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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hug at McDonald's costs woman $100,000

Filed under: What's Wrong with Wisconsin?


Wisconsinites apparently will stoop low enough to scam old ladies who just go out to get a quick bite to eat at their local McDonald's. These thieves lucked out with their pick, scoring $100,000 after breaking into the woman's home.

We shouldn't be surprised.

A 75-year-old Milwaukee woman visited a McDonald's at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 30 for lunch. As she was leaving, a stranger approached her to give her a hug. After asking her if they knew each other, the strange woman insisted they had met before and continued to small talk. The victim told the woman that her mother had just died. The suspect then asked her for her address because she said she wanted to send the woman flowers.

More from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

That hug was the beginning of a scam that resulted in the theft of $100,000, cash the victim's recently deceased mother kept in a closet at home, Milwaukee police said Sunday.
Police are looking for help in finding four people suspected of participating in the scam.
Detectives think the crew was trolling for a target that day at McDonald's, but the criminals would have no way of knowing the woman they found had that kind of cash at home.
"They just hit the jackpot," said Milwaukee police Detective Robert St. Onge.
When the woman returned to her home, she saw two people leaving her backyard. She then discovered her mother's bedroom ransacked and the $100,000 missing. The victim said she kept the money in her home because she didn't trust the bank.

Lessons to learn: Don't hug or interact with strangers, particularly at McDonald's. And don't leave $100,000 just sitting in a metal box.

Posted by Emily Kaiser

Marijuana Law Reform No Longer a Political Liability, It’s a Political Opportunity

Voting ended late last week on the President-Elect¹s website As was the case in December, questions from the general public pertaining to marijuana and drug policy reform proved to be extremely popular.

Of the more than 76,000 questions posed to Obama by the public, the fourth most popular question overall called on the incoming administration to cease arresting and prosecuting adults who use cannabis. And in the sub-category “National Security,” the most popular question posed by the public pertained to amending U.S. drug policies as a way to try and halt the ongoing violence surround illicit drug trafficking in Mexico and other nations.

But you wouldn’t know it by listening to the administration’s latest video response (posted online here) ‹ as neither issue received even a passing mention from incoming White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. (The Obama administration’s woefully inadequate response to last month’s top-rated marijuana law reform question — “Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a multi-billion dollar industry right here in the U.S?” — appears at the bottom of the page, “Open for Questions Round 2.”)

Is it at all surprising to see that the Obama team has decided to hide their collective heads in the sand when it comes to the issue of reevaluating America’s ineffective and antiquated marijuana policies? Not at all. But by doing so, the President-Elect and Congress are missing the bigger picture.

The overwhelming popularity of the marijuana reform issue — as manifested on, (which is conducting its own online poll of the top issues facing America; the legalization of marijuana tops the list), and even here on the Hill (where my most recent blog posts have each garnered several hundreds of readers’ comments, almost all of them supportive) — illustrate two important points.

One: there is a significant, vocal, and identifiable segment of our society that wants to see an end to America¹s archaic and overly punitive marijuana laws. Two: the American public is ready and willing to engage in a serious and objective political debate regarding the merits of legalizing the use of cannabis by adults.

Rather than rebuff the public’s calls for drug policy reform, the new administration ought to be embracing it. After all, many of the same voters that put Obama in the White House also voted by wide margins in November to liberalize marijuana laws in two states — Michigan and Massachusetts — and in nearly a dozen municipalities.

In short, marijuana law reform should no longer be viewed by legislators a political liability. For the incoming administration and for Congress, it is a political opportunity. The public is ready for change; in fact, they are demanding it. Are their representatives listening?

Incredible Hotel Made From Salvaged Wine Casks

by Alexandra Kain

wine barrel hotel, wine cask hotel, sustainable design, green design, wine cask reuse, De Vrouwe van Stavoren Hotel

Ever fallen asleep alongside a good glass of French wine? How about inside a cask of good French wine? The De Vrouwe van Stavoren Hotel in the Netherlands salvaged four wine casks from Switzerland and converted them into rooms. Formerly filled with 14,500 liters of Beaujolais wine from the French chateau, each now holds a modest two-person room with standard amenities and even an attached bathroom and sitting room. Visitors from all around the world have traveled to the quaint northern port town of Stavoren to stay in one of these upcycled rooms.

wine barrel hotel, wine cask hotel, sustainable design, green design, wine cask reuse, De Vrouwe van Stavoren Hotel

After fulfilling their duty of adding flavor, color, and tannin to thousands of bottles of wine, the barrels were mounted on trucks and shuttled over to Stavoren. The old oak casks make excellent rooms considering their strength and airtight seals, and also offer a great opportunity to brag to your friends.

General rates for a cask room are from 74-119 Euros a night with discounts of up to 75% off depending on season. If you go in the wintertime, a wine cask room can be as low as 18 Euros a night, cheaper than most hostels. Breakfast is included and you can even bring your dog.

+ De Vrouwe van Stavoren Hotel

Via Treehugger

wine barrel hotel, wine cask hotel, sustainable design, green design, wine cask reuse, De Vrouwe van Stavoren Hotel

wine barrel hotel, wine cask hotel, sustainable design, green design, wine cask reuse, De Vrouwe van Stavoren Hotel

wine barrel hotel, wine cask hotel, sustainable design, green design, wine cask reuse, De Vrouwe van Stavoren Hotel

Air Jordan 2009 Movie

PET Project: Coke's Big Recycling Plant

Roughly 75 percent of plastic soda and water bottles end up in landfills, by some estimates. What a waste. We could argue about whether to blame lazy consumers, governments that fail to promote recycling, or the beverage industry. We could debate whether bottle bills will solve the problem. (They won't, by themselves.) We could try to persuade people to give up bottled water. (They won't.) Or we could look for market-based solutions, and see if they have the potential to scale.

That's what the The Coca-Cola Co. is doing. This week, Coke stages a grand opening for the world's largest bottle-to-bottle recycling plant in Spartanburg, S.C. (The plant's been running at less than full capacity for months.) The facility is a $60 million joint venture of Coke and the United Resource Recovery Corp. (URRC), which calls itself the world leader in transforming waste bottles into new ones. URRC has a patented process for recyling food and beverage containers made of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET.

The plant will have the capacity, when fully operational, to produce 100 million pounds of recycled PET plastic chips—enough to produce 2 billion 20-ounce bottles of Coke or Dasani or whatever.

It's a small step toward the goal of sustainable consumption—the idea the we can buy and consume stuff in a ways that don't degrade the environment or create waste. Coke has said that it ultimately wants to recycle or reuse all of its plastic bottles and cans.

I spoke earlier today with Scott Vitters, the director of sustainable packaging for Coke. Scott is passionate about the environment, albeit in a geeky way, and he's proud of the plant, which has been in the works for years.

"It's an important milestone for us," he said.

The best thing about the plant is that it is intended to make money for Coke and URRC. That means that the project can be duplicated elsewhere.

Here's how it will work, as explained by Scott: A separate recycling company, led by Coca-Cola Enteprises, the world's biggest Coke bottler (don't ask me to explain the interconnected Coke system), will recover PET from a geographic area stretching from the northeast to Florida. The used PET bottles will come from its own manufacturing system, from government recycling centers and from high-profile venues like NASCAR events, college football stadiums and the House of Representatives. As the "official recycler" at the Democratic national convention in Denver, Coca Cola Recycling even collected waste from the arena known as the Pepsi Center. "All that material went back into our bottles—gleefully," Scott says.

Another source for feedstock is a Coke-backed startup called RecycleBank, which rewards consumers who recycle more and throw away less. VC firm Kleiner Perkins is also an investor in Recycle Bank.

Getting enough feedstock into the plant is crucial to its success. "That traditionally has been a major hurdle to recycling," Scott said.

The plant will produce a plastic chip, which will be sold to yet another Coke-backed company. Most of the chips will be refashioned into plastic bottles. Coke also makes T-shirts, tote bags, fleeces and other stuff from recycled PET, mostly as a way to encourage consumers to recycle and burnish its own image.

How will the new plant make money? "Explaining the economics around recycling is always an adventure," Scott said. "You have to keep in mind different things. One is the evolution of the technology. This is about the fourth generation of recycling technology, and earlier generations were costly and environmentally ineffective. Second is the question of feedstocks, and how much they cost. Third is the cost of virgin PET. Today, that's dropping."

In other words, it's hard to know today whether the investment will pay off. "The driver for this program was environmental," Scott said. "It's not going to make anyone wildly wealthy. But we're looking to turn a profit, long term."

That's good news, for obvious reasons. If the Spartanburg plant makes money, more will be built. Right now, there's a need for a similar plant in the Midwest. Plastic bottles that are recycled near the west coast wind up in China, of all places, since it's cheap to send them over there on container ships that have delivered Chinese imports to west coast ports.

None of this is truly sustainable. Not even close. Think of the trucks, powered by gasoline, moving all of those bottles around. I didn't think to ask Scott how the plant is is powered, but chances are it's operated by electricity made by burning coal.

But Coca-Cola, to its credit, is doing its part to solve a big and needless waste problem. Now we need governments to do more to promote curbside recycling–maybe with "pay as you throw" programs, that charge wasteful people more money. And, of course, we need consumers to think twice before throwing a bottle in the trash or, worse, by the side of the road.

Was Jack the Ripper a woman?

By Kathy Marks in Sydney

The notorious serial killer who stalked London's East End, butchering prostitutes and terrorising the population, may not have been Jack the Ripper - but Jill.

An Australian scientist has used swabs from letters supposedly sent to police by the Ripper to build a partial DNA profile of the killer. The results suggest that the person who murdered and mutilated at least five women from 1888 onwards may have been a woman.

Ian Findlay, a professor of molecular and forensic diagnostics, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he had developed a profiling technique that could extract DNA from a single cell or strand of hair up to 160 years old. Conventional DNA sampling methods require at least 200 cells.

Dr Findlay, who is based in Brisbane, travelled to London, where the evidence from the still-unsolved murders is stored at the National Archive. The material, which was kept by Scotland Yard until 1961, includes letters sent to police at the time, some of them signed "Jack the Ripper". Most are believed to be fakes, but a handful are thought to have been written by the killer.

Dr Findlay took swabs from the back of stamps and from the gum used to seal envelopes, and possible bloodstains. He took his haul back to Brisbane, where - concentrating on swabs from the so-called "Openshaw letter", the one believed most likely to be genuine - he extracted the DNA and then amplified the information to create a profile. The resultswere "inconclusive" and not forensically reliable, but he did construct a partial profile and based on this analysis, he said, "it's possible the Ripper could be female".

The victims were all prostitutes, murdered and mutilated in the foggy alleyways of Whitechapel. By the surgical nature of the wounds, the killer was assumed to have some surgical knowledge.

The chief suspects, who included a barrister, a Polish boot-maker and a Russian confidence trickster, were all men. But Frederick Abberline, the detective who led the investigation, thought it possible the killer was a woman. This was because the fifth victim, Mary Kelly, was "seen" by witnesses hours after she was killed. Abberline thought this was the murderer running away, in Kelly's clothes.

The only female suspect was Mary Pearcey, who was convicted of murdering her lover's wife, Phoebe Hogg, in 1890 and hanged. She apparently employed a similar modus operandi to the Ripper.

Interesting? Click here to explore further

Kaka Rejects $146 Million Offer

South American plans Milan stay

Kaka: Staying put

Brazilian star Kaka has played down the prospect of joining Manchester City, saying he plans to stay at AC Milan.

Serie A giants Milan confirmed earlier on Wednesday that they met with a City delegation on Tuesday regarding their interest in Kaka.

City, backed by the Abu Dhabi United Group, were reportedly ready to offer £100million to persuade Milan to sell their classy playmaker.

Kaka's adviser Diogo Kotscho had indicated that the player would consider a move to City, if they matched his ambition, but the 26-year-old has moved to pledge his long-term future to the Rossoneri.

"As long as the club keep high objectives, my desire will always be to stay at Milan," Kaka told Mediaset, which is also owned by Milan president Silvio Berlusconi.

"I want to get old here and my objective for the future is to become this team's captain.

"I refused important offers in the past."

Kaka has a contract with Milan until 2013 and the news will be a massive boost to coach Carlo Ancelotti as they look to challenge rivals Inter for the Serie A title.

1 Billion Dollars, $1,000,000,000

Nasa reveals life on Mars

ALIEN bugs are responsible for strong plumes of methane gas detected on Mars, it was claimed tonight.

Nasa scientists say the gas emissions could have either a geological or biological source - as The Sun exclusively revealed today.

Nasa tonight streamed it historic findings live on its online television channel which you can watch by clicking HERE.

Life is responsible for more than 90 per cent of the Earth’s atmospheric methane.

Experts believe there is a good chance that organisms produced the gas emissions - as large as some of those seen on Earth - on Mars too.

Discovery ... Nasa created image of gas found on Mars

Discovery ... Nasa created image of gas found on Mars

Susan Twardy/NASA

Scientist Michael Mumma of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said: “This raises the probability substantially that life was there or still survives at the present.

“We think the probability is much higher now based on this evidence.”

The bugs that made it may have vanished millions of years ago, leaving the methane frozen under the planet’s surface.

But another possibility is that some hardy organisms still survive on the Red Planet, living underground without sunlight and using hydrogen from water for energy. Similar microbes exist on Earth.

Methane produced by the action of water on hot carbon bearing rocks, as occurs in volcanic regions on Earth, is the alternative explanation.

Whatever the source is, scientists agree that something is replenishing the methane.

The find is seen as exciting new evidence that Martian microbes are still alive today.

Some scientists reckon methane is also produced by volcanic processes. But there are NO known active volcanoes on Mars.

Furthermore, Nasa has found the gas in the same regions as clouds of water vapour, the vital “drink” needed to support life.

Mission ... probe on the surface of Mars

Mission ... probe on the surface of Mars

Experts speculate that the methane is being emitted as a waste product by organisms called methanogens living in water beneath underground ice.

And they would have to be alive today because the methane would otherwise have been lost from the Martian atmosphere.

What a scoop ... Phoenix lander dug up chunks of ice last year

What a scoop ... Phoenix lander dug up chunks of ice last year

John Murray — a member of the Mars Express European space probe team — believes the mini-Martians may be in a form of suspended animation and could even be REVIVED.

He has found overwhelming evidence of a vast frozen ocean beneath the dust near the Martian equator where simple life could have thrived as microbes.

Today’s briefing will feature a star panel of Mars experts headed by Michael Meyer, chief scientist for Nasa’s Mars programme.

UK Mars expert Professor Colin Pillinger believes the methane can only point to the presence of life on the planet.

His ill-fated Beagle 2 probe was carrying a laboratory that would have looked directly for such signs of life when it crashed on Christmas Day 2003.

Plumes ... dramatic animation show how methane may have been produced below Mars' surface

Plumes ... dramatic animation show how methane may have been produced below Mars' surface

Susan Twardy/NASA

Prof Pillinger told The Sun last night: “Methane is a product of biology. For methane to be in Mars’ atmosphere, there has to be a replenishable source.

“The most obvious source of methane is organisms. So if you find methane in an atmosphere, you can suspect there is life.

“It’s not proof, but it makes it worth a much closer look.”

Nasa’s findings confirm studies by Europe’s Mars Express probe, which has been orbiting the planet for five years and also reported signs of methane in 2004.

Britain’s top space expert Nick Pope last night hailed the new evidence of life as “the most important discovery of all time”.

He said: “What could be more profound than to know it’s not just us out there?

Expert ... Colin Pillinger

Expert ... Colin Pillinger

"We’ve really only scratched the surface — it’s an absolute certainty that there is life out there and we are not alone.

“If there is life on Mars then the logical conclusion is that there must be life elsewhere too.

“If it’s happened here on Earth, then why shouldn’t it happen anywhere? The implication is this is a universal law.

“Mars is very similar to Earth. It’s about the same size, it’s a rocky inner planet.

“Most scientists believe it probably has liquid water which is almost universally agreed as the pre-requisite for life. I am certain there is other life in the Universe and, most likely, intelligent life.”

The Red Planet has gripped the public imagination for more than a century as a possible home for aliens.

But life could not survive on its surface because, unlike the Earth, Mars has no magnetic shield to protect it against deadly sun radiation.

The planet resembles our own in many ways. It is made of rock, it has an atmosphere and weather systems.

Although much smaller with a diameter of around 4,222 miles, Mars’ day is just 40 minutes longer than ours and its tilted axis gives it seasons.

Water has been found in the form of buried ice and scientists believe that two billion years ago, Mars was covered with liquid oceans.

Proof that water is still on Mars came in 2007 when Mars Express used ground-piercing radar to study the region around the planet’s South Pole.

Nasa’s latest lander Phoenix dug up chunks of Martian ice last year. It swiftly evaporated into the thin atmosphere.

Nasa have controversially hit the headlines before for claiming evidence for Martians.

In 1996, they said they had discovered fossilised organisms in a meteorite from the planet.

But other scientists were sceptical.

Layoffs at Google- a Twist on a Common Story


It has long been obvious Silicon Valley is not immune to the economic downturn. Tech sector layoffs aren't rare, as evinced by recent announcements from Tech Ticker's parent, Motorola and Oracle, as well as rumors of pending cuts at Microsoft.

But news Google is laying off 100 people in its recruiting department is an eye-opener. This is new and more significant than prior announcements about the cutting of employee perks and laying off of contractors. Google's cutbacks suggest:

  • How quickly Google has scaled back its own growth expectations.
  • Search is not impervious to economic activity, as many believed six months ago.
  • 2009 consensus estimates for Google remain too high, meaning the stock remains vulnerable even after it has come down, as Henry Blodget writes.

President Obama's official portrait: the first ever taken with a digital camera

You're now gazing at President Barack Obama's just-released official portrait -- the first of a U.S. president ever taken with a digital camera. That means we can peek at the EXIF data -- this fine specimen of portraiture was snapped with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II on January 13th, 2009 at 5:38 pm with no flash, using a 105mm lens stopped to f/10 at a 1/125 exposure, with an ISO of 100 by newly crowned official White House photographer Pete Souza. Nice work, Souza -- but we think it could use a few lens flares.

Obama's new BlackBerry: The NSA's secure PDA?

By Declan McCullagh CNET
Posted on ZDNet News:

Bill Clinton sent only two e-mail messages as president and has yet to pick up the habit. George W. Bush ceased using e-mail in January 2001 but has said he's looking forward to e-mailing "my buddies" after leaving Washington, D.C.

Barack Obama, though, is a serious e-mail addict. "I'm still clinging to my BlackBerry," he said in a recent interview with CNBC. "They're going to pry it out of my hands."

One reason to curb presidential BlackBerrying is the possibility of eavesdropping by hackers and other digital snoops. While Research In Motion offers encryption, the U.S. government has stricter requirements for communications security.

"Without more details I would have to say that putting sensitive or classified information on a BlackBerry is a risky proposition," said Greg Shipley, chief technology officer at Neohapsis, a governance, risk, and compliance consultancy.

Fortunately for an enthusiastic e-mailer-in-chief, some handheld devices have been officially blessed as secure enough to handle even classified documents, e-mail, and Web browsing.

The Sectera Edge (Credit: General Dynamics)

One is General Dynamics' Sectera Edge, a combination phone-PDA that's been certified by the National Security Agency as being acceptable for Top Secret voice communications and Secret e-mail and Web sites. Through three separate interchangeable modules, it works with Wi-Fi, GSM, or CDMA networks, and is dust-proof, waterproof, and rugged enough to survive repeated 4-foot drops onto concrete. Physically, it's a chunkier second cousin to the Palm Treo 750, though with an additional LCD display below the keyboard.

The price is $3,350 with a two-year warranty, a princely sum that's reflected in the Pentagon-worthy price tags for accessories: a simple adapter for a lighter plug costs $100. (Never again should you complain about how much your civilian analogue costs.)

The Sectera runs a mobile version of Microsoft Windows, including versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Windows Media Player. The NSA claims that the installed versions of Internet Explorer, WordPad, and Windows Messenger are good enough for data that's classified at a level of Secret. Presumably the federal spooks have found a way to protect IE from the numerous security flaws that continue to plague the Internet's most popular browser.

The NSA declined to comment on Monday.

L-3 Communications' Guardian, still in development, is similar, but sports a chunkier antenna and a slightly less conventional keyboard shaped like a V. It, too, runs Windows, boasts a stylus and QWERTY keyboard, supports desktop synchronization, and can be used on secure data plans with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and, internationally, Worldcell. Files stored locally are encrypted.

Both PDA-phones owe their existence to a Defense Department project called SME-PED, meaning Secure Mobile Environment Portable Electronic Device. Because the SME-PED was explicitly designed to act as a classified-information-friendly replacement for a BlackBerry, it should be an easy switch for a President Obama.

That's assuming he still feels like e-mailing after Inauguration Day. Even though President Bush enjoys the same access to NSA-certified handhelds, he has never resumed his daily e-mail habit from the days when he went by the humble moniker of (On January 17, 2001, Bush sent out this sad farewell: "Since I do not want my private conversations looked at by those out to embarrass, the only course of action is not to correspond in cyberspace. This saddens me. I have enjoyed conversing with each of you.")

At the time, Karen Hughes, one of Bush's closest aides, said that the president chose to abandon e-mail because of public records laws. That includes the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, and the Presidential Records Act of 1978.

Obama may find the convenience of wireless e-mail a pleasure difficult to give up. News reports during the presidential campaign described how he relied on his BlackBerry to bypass aides, which was even satirized by the Onion.

He checked e-mail during his daughter's football games, e-chatted with actress Scarlett Johansson, and before the New Hampshire primary told CNET News that the BlackBerry was his favorite gadget. On the other hand, Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin's e-mail breach is still within recent memory, as are the Bush White House's legal troubles stemming from the use of Republican National Committee e-mail systems.

"It's not just the flow of information," Obama said in the recent interview. "I mean, I can get somebody to print out clips for me, and I can read newspapers. What it has to do with is having mechanisms where you are interacting with people who are outside of the White House in a meaningful way. And I've got to look for every opportunity to do that--ways that aren't scripted, ways that aren't controlled, ways where, you know, people aren't just complimenting you or standing up when you enter into a room, ways of staying grounded."

Federal law does explicitly exempt from disclosure any "personal records" that do not relate to the president's official function. Those include electronic records that are "of a purely private or non-public character" and don't relate to official duties; the law lists diaries, journals, notes, and presidential campaign materials as examples. Similarly, FOIA prevents files from being released if the disclosure would significantly jeopardize "personal privacy."

In other words, Obama could choose to keep e-mailing judiciously, and trust his lawyers and the law to fend off overly nosy journalists and historians.

Wireless devices: What price convenience?
One thing that security experts can agree on is that despite RIM's efforts, a BlackBerry probably isn't up to the security standards for a leader of the free (or even unfree) world.

BlackBerrys can become infected with viruses that install spyware or turn the microphone on and record conversations, malware can be inadvertently downloaded, e-mail and text messages can be intercepted, and, of course, they can be lost or stolen, said Dan Hoffman, chief technology officer of SMobile Systems, which sells antivirus software for the devices.

The National Vulnerability Database, which is sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security's National Cyber Security Division, lists 14 vulnerabilities for BlackBerrys. Those include ways that a malicious attacker can install malware, and perhaps crash the device through a so-called denial of service attack.

It's not like snoopy computer utilities are difficult to find. sells spyware that can be installed by someone with physical possession of a phone for 15 minutes. The creators boast that their software, once installed, can "bug a room or person" and "catch cheating husbands."

The U.S. government uses special ciphers for secret information and they use different data networks from the public data networks, said Phil Dunkelberger, chief executive of encryption provider PGP Corp. "Unless you're using point-to-point encryption technology...or the mail itself is encrypted, you would have exposure to people administering the network." And, on a related note, we know that Obama's cell phone records through Verizon were improperly accessed last year.

There's also the risk of someone tracking the coordinates of a BlackBerry through the device's built-in GPS or the carrier's ability to triangulate on the signal--something that police, for instance, claim they should be able to do without a search warrant or evidence of criminal activity. Bush White House aides say that security concerns prompted them to disable the GPS feature on their BlackBerrys.

James Atkinson, president of Granite Island Group, an engineering firm that helps the government protect classified networks and equipment, pointed this out as a possible security vulnerability. "You can identify where a person is without gaining access to the cell phone network just by the timing of the signals, Atkinson said. "You can identify who is sitting in which seat in a conference room from a couple thousand feet away."

Then again, it's not like the president of the United States and his entourage travel incognito that often.

If nothing else works, Obama can always turn to Bush for some tips. Not his immediate predecessor, but former President George H.W. Bush, a late-in-life convert to the joys of e-mail. Bush the Elder has been quoted as saying: "I'm what you might call a black belt wireless e-mailer."

Declan MuCullagh's story was originally published on CNET

CNET News' Elinor Mills contributed to this report.

Ghostbusters III: Film Crew Apparitions Take Us Behind the Scenes

Posted by Michael Pinto

Ghostbusters III

In the good old days (a year ago) we’d somehow get our hands on a preproduction sketch from an upcoming film — and then within hours await for the lawyers to contact us. But in the modern world of viral marketing the smarter film folks actually stalk fanboy oriented websites and reach out to us fanboys via Twitter!

So it seems that the fanboy friendly folks behind Ghostbusters III are doing an outreach campaign to plug their film production. So far they have a Twitter account and a production blog setup which features footage from the field and even some production artwork.

Here’s a scene featuring panicked folks fleeing some unseen sort of CGI monster:

And here’s a perfectly good NYC cab going to waste (although the shot is fun):

And here are some interesting looking production sketches for what seem to be ghostbusting gear:

Ghostbusters III: Prop Design

Ghostbusters III: Prop Design

Ghostbusters III: Prop Design

So of course I’m eating up every last bit of this — AND I hope we see more stuff from the Ghostbusters III team! And to their outreach team: If you’d like to bring us onto the set we promise not to swipe any of your catering or fawn for autographs…

Obama inauguration to air in theaters

MSNBC pact puts coverage in 27 U.S. locations

By Paul J. Gough

NEW YORK -- President-elect Barack Obama is on his way to the big screen, thanks to a deal between MSNBC and Screenvision that will put the news channel's inaugural coverage in 27 theaters around the country.

Free tickets are being handed out via to see the inauguration and parade from 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. ET at the 27 theaters run by 11 exhibitor partners in 21 markets. Midday Tuesday isn't necessarily a big movie time, so it helps to fill the theater -- and boost popcorn and soda sales -- at a time when it's not usually busy.

That means that Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews and other MSNBC and NBC personalities will play the big movie screen in addition to the usual MSNBC cable and satellite stream. MSNBC won't be in high-definition until the second quarter, but both the channel and Screenvision say the quality will still be high.

"It'll look great," MSNBC president Phil Griffin said. "We're thrilled about it."

Screenvision was approached by MSNBC last year about carrying the coverage in some of the same theaters that take Screenvision's preroll video, executive vp exhibitor relations Darryl Schaffer said. Since August 2007, Screenvision has had an alternative programming division that has exhibited New York Mets baseball games, operas and other events live via movie theaters. Schaffer said that Screenvision had the capability to do as many as 200 locations, though MSNBC was looking for a smaller event than that.

For MSNBC, it's a chance to continue the momentum that vaulted it into the fastest-growing channel in all of cable in 2008. That's the strategy, and Griffin said Monday afternoon to expect more in 2009 to build MSNBC's brand.

"We want to reach people we've never reached before," Griffin said. "We're going to do numerous things like that to get our name out there. Ubiquity is the name of the game in 2009."

Registration for the event is now open at

The Evolution Of Alex Trebek

by Noel Murray

Alex Trebek, took over for Art Fleming as the host of Jeopardy! when creator Merv Griffin revived the series in syndication in 1984, and for the past 25 years, Trebek has presided over what’s arguably TV’s most challenging game show--all while demonstrating the kind of quiet, almost smug authority that one would expect from a man with a philosophy degree from The University Of Ottawa. And yet the Trebek we know today is not the Trebek that Americans first met. The Trebek who came south to host the game show The Wizard Of Odds in 1973 was this Trebek:
This Trebek had started his career as a serious broadcast journalist at the CBC, but had been dabbling in game show hosting for a few years before he arrived in the U.S. (with pal Alan Thicke in tow as The Wizard Of Odds’ producer and theme-song-composer). And this Trebek was apparently ready to conform to whatever American TV wanted him to be.
The Wizard Of Odds only lasted a year—and has all but disappeared from TV history, save for some tiny, tiny publicity stills and an episode in UCLA’s archives—but Trebek came back strong the next season with High Rollers, his first show for innovative game show producers Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley. On High Rollers, Trebek acted the part of the consummate huckster, cracking jokes and goosing contestants to keep the game lively. He’s almost 180 degrees removed from the kind of host he is now.
During his run on High Rollers, Trebek had a cup of coffee as the host of The $128,000 Question, and spent a year hosting the reasonably complex trivia game Double Dare, on which he acted a little classier then he did on High Rollers, while still remaining basically chummy (with an undercurrent of ‘70s swinger smarm).
After High Rollers ended in 1980, Trebek moved on to Battlestars, a blatant Hollywood Squares ripoff that had Trebek mimicking Peter Marshall, albeit with a higher level of exasperation at the show’s camera-hog celebs.
The early ‘80s were something of a shaky time for Trebek, career-wise. While suffering through Battlestars, he was also hosting the syndicated Pitfall back in Canada, and trying unsuccessfully to liven up one of a wave of gimmicky game shows that emerged around that time (weighed down by elaborate sets and complicated game-play).
But at least Pitfall wasn’t as bad as Malcolm, which never got past the pilot stage. Here, Trebek shared hosting duties with a wisecracking cartoon:
Jeopardy! stabilized Trebek’s career path and his reputation, though even after signing on to host Jeopardy!, Trebek took other game show gigs that let him be a little looser, like a revival of Concentration
…and to To Tell The Truth:
I grew up with Alex Trebek on my TV, but never gave him much thought until I started getting deeper into game shows in my early 30s. My interest was sparked in part by a growing affection for old-school showbiz craft, and in part by the almost knee-buckling nostalgia factor of watching a rerun of The Price Is Right or Card Sharks. When we first started getting Game Show Network on our cable system, I’d gaze at the faces of all-but-forgotten celebrities and hear the music of Match Game, and it was like being transported back to the shag carpet in my grandparents’ sunken living room. I saw my life flashing before my eyes--though none of the big moments. Not the triple I hit in Little League, or my parents’ divorce, or my first kiss… no, just the day-to-day idleness that makes up so much of our lives and then disappears a dim haze.
By all accounts—particularly in Ken Jennings’ fascinating three-part interview with former Jeopardy! clue-writer Carlo Panno—Alex Trebek is very hands-on with his signature show, making sure that Jeopardy maintains its standard of excellence. Because of that--and because he’s been the Jeopardy! guy so long--Trebek’s achieved a kind of cultural permanence as a mild-mannered know-it-all. I’d read some about Trebek’s earlier career, and I remember seeing him on TV a lot pre-Jeopardy!. But stumbling across YouTube clips of Trebek’s pre-Jeopardy! work was jarring. It was a lot like a recent experience I had with a high school friend on Facebook, who posted a picture of me in a sweater that I used to love, but hadn’t thought about in over 20 years. That’s what’s so great about the internet: it's become a common store for our memorabilia, and has given us concrete images to connect with our shaky memories. And that’s what’s so frustrating too, because what the internet can’t provide—like clips from The Wizard Of Odds, for example—has begun to feel remote, unreal, perhaps even impossible.
For example, I have a vague memory of an early episode of Jeopardy! in which Trebek described a psychological condition called “inability to entertain,” and joked that he was afraid he suffered from it in the early ‘80s. But now I can find no record of the condition or Trebek’s joke. I also couldn’t find anything on-line about Trebek’s association with a new breed of game show “hunks” that emerged in the mid-‘70s, though I could swear I read an article about that bunch five or six years ago. Perhaps I just dreamed these things. But I could swear I didn’t.
These aspects of our cultural life—game shows, talk shows, dime novels, comic books, regional commercials, journeyman baseball players, discontinued fast food sandwiches—come and go so quickly, and because we rarely make a big deal about them at the time, they sometimes retain their connection to the era they belong to even more strongly than those rare movies and songs and books that endure. Casablanca is a record of the ‘40s, but regular references to the film—and its continued popularity on TV and home video—means that people can associate Casablanca with different times in their own lives. Ditto the Jeopardy! Alex Trebek, who transcends generations.
But that jumpy, shaggy-haired dude laying down a line of patter on High Rollers? Well, he’s a man wholly of his time.

YouTube Now Mutes Videos With Unauthorized Copyrighted Music

Perhaps this has been going on for a while, but I’ve never noticed it before. YouTube

users often create an original video using their favorite popular song as the audio. I’m afraid that they won’t be able to do that much longer, since YouTube has started muting videos that use unauthorized copyrighted music (and that pretty much means all user-created videos.)

You can see some examples here, here and here.

The official notice from YouTube under the video says the following:

This video contains an audio track that has not been authorised by all copyright holders. The audio has been disabled.


If YouTube starts being thorough about this, you can expect to see a significant percentage of all YouTube videos muted. The implications are a bit different than with removing copyrighted professionally produced content, like an official music video; we’re talking about tens of thousands of fan made videos, funny spoofs, remixes and the like being pretty much destroyed, and I’m guessing users will be less than thrilled about it.

Thanks to Aniq Rahman for the tip.

House Dems offer $825B Stimulus Bill

NEW YORK ( -- After weeks of talks with President-elect Barack Obama's top aides, House Democrats on Thursday released a summary of an $825 billion economic recovery package that calls for $275 billion in tax cuts and $550 billion in spending and aid to states.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., again expressed confidence that Congress would reach the mid-February deadline for getting a bill to Obama's desk.

But, she noted, "this [package] is just the first step."

The bill will now be sent to the relevant House committees for review and possible changes and later will be sent to conference with the Senate to resolve any differences the chambers may have.

Obama is scheduled to promote the bill on Friday in Ohio, where he'll speak with workers at a wind turbine factory. The package calls for $54 billion to double production of alternative energy.

The House proposal -- the American Recovery and Reinvestment bill -- is likely the most expensive spending plan Congress has ever proposed. Obama, who takes office on Tuesday, has called it central to stemming what has become the worst economic crisis in decades.

A full copy of the legislation is expected to be posted on the House Web site later Thursday.

Obama's top economic advisers have estimated that the stimulus plan they laid out, which is largely reflected in the House Democrats' bill, could create between 3 million and 4 million jobs by 2010 across a broad array of industries.

But members of Obama's team and other economists acknowledge that if close to 4 million jobs are created that won't be a panacea for the economy. Rather, it would lead to a lesser rate of unemployment than would otherwise be the case if there was no economic recovery package.

The bill calls for a number of measures to help the economically vulnerable. Among them: $27 billion to continue the current extended unemployment benefits program through Dec. 31, 2009; and another $9 billion to increase the average unemployment check by $25 a week on top of the roughly $300 a week jobless workers currently receive.

There is also a provision calling for $30.3 billion to subsidize for 12 months the cost of Cobra health insurance coverage and extend the time eligible workers may keep it. Cobra coverage allows newly laid off workers to keep health insurance provided by their former employers. Workers who would be eligible are those 55 and older and those who have at least 10 years' tenure with their employer.

The bill put together by House Democrats doesn't include everything Obama wanted.

After complaints from Democrats in both chambers, negotiators dropped a $3,000-per-hire tax credit that Obama proposed to provide incentives for employers to create jobs in the United States. Critics said the measure wouldn't achieve its aim since it wasn't large enough to help employers who can't afford a worker's total compensation in the first place.

But another tax cut -- one aimed at broadening businesses' ability to write off their losses, called "net operating loss carryback" -- is still in the package, although it's unclear if it will remain in the final bill.

Although no specifics were offered in the House's summary of provisions, the package also includes a "Making Work Pay Credit," which is something that Obama campaigned on.

The credit as Obama described it would provide low- and middle-income workers with a tax cut equal to $500 a year for individuals and $1,000 for couples. The money could be delivered fairly quickly to workers, with companies reducing the tax they withhold from employees' paychecks. The credit would also be refundable, meaning eligible workers can get it even if they don't make enough money to owe income tax.

The bill also includes an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is a refundable credit for low-income workers, and an increase in the child tax credit.

Obama Asks Retired Air Force General to Run NASA

By Brian Berger and Becky Iannotta
Space News Staff Writers

WASHINGTON - U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has asked retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, one of his top foreign policy and military advisers during his campaign, to take the helm of NASA, according to a source informed of the selection.

An announcement is expected as soon as Wednesday. he would be the first NASA administrator in history to be announced before the inauguration of an incoming president.

Gration, a decorated fighter pilot who held senior policy positions in the military prior to his retirement, is a virtual unknown to the space community, but has some experience with NASA. In 1982, as a captain and fighter pilot instructor recently returned from Kenya, Gration spent a year as a White House Fellow working for NASA's deputy administrator at the time, Hans Mark.

Gration's lack of space experience should not preclude him from being qualified for the job, said John Logsdon, a space policy expert here.

"There are lots of NASA administrators who have come from other areas without a background in space," he said. "You want a guy who is a leader and can manage a large organization."

As a pilot Gration logged more than 1,000 hours of combat missions, according to the Air Force's Web site. He retired from active duty in October 2006. He went on to campaign for Obama alongside former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig and retired Gen. Merrill McPeak, former Air Force chief of staff, as part of Obama's national security policy working group.

Gration led the retired generals tribute during the National Democratic Convention in August, telling the audience he is a former Republican who met then-Sen. Obama in 2005 while serving as director of strategy, plans and policy at U.S. European Command.

"That's when I met a leader unlike any I had met before," he said. "He asked tough questions, and he didn't settle for easy answers. It was this same way of thinking that led him to get it right, when he opposed the war in Iraq, when he warned of its consequences. That's the judgment of a leader."

After their meeting in 2005, Gration accompanied Obama on a five-nation, 15-day tour of Africa in 2006.

Gration, the son of missionary parents, spent part of his childhood in the Congo and speaks Swahili fluently, according to a Newsweek article published in August 2007. He joined the Air Force in 1974 through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., where he earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. He earned a master's degree in national security studies from Georgetown University in Washington in 1988.

Most Remote Place on Earth: 270 People Can't be Wrong

link- by Avi & Rachel Abrams

Where would you exile an inept leader who ruined your country?

Probably as far away as possible! Short of launching him into space, consider this island - the most remote inhabited location on the planet. There are other distant places, but they are uninhabited, mostly barren and unexciting - but here life is established in a very British way, so our world-leader-in-exile would not mess it up so easily, one hopes.

(images credit: 1, 2)

Tristan da Cunha, the Loneliest Island on Earth

When Napoleon was sent to St. Helena by the British, they annexed the closest chain of islands to prevent the French from attempting to rescue him. After all, who wouldn't travel a mere 2430 km over rough and hostile seas in order to rescue the Emperor himself? Yes, that's right, the islands of Tristan Da Cunha closest neighboring land mass, the island of St. Helena, is 2430 km away.

The island is so small that cartographers can't even put it on their maps (not enough resolution). Located in the South Atlantic between Africa and South America, this volcanic outcropping has the honor of being the remotest inhabited island on the planet, and that's including Antarctica and the North Pole. One of the islands in the archipelago is called "Inaccessible", which only seems appropriate, together with their motto: "Our faith is our strength"

Maps Courtesy of Jean-Pierre Langer of Monaco

Capital: Edinburgh of the Seven Seas
Language: English, Population - barely 300 people.
Religions: Christianity (Anglican and Roman Catholic)
Monetary Unit: Pound Sterling (GBP)

(images credit: Manuel Bauer)

Tristan Da Cunha is home to a population of 270 very isolated people, with an economy based in the fishing industry. The climate is sub-tropical, with very little variation in temperature from season to season, and it would probably be a pleasant place to stay... if there were more arable land: the only sort-of level bit of land is located at the northwestern edge of the island, and the rest is moutainous and rocky.

(images credit: Peter Balwin and Sue Scott)

The group of islands is a huge volcanic formations which rose out of the South Atlantic about a million years ago. They are located on the edge of the caldera of the very active volcano! In 1961 a cone near the town, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, began to erupt and the whole community was evacuated to England. After 2 years, an investigation was conducted and it was found that damage was minimal and the residents were allowed to return.

(photos courtesy Rob Crossan & Simon Dunston and Sue Scott)

The islanders frequently face the full wrath of Atlantic storms: the gusts of wind of almost 190km per hour once were so strong that they swept the grazing cows and sheep from the fields and into the ocean... Think about looking out of your window and seeing woefully mooing bovines sailing past... perishing in the waves...

Refreshment - away from the maddening crowds

Islands of Refreshment, this is how self-proclaimed ruler (remember our little "despot" joke in the beginning?) Jonathan Lambert called these islands in 1811. "Lambert declared himself sovereign and sole possessor of the island group", but he did not last long, as he drowned while fishing a year later.

And here are the "refreshments" - Genuine Tristan Lobster Tails - the tastiest in the world!

(image credit: Roland Svensson)

"The island now boasts a convenience store, a radio station (broadcasting the World Service four days a week), a cafe, a video shop and a swimming pool. Tristan is now connected to the world by one telephone and a fax machine in the Administrator's office, and is visited once a year by the only mail ship in the world, the RMS St. Helena. This ship brings not only mail, but canned food, videos, books and magazines, medical items, and the occasional visitor." (source)

(images credit:

(images credit: Manuel Bauer)

(images credit: Rob Crossan)

"Unemployment on Tristan is almost unknown, with both girls and boys guaranteed jobs when they leave school, even if posts have to be specially created for them. In recent times, girls have increasing started to continue their education (usually at St. Helena) - young women are increasingly becoming an intellectual elite on the island."

(images credit:

Here is another kind of native: yellow-nosed albatross chick -

(photo courtesy Sue Scott)

and you might recognize this character ( Northern rock-hopper penguin, made popular by "Surf's Up" animated movie ) - 90% of the world population breed on Tristan:

(photo courtesy Sue Scott)

For an intrepid explorer of "abandoned & haunted places", there is something as well
- the whole abandoned and grounded oil rig!

(photo courtesy Sue Scott)

Stocks Sink as BofA Pleas for more money

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stock index futures fell on Thursday as persistent worries about mounting credit losses in the financial sector overshadowed reassuring results from JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM - News).

Although JPMorgan's fourth-quarter profit slid 76 percent from a year earlier as the bank wrote down bad loans and set aside money to cover mounting credit losses, the results were not as bad as expected.

The company's underlying performance suggested that the No. 2 U.S. bank was navigating the financial crisis with more success than its rivals, analysts said.

"Most people consider them to be perhaps the strongest bank out there. They really have battled to be profitable," said Rick Meckler, president of investment firm LibertyView Capital Management in New York, adding:

"So it doesn't speak well of those that are not in good shape. The initial reaction was very positive, but now people are starting to consider what the outlook is for those banks that are not nearly as well positioned. We are not out of the woods at all."

S&P 500 futures shed 7.60 points and were below fair value, a formula to evaluate pricing taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures fell 69 points while Nasdaq 100 futures slipped 15.50 points.

Shares of JPMorgan rose 3.5 percent in volatile trade to $26.81 before the bell.

Bank of America (NYSE:BAC - News) shares fell 7.2 percent to $9.47 following news that the largest U.S. bank, is close to getting billions of dollars more in federal support from taxpayers.

Shares of Apple Inc (NasdaqGS:AAPL - News) were set to drag on Nasdaq after the iPod and iPhone maker said Chief Executive Steve Jobs had decided to take a leave of absence due to health issues. The stock was off 6.8 percent to $79.50 before the bell.

New Toy Law could put Indie Toy Companies out of Business

( -- When she's not busy taking care of her three kids, stay-at-home mom Denise Mollison spends her time stitching together cherubic rag dolls, which she then sells online at her shop, The Lucky Pebble, and at Esty, an online marketplace. Her plump creations have garnered extensive praise from fans of handmade goods, and Mollison's Etsy page is filled with rave reviews from happy customers. But a new law passed to ensure the safety of toys and children's clothes may unintentionally cripple small businesses like hers.

After a spate of toy recalls made headlines in 2007, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act in July 2008. The law, which goes into effect on February 10, sets strict limits on lead and phthalate (a harmful chemical found in plastics) content in toys and other children's products. Toymakers must certify their wares' compliance via third-party testing, which can cost anywhere from less than a hundred dollars to several hundred dollars per test - and each component of a toy, such as zippers, buttons, and paint, must be tested separately. Retailers must also ensure that their entire inventory is certified. Toymakers and retailers who violate the law face fines of tens of thousands of dollars.

The law makes no distinction between large-scale manufacturers, mom-and-pop businesses, and one-man operations. While large corporations may be able to easily absorb the costs of product testing, the price is potentially overwhelming for small businesses.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission - which cannot change the law, only enforce it - is scrambling to clarify certain vague language of the law, and to establish clearer rules for testing. On Tuesday, January 6, the commission voted on certain provisions that may offer relief to some toymakers. However, a second vote - which will not take place until after the law goes into effect - is needed to finalize the rulings.

"We don't want to fly under the radar for safety, we just want a cost-effective way to comply," Mollison says.

No sense of scale

Mollison sells her dolls for around $30 to $50 each, earning about $8,000 in 2008. The money she makes supplements her husband's income and helps pay the medical expenses for daughter Raven, who has special needs and requires a feeding device.

"The safety standards are perfectly reasonable, but the testing costs are not sustainable for a micro-business," says Dan Marshall, founder of the Handmade Toy Alliance. Marshall and his wife, Millie Adelsheim, own a St. Paul, Minn., store called Peapods, which specializes in natural, no-frills toys such as wooden blocks and trains, as well as other baby products and clothes.

"There's no sense of scale, no exemptions based on the size of the business," Marshall says. "It doesn't make sense for someone who's knitting kids' hats in their living room to pay hundreds of dollars to test each hat." Members of the alliance - more than 170 retailers, toymakers, and concerned citizens - have inundated the Consumer Product Safety Commission with letters, faxes and e-mails expressing their fears and offering suggestions.

Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade goods, posts regular CPSIA news updates on its Web site to keep its users as informed as possible.

"Everyone has questions; there's a lot of speculation and rumor," says Matthew Stinchcomb, Etsy's communications director. "We're trying to educate our users, but even the CPSC doesn't really know what's going to happen on February 10."

Stinchcomb says that many Esty users are liquidating their merchandise for fear that it will be considered contraband when the CPSIA goes into effect.

Two of the CPSC's recent rulings could help some craftspeople and retailers if they are finalized when the commission votes again at a yet-to-be-determined future date. The first would exempt certain natural materials, such as wood, wool, and cotton, from testing, as it is widely accepted that such materials do not contain lead or phthalates.

"If a baby blanket is 100% cotton, or you have a set of unfinished wooden blocks, then those items wouldn't necessarily have to be tested," says CPSC spokeswoman Julie Vallese. "There's room under the law for certain exemptions."

Another proposal would recuse toymakers from testing their raw materials if the suppliers provided certification instead. However, it's not currently a common practice for suppliers to offer such certifications. Before the CPSC's second vote, the public will be invited to comment via mail, fax, or e-mail.

The commission also recently tried to clarify the law's effect on secondhand retailers such as thrift shops and consignment boutiques, but its ruling left many resellers even more puzzled. Store owners had expressed concern that proving that the lead and phthalate content in used toys fell below the new guidelines would not be feasible without new testing. The CPSC said last week that sellers of used toys aren't required to test their inventory for compliance - but they're still responsible for ensuring that all goods they sell meet the new limits. Any store owner who sells a product that violates the limits could face civil and criminal penalties.

"Congress failed to address some things when they wrote the law," the CPSC's Vallese acknowledges. "And the CPSC is a small agency with limited resources." There will still be plenty of kinks to be worked out after February 10.

In the meantime, handmade advocates like Dan Marshall are coping as best they can by staying informed and lobbying for improvements in the law's implementation.

"Everyone's just trying to make sure they've got all their ducks in a row," Marshall says. "The ironic thing is that at my store, we've been trying for 10 years to find as many alternatives to mass-produced products as possible. A wooden toy is a way for kids to relate to the natural world; they can see what it's made of, and they can invest their own imaginations in it. It's a better toy." To top of page

Weezer "Pork and Beans"

Great use/collection of viral internet videos are used to make their video of "Pork and Beans"