb, and as part of the project Swedish researchers have successfully demonstrated a neat psychological trick that makes wearers feel like an artificial limb is actually part of their body.

A report published by the team at the Karolinska Institutet and Malmö University Hospital shows success in what's known as the "rubber hand" illusion. Amputees' brains can be fooled into thinking that a fake hand is actually wired into their nervous systems, despite the fact that the hand has no sensory inputs whatsoever.

It's a similar effect to the solution discovered by V.S. Ramachandran to alleviating phantom limb pain: In his work the brain is fooled into thinking it's getting sensory inputs from a missing limb by an optical illusion with a mirror, and the mental side-effects of this relieve pain. The work challenged the existing medical thinking that damaged severed nerve endings were the cause of the pain.

In the Swedish case, Prosthetic limb users were subjected to a different visual trick: Someone visibly touched the artificial hand while out of the patient's sight their arm stump was being stimulated. Apparently the illusion is very convincing, and the deep psychological basis for the effect was further demonstrated by subconsciously-induced sweating when the "rubber" hand was pricked by a needle. The results suggest that the artificial hand has been completely adopted into the user's body image at a neurological level.

The research team sees this as evidence for a possible new way of connecting up future prosthetic limbs sensor-equipped hands to a patient, and it's potentially a much simpler solution than having to directly couple electronics into the nervous system surgically. And since the illusion is similar to Ramachandran's study, there's a possibility that phantom limb pain may also be reduced.

The research into the more mechanical aspects of SmartHand have produced an amazing thought-controlled product that's ever-evolving, with the goal of totally replacing a missing forelimb with a sophisticated robot. But it's not alone: in the US there's Dean Kamen's robotic limb project.

This device is already so sci-fi-ishly sophisticated it's been dubbed the "Luke arm" after the artificial limb given to Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies. Kamen's project is concentrating on developing the motorized engineering and nerve-input interface--it's directly wired into patient's nerves to control its motors--but has already shown remarkable results. Famously one test subject felt so much at ease operating the arm that he was able to rest a mug on a nearby table without watching, and carrying on a conversation at the same time.

Kamen's work was initially aimed at replacing limbs lost by soldiers on duty, but the Luke arm and SmartHand suggest that limb-loss victims of all types, through accidents and as civilian war casualties, have amazing artificial limbs to look forward to in the future. They'll work just like the real thing, maybe even being stronger, and they just might feel like they're a natural part of the body. But the costs will have to be driven down from multi-million-dollar levels.

[via Medgadget]

A $100,000 Salary is not a Big Deal Anymore, Here's Why!


One hundred thousand dollars. Since the 1980s, the magical "six-figure" salary has been a benchmark for financial success. Not too long ago, that income often meant two nice cars in the garage of a large house, fun family vacations and plenty of money left over to save for retirement and college tuition.
But times have changed. Not only has standard inflation steadily eroded the real value of a $100,000 income, the costs of housing, health insurance and college tuition have risen dramatically in recent years. Consider the rising costs of food, energy and the necessities of a middle-class life and that six-figure luxury quickly turns to six-figure mediocrity.

Less than 20 percent of American households even break the six figures, but many who earn incomes near the mark find that their prized incomes don't take them as far as the hype. Many say that while breaking the $100,000 annual income mark may still be an impressive milestone, it doesn't exactly roll out the red carpet.

Costs eat away at benchmark
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 5.63 percent of individual income earners and only 17.8 percent of households had incomes of $100,000 or more in 2006. In fact, the median annual household income for 2006 was $48,021, a little less than half of the six-figure benchmark. The overwhelming majority of Americans still look up to a $100,000 income, but the expectations of what comes with that income are rapidly slumping.

The Labor Department recently revealed that the inflation rate for 2007 was the worst in 17 years, with consumer prices rising 4.1 percent, compared to 2.5 percent in 2006. Much of this was fueled by energy costs (up 17.4 percent for the year) and food costs (up 4.9 percent for the year), both of which were the biggest increases since 1990. Just to keep up with standard inflation, a $100,000 salary in 1990 would have to be $162,760 today. Or reversing the view, a $100,000 salary in 2000, adjusted retroactively for inflation, would be worth only $82,609 today.

"What would have cost you $100,000 in 1976 would cost you $381,000 today. That's just the inflation, and there are so many other things that have grown very expensive," says Mari Adam, Certified Financial Planner and president of Adam Financial Associates in Boca Raton, Fla.

Adam points to health care as a major expense that has grown almost twice the rate of inflation. The Kaiser Family Foundation, which tracks the costs of health insurance, found in 2006 that insurance costs had increased by a whopping 78 percent since 2000. The total cost of health insurance now averages $4,242 per year for individuals and $11,480 for families. Adam says college costs have also grown tremendously in recent years. According to the College Board's annual "Trends in College Pricing" report from last year, published tuitions at universities are up 35 percent in five years, the largest increase of any five-year period in the 30 years the report has been published.

"These are things that everyone spent money on 30 years ago, but the percentage of what was going out of their paycheck is a lot higher now. More of the income is being taken away to pay for a lot of these things," says Adam.

The cost of housing has also played a major role in diminishing the power of a six-figure income. In many parts of the country, housing prices have outpaced wage growth for almost a decade. The Housing Affordability Index, which compares the cost of housing against median family income, dropped considerably between 2000 and 2007. In 2000, the median family income was $50,732, and the median home price was $139,000. While median income grew to $59,157 in 2007, median home prices skyrocketed to $229,299. In those years, median home prices had risen 64.8 percent while median incomes had risen only 16.6 percent.

"Without a doubt, the housing situation is the biggest thing that eats into our income," says Brian Neale, an investment manager from Westminster, Md.

Money doesn't go far
Neale, 33, says he surpassed the $100,000 mark last year but that between mortgage payments, the high price of heating fuel, gas, food and everyday items, his salary doesn't go as far as he thought it would. Neale is married with three children and says that his extracurricular real estate and investment activities help them buy the extras in life.
"Now that I've made (a $100,000 salary), it's not all it's cracked up to be. We make sacrifices. It's not like I tell my kids we're going to have to eat peanut butter and jelly every night. We live well, but I wouldn't consider it anything extravagant," says Neale.

Many now consider $250,000 the new $100,000 income. Adam says that level of income is typically required to provide what many have before expected of a six-figure salary. Adam also points to other expenses that are not necessities but are considered part of a middle-class lifestyle -- things like cell phones, high-speed Internet access, vacations, karate lessons, iPods, laptops and digital cameras.

"What you might think people deserve for a person that has a reasonable income is excessively high. Add in all the other expenses and there just isn't anything left, and that's part of the reason why a $100,000 income isn't going that far," says Adam.

Geography and lifestyle factors
With the cost of housing typically the largest expense for a family, location is one of the most important factors in dictating the power of a $100,000. While that level may not go far on the coasts, it may still provide a fairly comfortable lifestyle in much of Middle America. Jeff Eschman of Brazos Financial Advisors in Houston says that in much of that state, $100,000 income earners can enjoy very comfortable lifestyles.

"I don't see many families who are at the $100,000 income level currently making a lot of sacrifices. Families at that income level should be able to afford a very nice lifestyle in this area," says Eschman.

In cities like San Francisco; Manhattan; Los Angeles; San Jose, Calif.; and Washington, D.C., the cost of housing alone can take a major bite out of a $100,000 income. A survey done in 2006 by management consultant firm Runzheimer International considered what a typical family of four earning $60,000 per year annually spends and then compared the costs of maintaining that lifestyle in more than 300 cities. Using their findings, a typical family earning $100,000 per year would need to earn $244,333 in Manhattan and $203,000 in San Francisco to maintain that same lifestyle.

In low-cost areas, Eschman says, people at that income level tend to run into financial problems when their lifestyle outpaces their income. While this is a problem for many Americans in all income levels, top figure earners are not immune from it. Adam says she has even seen people with incomes of up to $300,000 having trouble covering their expenses.

Choice is yours
Bryce Danley, a Certified Financial Planner and advanced financial adviser with Ameriprise Financial, says the real power of any income is all about perspective and choices. He says buying too much house, spending too much on automobiles and having too much debt is commonplace with families in the $100,000 income level and largely responsible for the six-figure pinch. In one example Danley uses, a household that earns $100,000 a year owns a $375,000 home, leases two vehicles for $450 each per month and pays $250 per month on credit cards. After that household pays the mortgage, car notes and debt, and takes out Social Security and federal income taxes, it has spent 75 percent of its income.

"This is a very typical situation for someone in that income range. And we wonder why average Americans don't save any money -- it's because of the decisions they made in housing, cars and debt," says Danley.

While the real power of a $100,000 income has been drastically diminished, it highlights that the burden of increasing costs on those making less is even more profound. Danley says that regardless of income level, Americans' penchant for debt, consumerism and outspending themselves is what ultimately causes financial disappointment or stress.

"There is still only a small percentage of people making this income. It points out that for your average person in your average job, this is becoming an increasingly hard country to live in," says Adam.

-Craig Guillot


Waterspouts At Sunset



Larger version, 2272 x 1704 pixels: http://static.flickr.com/21/30257751_2d1fe0b305_o. ... (static.flickr.com/21/30257751_2d1fe0b305_o.jpg)

Via: http://flickr.com/photos/rainonline/30257751/
A waterspout is an intense columnar vortex (usually appearing as a funnel-shaped cloud) that occurs over a body of water and is connected to a cumuliform cloud. In the common form, it is a nonsupercell tornado over water, and brings the water upward. It is weaker than most of its land counterparts.[1]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterspout

MPP's 4th Annual Party at the Playboy Mansion

Marijuana Policy Project Alert



June 4, 2009

8:00 p.m.
Los Angeles

You're invited to MPP's fourth annual party at the Playboy Mansion! Come out and celebrate MPP's Election Day wins, mingle with other supporters, and do it all on the legendary grounds of the Playboy Mansion.

Last year's party featured a live performance by Perry Farrell, frontman of Jane's Addiction, and was hosted by reality TV superstar, fashion model, and MPP Advisory Board member Adrianne Curry. Other celebrity guests in attendance included comedians Margaret Cho, Jackie “The Jokeman” Martling, and David Wain, award-winning actor Danny Glover, and “LA Ink” star Kat Von D.

Buy your ticket today and be part of the largest and most exciting event in the marijuana policy reform movement!

(And be sure to check this page in the coming months for updates on this year's celebrity RSVPs.)

For your convenience, below are a few hotels that are located near the Playboy Mansion. Please contact the hotels directly for further details.

W Hotel, Westwood

Beverly Hilton, Beverly Hills

Hotel Bel-Air

Beverly Hills Hotel, Beverly Hills

Hilgard House, Westwood

Doubletree Hotel, Westwood

Baby GT-R vs. 911 Lite

You didn't used to be like this, Nissan. Up until the GT-R arrived this year, and with the exception of the 370Z's predecessor, you've spent the last decade building modest SUVs, trucks, and sedans for the masses. Sure, there have been a few hot compacts in there, but your latest Sentra SE-Rs haven't exactly set the enthusiast world ablaze. Now it's all Porsche this, Nürburgring that. It's like we don't even know you anymore. Then, just when it seems like GT-R-a-palooza is dying down, here comes the new Z. First, in spy photos, being trailed by a Porsche Cayman. Then, with Nissan's own staff calling Porsche's baby coupe out as a benchmark. All right, we'll bite.

370zcaymannoses.jpg

Disregard the fact that the Cayman S you see here is a 2008. The revised 2009 model wasn't available for our day of testing, but the dynamic changes are minimal and I drove the new car last week. My impressions of the new car are factored into the words, if not the pictures, below.

As similar as the intentions of the Nissan and the Porsche are, you'd never mistake one for the other. Their design commonalities include two headlights, two doors, four tires, and a sloping rear hatch. Actually, they also share polarization. Both are drop-dead gorgeous to some, but each has plenty of enemies. Cayman supporters will say the small Porsche has simple, classic curves that will remain timeless. The hood is shorter and the butt is longer than the Nissan's, a visual reminder that the Porsche's flat-six engine sits behind the driver. Speaking of butts, the 370Z has a huge one, and the verticality of the taillights only makes it seem more ridiculous when the two cars are parked side-by-side. From any angle that isn't straight on from the rear, the new Z has a dynamic flow to it, looking like it's in the business of one thing: going fast. I'd give it the edge on design, just because I'm used to the Cayman and its design seems more static. And small too, despite the fact that the Porsche is actually four inches longer and only a half-inch lower overall than the Z.

nissan_6.jpg

The same basic analysis applies to the interiors. The Porsche brings you carpeted door panels, simple shapes, and a centralization of just about every button. Without the optional navigation, it's easy to wonder which decade this car is from. Meanwhile, the 370Z's cabin is one hologrammed reporter short of Wolf Blitzer's Situation Room. Just as in the 350Z, there's a bank of gauges front-and-center on the dash providing time, volts, and engine-oil temperature. Behind the steering wheel, you've got the speedometer, tach (center-mounted, as in the Cayman), a readout for the transmission's current gear (even with the manual), and little bar graphs for coolant temp and fuel. The engine start button, radio, climate controls, and optional navi are scattered about in a way that's anything but coherent. While each car will certainly appeal do a different type of buyer, neither group will be able to use material quality as an argument. Both cabins boast excellent fit and finish. Both have nice, thick steering wheels and comfortable, supportive seats. The Cayman's are firmer, but the 370Z's softer chairs proved better for the long haul and don't surrender much in terms of lateral support. But enough about seats, because you're probably wondering about the lone button sitting next to the 370Z's shifter — the one that activates SyncroRev.

In case you missed it, that's the name Nissan has given to a system of sensors inside the six-speed manual's shifter. They sense gear-lever movement and send that information to the throttle-by-wire controls, automatically matching engine speed to the newly selected gear during downshifts. I had my early doubts and, more than anything, was reluctant to embrace another system that takes the driver out of the equation. Heel-and-toe downshifts are a hard-to-master enthusiast trick, not some algorithm in a computer chip. Or at least that's how I did feel, up until I drove this Nissan. Let me tell you — the satisfaction of hearing a perfectly blipped throttle each and every time you grab a lower gear is just as rewarding as trying to do it yourself. There's just one little annoyance, and that's the fact that the engine will rev (right into the limiter) even if you're not serious about that six-to-two downshift the sensors think you're about to perform. If you like to flip the shifter around in neutral as you're coasting down from a higher speed, yeah, you'll want to stop that. Or turn the system off. Or don't order it in the first place (it's part of the $3000 sport package).

zint.jpg

The '09 Cayman has a pretty slick transmission option, too, in its seven-speed automated dual-clutch unit called PDK. Today, though, it's all about the manuals — apples to apples and all that. Ignoring the downshift magic, the 370Z's shifter feels much like the one in the 350Z. The throws are quick and short, but the gears are close together and it's easy to pick the wrong one if you rush your movements. The Cayman's throws are much longer, and the action is floppy and light. It feels a bit old-fashioned, but at least all six gears are easy to find.

The two engines don't have much in common. One's a 3.4-liter horizontally opposed 6, the latest evolution of the same concept motivating Porsches for decades. For 2009, it benefits from a new direct-injection system that gives it more progressive power through the range and a higher peak at the top end — 320 hp at 7200 rpm, 300 shy of the redline. The 370Z's VQ-series 3.7-liter is the newest and best of that familiar engine family, and just as in the Infiniti G37, it's the first VQ with variable valve timing. It needs an extra 0.3 liters of displacement to get there, but the Z boasts a 12-hp advantage over the Cayman S at 200 fewer rpm. Torque — 273 lb-ft versus 270 in favor of the Porsche — is a closer battle, but the 370Z's extra displacement gives it a fatter curve. It may peak 450 rpm higher, but the Nissan feels like it plateaus long before that. Getting back on the throttle out of a slow corner, the big V-6 never seems short on energy.

porsche_3.jpg

That doesn't concern the Cayman S, because it is able to carry slightly more speed through corners and, as a result, keep engine speeds higher. Credit this to a curb weight of 2976 pounds. That's about 240 fewer than the 370Z, which uses weight-saving aluminum for the doors, hood, and rear hatch, along with front and rear subframes underneath. The Cayman uses the lighter metal for just the hood, along with many suspension components, but it is able to save the weight elsewhere. The lower weight is just enough to cancel out the 370Z's stronger bottom end, and the two are near-equals in terms of grip and neutrality. Through a few canyons north of Los Angeles, neither car is able to widen the gap over the other.

Steering feel in the Cayman is lighter and more playful than the Z's, with a bit more feedback from the pavement. However, the '09 model we tested last week felt a bit closer to the Nissan's heavier but still sharp system. We'd call the Porsche's change a touch less enjoyable, but the 370Z's steering is among the best improvements over its predecessor, which felt a bit removed from the action at the tires. The Cayman, though, does its work in quick, short motions, while the Z requires a bit more input for the same result.

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The same is true of each car's suspension. Over bumps and through undulating corners, the Cayman's four-corner MacPherson struts get their work done quickly, returning the car to its neutral position in finger-snap motions, like the car is marching to a drum beat. You have to stay on top of it, but the quick reactions allow the Cayman to be ready for the next corner, no matter how close it may be. It's also what makes anyone driving the Cayman look like a hero — if the chassis is always anticipating the next motion, it's always ready when you screw up.

The 370Z is more likely to teach you a lesson after bigger mistakes. Fortunately, stability control is standard equipment. However, Nissan's system cuts in earlier and more abrasively than the Cayman's. Through quick switchbacks, it's dialing back power at every corner exit. The Z's chassis responds more slowly but more fluidly than the Cayman — it may be that quick applications of throttle, mainly during transitions in which the suspension's still sorting itself out, can overwhelm the stability computers. When I turn it off, I discover the Z's dirty secret: Those controls shut the car down before it truly gets good, and the harder the 370Z is pushed, the better it gets.

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Nissan engineers kept the car's weight distribution at 53/47 front to rear, which doesn't seem ideal for a sports coupe. The theory is that the car's dynamic weight distribution — the balance when the car's accelerating out of a corner — becomes dead even as the load shifts. I believe it. With stability control on vacation, the car dives into corners without a hint of understeer and when I get back on the throttle earlier, the rear hunkers down, grabs hold of the road, and pushes out of the bend with tremendous grip. The transition between braking and getting back on the gas delivers just the right amount of rotation. Other than the seriously underpowered Miata, it's hard to think of another front-engine car for normal-people money with this much balance. It makes me wonder why Porsche went through all the effort of moving the engine somewhere so hard to get at.

Maybe it was for the sake of the brakes. Sure, the 370Z has more outright force (as it should with the optional sport package, which endows it with rotors measuring 1.5 inches greater in diameter up front and 2.1 inches wider at the rear versus the normal Z), but it shakes its big rump a bit under heavy pressure while the Cayman feels more confident. The Nissan has a better pedal feel, though, with the Porsche surrendering a bit of travel before going to work. Neither car even jokes about brake fade after a hard day of driving.

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At this point, the Cayman and 370Z seem like evenly matched foes. Power is almost even with a minor lean toward the Z. Weight is fairly close, but the Cayman is lighter. We didn't run 0-60 times with our '08 Cayman for obvious reasons, but Porsche is claiming the same 4.9 seconds Nissan claims for its car. We couldn't get our car under five, but the asphalt we picked as a drag strip was a bit slick. But that also speaks to the way the Nissan accelerates. It doesn't take many revs to induce wheelspin from a stop and while the tires fight for traction the 3.7-liter continues to spew power in a heavy, unchanging wave. The trip up to sixty and beyond is a brisk one, but it isn't as entertaining as the Porsche's run. That engine can stand to be revved higher before the clutch is dumped, making the initial launch a bit more shocking. The '08 model runs up the tachometer in noticeable stages of energy that have been flattened a bit for 2009. Still, it's a more emotional ride up to speed in the Porsche, even if the two run neck-and-neck. Braking performance is a wash and handling couldn't be much closer. Each car, however, scores a big win in one category.

As good as the engine might be in the 370Z . . . well, I'll come right out and say it — it just doesn't sound good. From outside the car, it lacks the distinctive Chewbacca howl of the 350Z and from inside, it just sounds coarse. Its dull note sticks right up to the top of the tach before you shift and it starts over again with a new breath. The Porsche's boxer engine shifts octaves two or three times as it crescendos. And while exhaust notes might seem insignificant to some, these are two-passenger sport coupes. They run on emotion as much as gasoline, and the 370Z could stand to be more outspoken. I'm eagerly awaiting a run-in with the NISMO exhaust that'll be made available for the Z sometime in 2009. Hopefully it'll be the aural equivalent of the Nissan's in-your-face design.

The flipside of the 370Z's subdued tone is that it knows how to cut the attitude and act like a normal car. Not only that, it's a fantastic highway cruiser, as I learned after driving the car from the press launch in Las Vegas to join the Cayman in California. With the Porsche, you get exactly what you see. A small, loud, rough-riding sports car. At highway speeds the engine buzzes in your ears and through your feet. It grows less comfortable as the hours wear on and doesn't respond well to washboard roads, even with the sport suspension switched over to soft mode. The 370Z has just one mode, but it works miraculously in all conditions. It'll deliver lap after lap of solid performance then get you home in comfort and silence. The stout chassis soaks up harshness — arguably, better than its more luxurious Infiniti G37 twin — and the engine turns more slowly than the Porsche at interstate speeds. The seats are comfortable, wind noise is minimal, and the stereo's pretty good. Though the Z is classified as a sports coupe, it masquerades well as a grand tourer.

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Nissan set out to build a better Z and publicly set the Cayman S as an early target. The 370Z doesn't carry the Porsche's swagger or the social status that comes with owning a sports car bearing the crest, but the two cars are near equals in practically every category. Since its inception, the Cayman has been regarded as one of the most balanced sports car platforms ever designed, and for Nissan to nip so close at that car's butt for half the price ($60,200 for a Cayman S, and about $33,000 for a 370Z with the sport package, which includes the bigger brakes, a limited-slip diff, bigger wheels, SyncroRev, and an aero kit) is quite a statement. The Cayman is a slightly better sports car, but the 370Z is a slightly better everyday car. And I don't have to tell you it's one hell of a bargain.

words: Stu Fowle

10 Creative Ways to Recycle Ordinary Objects

March 12, 2008

Recycling doesn’t have to be limited to helping the environment: it can also be a challenge and opportunity to ingenious designers who work with materials most people would consider waste to create amazing things. Some of the following designs serve multiple purposes: illustrating the material possibilities of what most would consider trash while also maximizing the aesthetic potential of what would otherwise be considered waste objects. Clothes become rugs, airline trolleys become furniture, cardboard becomes bridges and sewage turns into building blocks!

Recycled Clothing Rug

The Volksware designers have provided an interesting alternative way of recycling clothes that may not even bit fit for the Salvation Army. By stitching them and rolling them they have created a simple carpet system that can be cut to length and fit to a space. Something to think about the next time someone tells you to pick your clothes up off the floor!

Trolley Furniture

Ever wonder what happens to those oddly shaped airplane trolleys when the airlines are done using them? Well, so did Bordbar before they began appropriating and adding splashes of design to them and reselling them to the public as useful (if odd) multipurpose mobile furniture. These are highly customizable have have a surprising range of possible functions once they are recycled into use.

Recycled Newspaper Building

Recycled Newspaper Building 3

There are few things being produced as rapidly, regularly and in such volume as newspapers. Many of these are, of course, recycled by traditional means, but what if they could serve another purpose that didn’t require the some amount of reprocessing? Sumer Erek has been working on one such alternative: reusing newspaper as interior decoration and insulation in a house.

Recycled Bag and Ruler

Recycled Notebooks

The Remarkable product design team has created a series of colorful and useful versions of traditional products made out of unusual recycled materials. Their approach is quite simple yet compelling: they brand individual products with information about their origins. This makes for conversation pieces but also raises awareness about the origins and potential of composite recycled materials.

Recycled Cardboard Bridge

Architect Shigeru Ban is well known for a number of high-profile architectural designs but perhaps less so for his artistic and ecological side projects such as the cardboard bridge pictured above. This bridge is composed over over 250 recycled cardboard tubes with recycled paper and plastic comprising the stairs. Amazingly, this recycled bridge can hold up to 20 people at once!

Recycled Building Block

The BituBlock may interesting and almost artistic … until you realize it is made from post-consumer recycled products including ash, glass and, yes, sewage. Still, it doesn’t smell and ultimately it is an incredibly strong and durable building block that rivals other materials such as concrete that would be used in similar situations - and does so using almost entirely reused and recycled materials.

Recycled Materials for Art

The Remida Center appropriates scrap materials from all kinds of local businesses in order to gain raw materials ranging from wood and metal to plexiglass and plastic that students can use in art projects. The idea is both to facilitate art but also to raise awareness about the origins of materials, essentially recycling otherwise unused materials and putting them toward the production of art.

Garbage Gardening

There are all kinds of approaches to garbage gardening that appropriate trash items and reuse them for decorative or practical purposes in gardens. The example shown above is just one of many including colorful mosaics from broken dishes and assorted other ideas. Not extreme enough? Try guerilla gardening instead!

Casette Tape Wallets

Italian designer Marcella Foschi has developed a quite clever way to recycle cassette tapes: a product material that exists in abundance but is associated with a dying (or dead) technology. Her coin purses are at least cute (if not collectible) and appropriate a material we all know, love and have stopped using.

Audio Tape Fabric

Marcella Foschi isn’t the only one with ideas on how to reuse audio tapes. Some clever designers have taken it to the next level and begun to weave sonic cloth from the actual tape within the cassettes.

Star Wars And Sports Combine To Create The Greatest Christmas Present In The Universe

by Pat



Christmas is coming, and it's time to think about everyone. From the sports fan in the family to the hard core Star Wars fanatic. Or both. If you know someone who is both a fan of sports AND Star Wars, and who isn't, I believe we've found the best gift ever. Seriously. It's the Star Wars themed sports jerseys, because what hardcore Star Wars fan isn't secretly a serious gym rat? Or at least it gives you something dope to practice your light saber skills in.

For the bounty hunters among us, there's the Boba Fett "Assassins" jersey, as modeled above by Boba himself. There's also a Fett baseball jersey, and a vintage style football jersey as well:



Baseball: (click on the picture to see the full size image)




Got someone who's into the dark side? Maybe one of those relatives who run around smacking the dog with with a light saber while talking like James Earl Jones? Try the Darth Vader jerseys. Word is you can reject shots using only your mind.


There are plenty of varieties of the Vader edition, from baseball to football, basketball to hockey.



(click for full size image)
The tag on the football jersey above reads:
"Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith,
Is the scourge of the Jedi, a master of the Dark Side of the
Force, and one of the Emperor's most trusted servants.

Sith Lord

Tie Fighter
"

Hell. Yes. He also kicks butt at football.

Here's the baseball one.


The hockey one is seriously badass. I can't tell you how awesome it'd be to suit up for the Ice Planet Hoth Vaders.


There's even a Darth Vader wristband, to catch all of that extra sweat when you're hoopin' it up in your fly Vader threads:


I'll take 30 of those wristbands, please.


For those who prefer to fight evil, there's the classic Yoda jerseys. Available in basketball, football and baseball, Yoda's jerseys are not only stylish, but they'll help you pick up the chicks who aren't into the evil and gloomy "dark side". Plus we all know good Jedi masters score the hottest chicks. Dagobah rules!

(click for full size image)

(click for full size image)




So if you're searching high and low for Christmas presents, stop searching. Because these are the best damn gifts the universe has ever produced. Excellent they are, yes.

Only one problem though, how on earth did they forget to make a Skywalker basketball jersey? Kenny "Sky" Walker does not approve, George Lucas.

Jerseys courtesy of Cargo Bay and Stylin Online
Also thanks to: The 2008 Christmas List: Star Wars Jerseys [Basketbawful]

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