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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shuttle Endeavour: Incredible View

Ten of the Coolest Super Mario 64 Hacks


Think that people only hack the NES and SNES to mess with old Mario games? Think again. Here are 10 hacks that mess around with the 64-bit glory of Super Mario on the Nintendo 64.

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'Heroes,' 'Chuck' hit lows; 'Beauty' finishes solid


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Chuck vs. the series low

CBS was in repeats. The CW was in repeats. ABC aired the "Women Tell All" special episode of "The Bachelor." And yet despite mostly weak competition, NBC's "Chuck" and "Heroes" generated their lowest ratings ever.

"Chuck" (6.5 million viewers, 2.2 preliminary adults 18-49 rating and 6 share) dipped a tenth in the adult demo from last week. "Heroes" (6.9 million, 3.3/8) was down 8% from its previously established settling point. Both shows placed last in their hours among the major broadcast networks.

The "Heroes" fan complaints are familiar by now. Too complex, too many character personality flip-flips, too many logic-leaping "save the world" stories. The recent "Fugitives" reboot was supposed to "save the series, save NBC Monday nights." The show's focus is more singular now (an "X-Men"-ish "mutants fighting those who seek to control them" angle) but perhaps it's not enough.

The "Chuck" drain is more mysterious. The show continues to get praise from critics and recently climbed in the ratings following its well-received 3D episode. One wouldn't think Fox's "House" moving into the same time period would draw the same audience, but the medical drama does seem to be having an impact on the crime-fighting geek.

Do these latest drops mean anything for the shows' futures?

Tough to say. NBC has so little that's competitive right now ("Biggest Loser," late-night), and is making such radical moves in some ways (moving Jay Leno to 10 p.m.), yet seems almost paralyzed in others (what's airing on Wednesday nights again?). You can pretend to be an NBC executive and make an argument for the return, or the demise, of "Chuck" and "Heroes" next fall, and neither speech would seem all too far fetched.

At 10 p.m., "Medium" (8.5 million, 2.7/7) looked at its falling lead in, shrugged, and went back to its usual rating.

If anybody benefited from NBC's slight drop, it was Fox, enjoying a slight gain while once again winning the night in the demo and total viewers. "House" (14.6 million, 5.4/14) climbed a couple tenths, plus "24" (11.6 million, 3.7/9) was up a peg

Hayden ABC was second for the evening with a special episode of "The Bachelor" (11 million, 3.7/9), which was up 61% over last year's "Women Tell All" and was the third-most-watched "Tell All" in the history of the "Bachelor" franchise. The finale of "True Beauty" (7.5 million, 3.2/9) was up slightly from last week despite a much-reduced lead in and won its hour -- strengthening its chance of a second season. In third place, CBS showed off by tying NBC with its repeats.

Here's a clip from "Heroes" for those contemplating a jump back in:


Legalize It: Ammiano to Introduce Legislation Monday to Allow Pot -- and Tax It


ammianoweed-little.jpg
The story SF Weekly broke on Friday is true: Assemblyman Tom Ammiano will announce legislation on Monday to legalize marijuana and earn perhaps $1 billion annually by taxing it.

Quintin Mecke, Ammiano's press secretary, confirmed to SF Weekly that the assemblyman's 10 a.m. Monday press conference regarding "new legislation related to the state's fiscal crisis" will broach the subject of reaping untold -- and much-needed -- wealth from the state's No. 1 cash crop.

Mecke said Ammiano's proposed bill "would remove all penalties in California law on cultivation, transportation, sale, purchase, possession, or use of marijuana, natural THC, or paraphernalia for persons over the age of 21."

The bill would additionally prohibit state and local law officials from enforcing federal marijuana laws. As for Step Two -- profit -- Ammiano's bill calls for "establishing a fee on the sale of marijuana at a rate of $50 per ounce." Mecke said that would bring in roughly $1 billion for the state, according to estimates made by marijuana advocacy organizations.

UPDATE: Coverage of Ammiano's press conference here.

MCE-5 to Debut 220-HP 1.5L Engine with Variable Compression Ratio at Geneva


If you know much about how engines work, the idea of a variable compression ratio seems almost crazy. The idea isn't new, in fact Saab claims to have been working on it since the 1980s, but it's never been commercially viable. Nine years after the last attempt to bring it to market, the variable compression engine is back for another round and it's got some big promises to keep.

This time, another European company is giving it a go. France-based MCE-5 Development was founded in the year 2000 by a small group of engineers from a school in Paris dedicated to developing VCR technology. The company quickly teamed up with a number of European automakers and auto parts suppliers and has been trying to perfect an engine design originally conceived back in 1997.

Here's what they've come up with: The gasoline-powered, four-cylinder MCE-5 VCRi (for Intelligent Variable Compression Ratio) engine uses a two-state turbocharger, displaces 1.5L and pumps out an impressive 220 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque -- numbers comparable to engines with much larger displacement and more cylinders. MCE-5 says the engine will get 35 mpg and emit only 0.56 grams of CO2 per mile.

Sound too good to be true? Wait, it gets better. MCE-5 says that the engine shown here is just a preliminary model and will soon be upgraded. For 2010, MCE-5 will add direct injection, optimized combustion chambers and advanced temperature management of the engine, cylinder head, piston, and exhaust. All of these upgrades will help the revised engine produce a whopping 266 hp and 347 lb-ft of torque, all from just 1.5L. It'll even bump fuel economy over 40 mpg and drop CO2 emissions under 0.5 lbs per mile. MCE-5 is optimistic even here, suggesting that emissions could drop under 0.43 lbs per mile by 2012-2013 and fuel economy could improve even further.

The last time we saw this kind of technology was the 2000 Geneva Motor Show, where Saab rolled out the Saab Variable Compression engine, which could alter its compression ratio while running. To do so, Saab attached one side of the cylinder head to the cylinder block with a hinge, then placed a lifting mechanism on the other side of the block. When activated, it would tilt the cylinder head four degrees up to one side in a similar fashion to opening the lid of a piano. Doing so would increase the volume of the combustion chambers, lowering the compression ratio. Saab claimed that the technology could change the compression ratio from 8:1 to 14:1 while the engine was running for optimal efficiency and performance, yielding 225 hp and 224 lb-ft of torque on 40 psi of boost from a supercharged 1.5L engine.

MCE-5 VCRi Engine Cutaway Diagram

MCE-5, though, has other ideas. Rather than move the cylinder head around, MCE-5 appears to be manipulating the stroke of the pistons. In a traditional internal combustion engine, each piston is attached directly to the crankshaft by a rod. MCE-5, though, has added an intermediary in the form of a special gear. This gear acts as both a gear and a rocker arm, and special hydraulic jacks embedded in the engine block next to the cylinders manipulate this rocker gear in order to change the length of the piston stroke, thereby changing the volume of the combustion chamber and therefore the compression ratio. MCE-5 says their system can change the compression ratio from 7:1 to an incredible 18:1 and the system can change the ratio from the lowest to the highest in less than 100 milliseconds. The system will supposedly allow the gasoline engine to run on compression like a diesel in some cases, use the more-efficient Atkinson Cycle and run various other fuels like bio-fuels and compressed gasses. The system can even control each cylinder separately, allowing all four cylinders to operate at different compression ratios, each one optimal for that cylinder.

At least, that's how we understand it. The new design is very complex and MCE-5 never explains exactly how the mechanics of the system work, so our understanding is a bit hazy. If you're mechanically inclined, pop over to MCE-5's website and have a look around at their diagrams, videos and other materials and see what you can make of it.

MCE-5 claims that because their system is based on simple mechanics and utilizes all of the same construction techniques as conventional engines, the cost of putting an MCE-5 engine in a car is less the $700 more than using a conventional engine. The company will be showing off their prototype nestled under the hood of a Peugeot 407 at the 2009 Geneva Motor Show next week, and who knows, maybe we'll see it on the road someday.

Source: MCE-5 Development

What a slice! Stray golf ball discovered buried inside felled tree

By Daily Mail Reporter

Of all the flukes seen on a golf course, greenkeeper Richard Mitchell can claim one of the strangest.

As he took his chainsaw to a leylandii tree, he hit the exact spot where a ball was embedded in the wood and sliced through it.

The ball apparently lodged in a fork of the tree many years ago when a golfer hooked a drive on the first tee. The conifer grew around the ball and it remained hidden in the screen of 15 trees.

golf ball

A golf ball was found embedded inside this preserved tree trunk

Trimmed, sanded and varnished, it is to become a rather unusual trophy board at Eaton Golf Club in Norwich.

Mr Mitchell discovered the ball last month after he felled the 40ft trees, planted 37 years ago, and began cutting the timber into 4ft lengths for firewood.

The piece of wood with the half ball visible is being preserved and varnished by former club captain Jim Cook who is a skilled woodworker.

It will then be kept behind the bar and used to record the names of everyone who gets a hole-in-one on the 198-yard ninth hole.

Jim Cook is pictured on the ninth hole

Eaton member Jim Cook is pictured on the ninth hole close to where the unique tree was felled

Peter Johns, the manager of the £675-a-year club, said: 'It is just an incredible find.

'We think it came off the first tee. It must have lodged in a fork or embedded itself in the trunk and the tree grew round it.

'If Richard had cut the trunk an inch or two either way we'd never have known it was there.'

World's Strangest Theme Parks

Bar none, the weirdest theme park right now may be your own work cubicle...

Well, you might still remember the "World Craziest Roller Coasters" article that was on DRB some time ago, and with the recent economic meltdown, a visit to a theme park may not be of utmost importance (even almighty Disney is laying off park staff left and right...) However, remembering the good old times, and with hope for a better future for theme parks - here is a rundown of the most bizarre ones...

Is it really your fault that you're not amused any more?

"An amusement park on steroids, growing beyond all control, feeding on an unamused and increasingly terrified public. Increasing in complexity by the hour until it has developed a twisted kind of intelligence..." - (source)


(Busy water park at Hershey's. Photo by Stephen R. Mingle)

Don't get me wrong, if a real "Jurassic Park" came into existence, I’d be the first to line up. However, there are some theme parks today that seem to have forsaken a simple fun factor and are trying very hard to get visitors... trying too hard, we might say:


(some ideas, provided by Photoshop masters at Worth1000

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1. Willy Wonka is outranked by "Hershey Park", Hershey, PA

Giant huggable candies wander freely in that real world chocolate fantasy... as kids marvel at the hot steamy kisses popping up here and there:


(photos courtesy of Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Company)

Sure, you can still find Harmony at this park, but it turns out to be a cow:


(image credit: Noel)

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2. Diggerland vs. Bulldozer Carnage Fantasies

This theme park looks like it’s constantly under construction. A fantasy for almost every young boy (and some adults), as they can play in a larger-than-life sandbox with larger-than-life toys. Images of rambunctious eleven-year-olds at the helm of a 40-ton dump truck immediately come to mind, and YouTube videos of bulldozers spreading destruction everywhere - but the reality seems to be quite a lot tamer:



(images via)

You can drive a police vehicle there, host a corporate event (some heavy bonding there), and even rent it for stag parties... let your imagination run wild, but we're not going to elaborate.


(images via 1, )

Diggerland is purpotedly going to expand this year, building a "Reddit-Land" addition, smaller but significantly more intense.

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3. Dubailand: twice the size of Walt Disney World in Florida.


Dubailand is currently in development stages (which threatens to become a permanent condition with recent Dubai economic woes), but if completed, it will be a giant theme park 3-billion (yes with a b) square foot complex.



(image via)

The Great Dubai Wheel will be one of the biggest in the world (on the right is Dubai SnowDome):



On a Ferris Wheel - to the Stars!

Actually, Dubai ferris wheel is slated to be the second highest. The highest ferris wheel in the world will be a 200-meter structure in North Bud, Shanghai, China. Note, that it's not really a wheel - the pods are climbing up and down a strange-looking arc, not dissimilar to Star Trek logo - a coincidence?


(image via)

Back to Dubai, not a small part of Dubailand will be a futuristic City of Arabia, complete with dinosaurs, monorail transport - all on Dubai patented steroids, of course:



The gateway to City of Arabia is the super-mall (of course) and biggest in the world (of course), threatened by a flock of dinosaurs:




Built, or not built, enjoy another view of a mirage in a desert (bottom image is a four arena Sports City):



(images via)

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4. Dickens World, UK

The creators of Dickens World in Kent, England, promise a "dark, smoky, moody London, full of smells and mist". Steampunkers of the world, unite! Modern economy, though, may prove darker, smokier and moodier than anything these guys planned for...


(images via)

Charles Dickens drab portrayals of the United Kingdom during the industrial revolution come to life at Dickensworld, resembling a Tim Burton movie set. Now the whole family can pay to be bothered by grifters, hussies, walkabouts and other choreographed nuisances.



Animatronic "ghosts" from A Christmas Carol, a boat ride featuring a trip to the depths of a London sewer... exccciting!... A Victorian School complete with nasty schoolmaster is also among attractions (Harry Potter Theme Park - soon to open in Orlando - may have nice competition overseas)



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5. Mukluk Land, Alaska

Hardly Alaska’s most unique destination, Mukluk Land nevertheless features exciting attractions like skee ball, mini-golf and large Alaskan cabbage.


(images via 1, )

Mukluk Land’s hit attraction is the world largest Mukluk, suspended between trees and adorned with white balls. There are also a few rusting snowmobiles - and a red wonder vehicle, of unknown origin:


(image via)

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6. "Fantazy Land" is not abandoned, although it should be

Situated in Alexandria, Egypt, Fantazy Land is plain dangerous to anybody who enters there. Adrenaline junkies should draw insurance before checking out these rides - rusted, partly demolished, and yet still in operation (entry fee is 1.50 pounds for locals, and 30 pounds for foreign tourists, take note)




(images via)

See a lot more harrowing photos on this page.

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7. Cheezy and proud of it - "Pedro Land" in Dillon, South Carolina


(images via 1, 2)

Social ignorance runs strong at Pedro Land, where you’re in for a day of stereotypes, generalities and flamingos. Play a round of mini-golf at "The Golf of Mexico" and ride a glass elevator up the Sombrero Tower.


(images via)

Yes, get a load of reality: an ugly "Reality Ride"! -


(image credit: Coaster Image)

The park also features corniest billboard ads ever:



(images via)

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8. Limestone Heritage, Malta

Limestone Heritage is a theme park dedicated to - you guessed it - limestone! Located in on the Island of Malta, this destination teaches children and adults the vast importance of this stone with wax figures and interesing historic vehicles on display:



(images via 1, 2, 3)

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9. Harry Potter franchise is running out of sequels. Time to build a theme park.

Coming in 2010, a billion dollar theme park will open within Universal Studios in Florida. Now readers and movie-goers of the Harry Potter mega-seller can leave Muggles behind and go explore Hogwarts for themselves. After a relaxing day of spending boatloads of money (conjuring them out of thin air, surely), enjoy a “Harry Burger” or have a glass of mead.


(image via)

I like the tag line of this experience. "Let out your inner wizard!" Amen to that - he was peeking out from time to time, but now he can be properly unleashed in Orlando.


(image via)

Air Travel Is Getting Cheaper Because No One Is Flying


(Photo:jdnx)

Dollhouse will be fully awesome in episode 6, says Dushku


Whedon's voice comes through more clearly at that point. The first 5 were standalone episodes for casual viewers. Starting at episode 6 story will unfold in a more serialized fashion, allowing for the deep characterization and in jokes that Whedon fans love so much. [episode 2 spoilers]

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New Biomaterial Helps Bones Heal

Wendy Zukerman, ABC Science Online
Triggering Bones to Heal
iStockPhoto |
Triggering Bones to Heal
A new biomaterial triggers an inflammatory response and acts as a framework for bone growth.

Feb. 20, 2009 -- A synthetic biomaterial that encourages the body to create bone could be the answer to successful bone grafts and treating bone disease, say Australian researchers.

Cameron Lutton of Queensland University of Technology (QUT) said the biomaterial activates the initial stages of bone healing. "The biomaterial interacts with blood and mimics early bone healing events," said Lutton.

After a bone is broken, there is a fast inflammatory response where blood clots and specialized cells are quickly attracted to the fracture site. These cells encourage a cascade of proteins, hormones and other cells to create new bone.

But if the gap is too large, due to a large break or removal of a tumour, this natural process can't happen.

"If the chunk of bone missing is too big it can't heal, this is the circumstance that people need assistance," said Lutton.

Bone grafts or synthetic materials are used to assist in the healing process, but they have their limitations.

"There are several products that fill up bone holes with minerals found in bone. It looks like bone, but it isn't and it can't be dealt with by the body in the same way," said Lutton.

The biomaterial created by researchers at QUT and Stryker Australia, encourages the body's natural clotting process, promoting bone growth.

The key to the biomaterial is its surface structure, which is coated by a special arrangement of polymers that attract the right proteins to the wounded bone, explained Ben Goss, a project researcher.

"There are polymers that attract proteins and those that repel them. By getting the right balance we can attract and repel the right proteins to create bones," said Goss.

Under laboratory conditions the biomaterial induces the proteins and hormones needed for the initial inflammatory response.

"We know that it does the right thing to the blood to begin bone regeneration," said Goss.

The next step is to determine whether later stages in the bone regeneration process are happening.

Successful preliminary results were presented at the Australia New Zealand Orthopaedic Research Society's meeting late last year, and animal trials are currently underway.

If the trials are successful the biomaterial will move to human trials to treat patients with significant bone defects.

According to the researchers bone disease affect more than a million people worldwide. They say half a million bone grafts are performed annually in the United States to fill fractures that cannot naturally heal.

Rare Jaguars Spotted in Arizona and Mexico

By Robert Roy Britt, Editorial Director


The once-common jaguar has become a rare sight in North America, thanks to hunting and habitat fragmentation.

Now two were spotted in exceedingly rare and unrelated events this month.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department caught and collared a wild jaguar in Arizona for the first time, officials said Thursday. While a handful of the big cats have been photographed by automatic cameras in recent years, the satellite tracking collar will now help biologists learn more about this animal's range.

Meanwhile, a jaguar was spotted in central Mexico for the first time in a century. Scientists photographed the cat with an automatic camera set alongside a trail thought to be frequented by the spotted felines.

Jaguar in Mexico
A jaguar is photographed in central Mexico in by an automatic camera. The image was released Feb. 10, 2009. Credit: Octavio Monroy-Vilchis et al./SINC

Jaguars (Panthera onca) once ranged from southern South America to the southern United States. By the late 1900s, none were thought to exist north of Mexico, but two independent sightings in 1996 confirmed jaguars still reached as far north as Arizona and New Mexico. Remote cameras have also photographed jaguars in the Amazon.

The species has been protected outside of the United States under the Endangered Species Act since 1973. That protection was extended to jaguars in the United States in 1997, the year after their presence here was confirmed.

Details of the sightings below.

How Cats Walk and Stalk

Unlike dogs and humans, cats don't conserve energy when they move.

The Arizona cat

The male cat in Arizona was captured southwest of Tucson during a study aimed at monitoring habitat connectivity for mountain lions and black bears. The healthy beast weighed in at 118 pounds with a thick and solid build.

Satellite tracking showed the cat traveled more than 3 miles from the capture site in the first day after its release, officials said.

"While we didn't set out to collar a jaguar as part of the mountain lion and bear research project, we took advantage of an important opportunity," said Terry Johnson, endangered species coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. "More than 10 years ago, Game and Fish attempted to collar a jaguar with no success. Since then, we've established handling protocols in case we inadvertently captured a jaguar in the course of one of our other wildlife management activities."

Biologists are trying to determine if the collared jaguar is Macho B, a male cat that has been photographed by trail cameras periodically over the past 13 years.

In 1997, a team was established in Arizona and New Mexico to protect and conserve the species. The Jaguar Conservation Team (JCT) began working with Mexico two years later, recognizing that the presence of jaguars in the United States depends on the conservation of the species in Mexico.

Interestingly, the project set up to do all this is funded by Arizona Lottery ticket sales.

The Mexico cat

No jaguars had been spotted in central Mexico since the start of the 20th century.

Scientists trying to find footprints, excrement or any other signs of the jaguars had in recent years interviewed residents, none of whom had ever seen one. Nonetheless, the researchers now report having obtained three photographs of a male jaguar and ten excrement samples that have been attributed to the jaguar, said Octavio Monroy-Vilchis of Autonomous University of the State of Mexico.

In a statement, researchers explained there are 15 areas in Mexico in which it is unknown whether jaguars still exist, whether their populations are stable, and if their habitat is adequate. These areas are important for scientific studies, because they could include crucial zones for the felines' long-term survival.

"The photographs provide information about new recording sites, and allow us to deduce that the area where the animal was observed may be a corridor connecting jaguar populations," Monroy-Vilchis said.

Largest cats

Jaguars are the only cats in North America that roar. They're considered the largest cats in the Western Hemisphere. Adults commonly weigh up to 211 pounds (96 kg), though 300-pounders have been reported. In the northern range they typically weigh between 80-120 pounds, however.

Females breed year-round and have litters of one to four cubs that stay with their mother for nearly two years.

Jaguars can live in several types of forest, grassland and dry habitat. They prey on a variety of animals, including fish, birds and reptiles. The largest contiguous area of habitat now remaining for jaguars centers in the Amazon Basin.

Pensioner drinks nothing but Coke for 40 years in promise to mother

A Croatian man claims he has drunk nothing but Coca-Cola for the past 40 years – because he promised his mother he would not touch alcohol.


Coca-cola - Pensioner drinks nothing but Coke for 40 years in promise to mother
'Coke is my drug now, and I'll drink it till I die,' Pero Ajtman said Photo: REUTERS

Pero Ajtman, 71, said he promised his mother he would stop drinking alcoholic beverages four decades ago.

"My mum didn't like me drinking when I was a young man as she was very religious," he explained to the Croatian tabloid 24 Sata.

"She made me promise never to drink again and Coca-Cola was the only thing that tasted as good as wine so I started drinking that.

"Now I have a glass in the morning, before and after lunch, with my dinner and then before I go to bed. I never drink anything else."

The pensioner, who lives in the village of Karanac, near the city of Osijek, in eastern Croatia, said he had no intention of abandoning his habit.

"My mother isn't here to tell me not to drink any more but I'm not even tempted to quit coke for alcohol.

"Coke is my drug now, and I'll drink it till I die," he said, adding that he had not experienced any major health problems.

There was no word on what Mr Ajtman's dentist thought of his sugary diet.

Sleek new Studio XPS 435 materializes on Dell website

Well, what do we have here? Dell's own website has outed a new Studio XPS 435. Here's the specs for its supremum configuration: a 3.2GHz Intel Core i7 processor extreme edition on a X58 chipset, up to 24GB DDR3 SDRAM and 4.5 TB with three hard drive bays, ATI Radeon HD4870, Blu-ray disc drive, 15-in-1 card reader, and eight USB 2.0 ports. Of course, getting the max settings is certainly going to cost you a pretty penny, and at this point we've got no deets on pricing or availability.

33 Simple Sex Tips to Turn Her On


Quick, easy things you can do to make her heating speeds better match yours. Our suggestions take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. The payoff? They'll quickly adjust her thermostat to high heat.

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