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Monday, March 2, 2009

The Ultimate Rubik's Cube Instructions From 1986

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French farmer is new sun king


By Gus Trompiz

WEINBOURG, France (Reuters) - Bright winter sun dissolves a blanket of snow on barn roofs to reveal a bold new sideline for Jean-Luc Westphal: besides producing eggs and grains, he is to generate solar power for thousands of homes.

Economic crisis has cast doubt on funding hopes for many big renewable energy projects, but the giant panels built into roofs on this sloping farm at the foot of the Vosges hills in eastern France are attracting attention from farmers to financiers.

Westphal is one of a small but growing band of farmers in the European Union's biggest agricultural producer who are taking up new incentives for solar power to supplement farm incomes as well as help France meet renewable energy targets.

"We're trying to go a bit beyond agriculture to earn our living in a different way," said Jean-Luc Leonhart, an old classmate of Westphal's visiting his friend's project with a view to installing solar panels on his own farm.

In a mountainous region famed for Munster-Gerome cheeses and good quality white wines, Westphal is working on a grand scale.

His built-in panels form one of the largest integrated installations of photovoltaic systems -- which generate electricity direct from solar power -- yet built.

The 20 million euro ($26 million) investment means constructing five enormous sheds covered by 36,000 square meters of solar panels with a capacity to generate 4.5 megawatts (MW) of electricity, enough to power 4,000 homes.

"It's quite a gamble," said Westphal, who runs the farm with his brother.

The size, combined with a government guarantee of long-term electricity contracts at an inflation-linked "feed-in" tariff, helped win the scheme bank support.

Banque Populaire jointly financed Westphal's project with Credit Agricole, France's leading lender to farmers.

"It was the economies of scale that convinced them," Westphal said. The farmer expects to generate 2 million euros a year in electricity sales from his solar site.


The type of solar-panel roof Westphal is using -- known as "integrated" because the panels are built into the roof rather than superimposed -- is booming in France thanks to legislation creating 20-year contracts with strong incentives to sell electricity to the grid.

At 0.55 euros per kWh, integrated solar photovoltaic panels generate nearly twice the revenue of ground-mounted and superimposed solar panels.

The built-in technology is encouraged by the authorities as aesthetically acceptable, in a country where wind farms have been sharply criticised as eyesores.

A key element of a government goal to have renewables make up 23 percent of French energy consumption in 2020, the feed-in tariffs show France imitating Germany, Europe's leader in solar and wind power.

"France's ambition is to play a leading role in the technological revolution which is about to happen in solar power," Environment and Energy Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said in November.

France is heavily reliant on nuclear plants, whose capacity of 63,260 MW dwarfs the 25 MW of solar power switched to the French grid by late 2008.

But the country has already doubled its solar capacity annually since 2006, according to renewable energy producers' group SER, and the government's goal is to multiply this to 5,400 MW by 2020 by luring homeowners, farmers and businesses with attractive tariffs.

"There is a real bubble effect," said Stephane Maureau, chief executive of Evasol, an installation firm that works in partnership with Tenesol, the solar panel maker jointly owned by electricity group EDF and oil major Total.

Adding to the incentives is a fall in the price of solar-grade silicon used in the panels -- it is forecast by some to decline by more than 30 percent this year.

Whereas in 2007 it was receiving a couple of requests a month from farmers to install solar panels, last year Evasol saw about 30 each month, Maureau said.

For his industrial-size installation, Jean-Luc Westphal is operating under his own company, Hanau Energies, and being supplied with panels by Japanese manufacturer MSK, part of China's Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd.


With farmers' incomes subject to increasing volatility -- linked to rising global demand, extreme weather and speculative interest in commodities -- and the European Union scaling back direct farm subsidies, renewable energies have emerged as a supplementary option.

After two years of healthy rises on the back of surging commodity prices, average farm income in France fell 15 percent in 2008, according to the French farm ministry, as producers faced falling prices coupled with increasing costs.

But even if banks were happy to fund Westphal's project and Evasol's Maureau says demand has inflated rapidly, the credit squeeze has made them more reluctant and apparently hurt big players like Suntech, which reported a fourth-quarter loss.

"There is not going to be as much money as before for this type of project," said Arnaud Berger, head of sustainable development at Banque Populaire.

For other farmers considering solar energy, a cooperative would be a good way to create economies of scale without a huge individual investment, he added.

One example is a group of 77 cattle breeders in the Aveyron region of south-west France, who formed a company, SAS Adder, to manage the 17 million euro construction of 33,0000 square meters of integrated roof panels on their farms.

"It's about minimizing the costs, spreading the risk and sharing the profits," said Pierre Bastide, Adder's president.

Adder's project is one of 30 in the area of sustainable development that will receive a ministry award at the Paris Farm Show running to March 1.

Farmers remain characteristically cautious, however.

"The return on investment is decent enough but not extraordinary," Evasol's Maureau said. "The motivation for farmers is more like to have an extra retirement pension."

(Editing by Sara Ledwith and Gerard Wynn)

A Short History of Swiss Banks & Secrecy

Swiss banks' anonymity and confidentiality have attracted streams of illicit cash from around the world.
Swiss banks' anonymity and confidentiality have attracted streams of illicit cash from around the world.
Erich Hartmann / Magnum

Along with Chocolate and Cheese, Switzerland is synonymous with secrecy: it's long been known as a place to put your money if you don't like taxes or you commit crimes for a living. Not an entirely fair characterization, to be sure, but it's a safe bet that the decision by Swiss bank UBS to turn over the names of some accused tax evaders has a few of the world's richest criminals a bit nervous. (See 25 people to blame for the financial crisis.)

Switzerland's tradition of financial discretion goes back at least to the 17th century. In the wake of World War I, as many European currencies became unstable, the consistent (not to mention neutral) Swiss franc attracted depositors. After France, incensed by the loss of revenue, raided a Swiss bank's office in Paris and revealed the names on its accounts, the Swiss passed a law in 1934 making such disclosures criminal. Years later, Swiss banks both sheltered the assets of German Jews and accepted looted Nazi gold (and later set up a $1.25 billion compensation fund for Holocaust victims). Corrupt leaders ranging from the Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos to Nigeria's Sani Abacha have used Swiss banks to hide ill-gotten gains. (See the top 10 financial collapses of 2008.)

Faced with criticism from foreign governments, Switzerland has changed some of its ways. It added laws to combat money-laundering and cracked down on numbered accounts in the 1990s. But that doesn't mean the banks open their vaults for just anyone. When the U.S., which loses an estimated $100 billion in tax revenues every year on assets stashed overseas, demanded that UBS release information on an additional 52,000 accounts, the bank refused, saying the move would violate Swiss law. Of course, with some 27,000 UBS employees working in U.S. offices, Switzerland might not be the jurisdiction it should worry about.

US Journalist Arrested In Iran For Buying Bottle Of Wine

Reza Saberi, photographed in his Fargo, N.D., home Saturday, Feb. 28, 2009, has not heard from his daughter Roxana Saberi, picture in foreground, since her last call on Feb. 10. Roxana Saberi is a freelance journalist who has reported for National Public Radio and other media and has lived in Iran for six years. (AP Photo/The Forum, Jay Pickthorn)

FARGO, N.D. — A U.S. journalist has been arrested in Iran, and her father said Sunday she told him in a brief phone call she was detained after buying a bottle of wine.

Roxana Saberi, 31, has not been heard from since her last call on Feb. 10, her father, Reza, told The Associated Press on Sunday.

"We haven't heard anything," he said. The family decided to go public, he said, "because we wanted to get some information."

Officials in Iran have not publicly confirmed the arrest. A duty officer at the U.S. State Department said Sunday officials were looking into an AP request for information on the case.

Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized Iran for arresting journalists and suppressing freedom of speech. The government has arrested several Iranian-Americans in the past few years, citing alleged attempts to overthrow its Islamic regime. The most high-profile case came in 2007, when Iran arrested four Iranian-Americans, including the academic Haleh Esfandiari. The four were imprisoned or had their passports confiscated for several months until they were released and allowed to return to the U.S.

Roxana Saberi is a freelance journalist who has reported for National Public Radio and other media and has lived in Iran for six years.

Her father said that in her last phone call, she told him she was arrested after buying a bottle of wine.

"We asked others and they said, `There's no detention for that.' So that's kind of an excuse," he told the AP.

Buying and selling alcohol is illegal in the Islamic republic.

A few minutes after that call, she phoned her parents again and asked "Please don't do anything because they'll release me in two days," Reza Saberi said.

He told reporters she had already been detained 10 days by that point. He said he does not know where his daughter is or what charges she faces.

"It's been very tough," he told the AP on Sunday.

NPR said Iran revoked Saberi's press credentials more than a year ago but apparently let her report short news stories.

An NPR spokeswoman said Sunday the latest information they had on Saberi was in the stories on its Web site.

Saberi's father said his daughter was finishing a book on Iran and had planned to return to the United States this year.

The book is about the culture and the people of Iran, he said. She was hoping to finish it in the next couple of months and come home to have it published.

Roxana Saberi was Miss North Dakota in 1997 and was among 10 finalists in the Miss America pageant that year. She graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., with degrees in mass communication and French and with dreams of being an international correspondent. She said that her goal as Miss North Dakota was to encourage people to appreciate cultural differences.

Saberi's mother, Akiko, is from Japan and her father is from Iran. Roxana was born in the United States and grew up in Fargo. Her father said she was determined to go to Iran.

"I was very worried and I was reluctant for her to go," Reza Saberi said Sunday. "She was very persistent about it."

Airline might charge for bathroom use

by Karen Datko

Has this ever happened to you? You're boarding one of those small commuter planes that doesn't have a bathroom, and you're extremely nervous about your bladder. (We once sat next to an elderly lady in distress who was in tears by the time the plane landed.)

This comes to mind because the head of Ryanair, Europe's largest budget cheap airline, told the BBC that it may begin charging for in-flight use of toilets. Michael O'Leary, what are you thinking? Surely you jest.

That is a possibility. While his comments created a furor, no one knows if he's for real. "Nobody, even his own aides, seemed to be sure if he was serious or pursuing his well-documented penchant for making brazen declarations to win free advertising," an Associated Press story from Dublin said.

(An O'Leary spokesman confirmed that the toilet charge has been discussed. Remember, "budget" airline means the tickets are cheap but you pay for everything else.)

Here's more, according to AP:

"One thing we have looked at in the past, and are looking at again, is the possibility of maybe putting a coin slot on the toilet door, so that people might have to actually spend a pound to 'spend a penny' in future," O'Leary said, using a local euphemism for relieving one's self.

How droll.

Even worse, he suggested a charge of one British pound coin (about $1.40). What about the European customers of Ryanair who use euros, including the people of Ireland, where Ryanair is based? O'Leary said he didn't think that would be a problem.

We recall that during public discussions about changes in U.S. airlines -- like charging for pillows, baggage and drinks, and removing the movies -- some people joked that paying for the air your breathe or potty access could be next.

No one really thought that would happen. But, in the future, if you don't have a British pound coin aboard a Ryanair flight, you might want to skip the in-flight drink (which, of course, isn't free) -- or save the cup.

Researchers make stem cell breakthrough

stem cells

Human embryonic stem cells. Image: Samantha Zeitlin, 2006 CIRM fellow

In a study to be released on March 1, 2009, Mount Sinai Hospital's Dr. Andras Nagy discovered a new method of creating stem cells that could lead to possible cures for devastating diseases including spinal cord injury, macular degeneration, diabetes and Parkinson's disease. The study, to be published by Nature online, accelerates stem cell technology and provides a road map for new clinical approaches to regenerative medicine.

"We hope that these stem cells will form the basis for treatment for many diseases and conditions that are currently considered incurable," said Dr. Nagy, Senior Investigator at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital, Investigator at the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine, and Canada Research Chair in Stem Cells and Regeneration. "This new method of generating stem cells does not require embryos as starting points and could be used to generate cells from many adult tissues such as a patient's own skin cells."

Dr. Nagy discovered a new method to create pluripotent stem cells (cells that can develop into most other cell types) without disrupting healthy genes. Dr. Nagy's method uses a novel wrapping procedure to deliver specific genes to reprogram cells into stem cells. Previous approaches required the use of viruses to deliver the required genes, a method that carries the risk of damaging the DNA. Dr. Nagy's method does not require viruses, and so overcomes a major hurdle for the future of safe, personalized stem cell therapies in humans.

"This research is a huge step forward on the path to new stem cell-based therapies and indicates that researchers at the Lunenfeld are at the leading edge of regenerative medicine," said Dr. Jim Woodgett, Director of Research for the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital. Regenerative medicine refers to enabling the human body to repair, replace, restore and regenerate its own damaged or diseased cells, tissues and organs.

The research was funded by the Canadian Stem Cell Network and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (United States).

Dr. Nagy joined Mount Sinai Hospital as a Principal investigator in 1994. In 2005, he created Canada's first embryonic stem cell lines from donated embryos no longer required for reproduction by couples undergoing fertility treatment. That research played a pivotal role in Dr. Nagy's current discovery.

One of the critical components reported in Nagy's paper was developed in the laboratory of Dr. Keisuke Kaji from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Dr. Kaji's findings are also published in the March 1, 2009 issue of Nature. The two papers are highly complementary and further extend Nagy's findings.

"I was very excited when I found stem cell-like cells in my culture dishes. Nobody, including me, thought it was really possible," said Dr. Kaji. "It is a step towards the practical use of reprogrammed cells in medicine."

Source: Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute

The Wisdom on Wisdom Teeth

Surgeons favor pre-emptive action; others might wait and see.

By Lindsay Lyon, U.S. News & World Report

"You know the old colloquialism, let sleeping dogs lie? Well these dogs are not sleeping," warns Richard Haug, executive associate dean at the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry, as he refers to wisdom teeth. An ongoing study links even pain-free wisdom teeth to early gum disease that worsens over time, sometimes causing havoc far beyond the mouth. Indeed, pregnant women with gum disease around their wisdom teeth appear to be much more likely to give birth prematurely than unaffected pregnant women. The latest data suggest that as many as 80 percent of people will develop problems with their wisdom teeth.

But controversy lingers about when to take action. Most experts no longer believe that crowding is a concern, but the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons typically recommends pre-emptive pulling in young adulthood, before symptoms arise, when roots haven't yet fully formed and surgical risks are lowest. "If you have to have them out when you're 45, you will not enjoy that," promises Tony Pogrel, chair of the department of oral and maxillofacial surgery at the University of California-San Francisco.

Andrew Ziolkowski, 59, can attest to that. A dental checkup a couple of years ago revealed that cysts had formed around his impacted wisdom teeth and damaged his jawbone—a surprise to Ziolkowski, who hadn't experienced any pain. The necessary surgery required that his jaw be wired shut for weeks afterward and resulted in some nerve damage, a rare complication. "To this day I have no sensation in my lower lip and chin," says the architect from Germantown, Md.

Nonsurgeons are less gung-ho about preventive pulling. "If they're not causing pain or infection, and they're coming in straight, I usually take a wait-and-see approach," says Cynthia Sherwood, a general dentist and national spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. Those who wait are advised to have their wisdom teeth checked yearly, since they are tough to keep clean and may get infected or shift position. "You're committed to that treatment plan until you die," says Thomas Dodson, associate professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Because wisdom teeth don't form until around age 5, Anthony Silvestri, director of dental anatomy and occlusion at Tufts University's dental school, foresees a day when lasers will be used to prevent that from happening. He and colleagues have had success in animals. "It doesn't make sense," he says, "that everyone should be having surgery for a useless tooth."

The Idiot’s Ultimate Guide To Building Your Own Computer

Mar. 1st, 2009 By Aibek

So you have decided to take the plunge and build your own computer? Well that’s good but there’s some problems attached to that plan. First you don’t know the difference between a motherboard and your own mother. Secondly, you wouldn’t know an Ethernet card if one came up to you in the street and shook your hand.

But that’s no reason to abandon the project and look up the phone number for your local Dell representative, because as usual, MakeUseOf has you covered. With the complete amateur in mind who has no technical knowledge whatsoever, we are going to show you how to build your own PC! This is a guide where we literally ‘hold your hand’ every step of the way.

MakeUseOf has teamed up with our very own Karl Gechlik at Ask The Admin to bring you nearly 50 pages full of screenshots, links to video demos and easy how-to instructions for every step involved. The result? The Idiot’s Guide To Building A PC. This guide is so easy to follow, even your technophobe grandmother could do it.

It’s definitely one of the better manuals out there. You can take a look at the screenshot showing the table of contents below.

In case you’re also wondering WHY you would want to build your own computer, there are a lot of reasons.

  • First of all, you should know that building a computer has become A LOT easier than it was 5 years ago. Parts are easier to install, cases are readily available and there is a crap load of free support available on the internet.
  • This is great for paranoid freaks and geeks alike!
  • By building your own machine you know each and every component of your machine
  • You are not affected by the Operating System bloat that companies like Dell and Gateway
    are notorious for.
  • You can also build a system that is geared towards exactly what YOU do. A computer built by you for you. Imagine that?
  • Oh and don’t forget the Geek Cred you get from having a machine you built yourself! Not so great with the ladies but hey in a room full of geeks you can get lots of ohh’s and ahhh’s!

So, download your free no strings attached manual here.

Has U2 finally lost their relevance?

We go through the six stages that every 'It' band goes through -- eventually

By -- Sun Media


It happens to the best of them. In fact, it only happens to the best of them. And it seems it's finally happening to U2.

After more than a quarter-century of virtually uninterrupted tenure as The Most Important Band in the World (TM), it would appear Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton have reached the ultimate plateau in a band's life -- the magical place where fame meets irrelevance.

Do you agree or disagree with Darryl?

Just look at the initial response to their 12th studio album, No Line on the Horizon, in stores and online Tuesday. Oh sure, it's getting plenty of attention -- but not the same sort of attention as their previous discs. Despite its much-hyped global premiere in January, the upbeat leadoff single Get On Your Boots didn't have legs, barely denting the Billboard Hot 100 before it tumbled off the chart. Their performance at last month's Grammy Awards was met with yawns of disinterest, with many fans suggesting Bono seemed tired and out of breath. None of it bodes well for Horizon's prospects with the public, which seems to feel that with U2, they've been there, heard that and thrown away the T-shirt already.

Bet Bono didn't see that coming. Tell the truth, neither did we. But we did know it was bound to happen. As any music geek can tell you, there are several stages in the life of an artist. And every act that hangs around long enough walks the same path: Aerosmith, AC/DC, Bowie, Dylan, KISS, R.E.M., Madonna, Springsteen, and countless others. Granted, not all of them go through the stages in the same order or at the same rate. Some skip stages. Others repeat them. A few get stuck in one for most of their careers. But eventually, most get to where U2 now find themselves.

Of course, the band that blazed the trail -- like so many others -- is none other than The Rolling Stones. Now that U2 is catching up, let's follow the line that the British rock gods drew -- and that leads inexorably to the Irish icons' limited horizons.

Baby Steps

Every act starts out the same: Lean, hungry, committed -- and convinced they're destined to rule the world. Any musician who tells you different is a liar.
- Rolling Stones: 1962-1964 -- From their formation to their first album. Fresh from the blues clubs, they were still basically a glorified cover band.
- U2: 1976-1981 -- From their formation to their first two albums. Boy started the ball rolling with I Will Follow, but the following dwindled after the sophomore-slump October, featuring the aptly titled I Fall Down.
See Also:
- Elvis' Sun Sessions
- The Beatles in Hamburg
- Bob Dylan's first album
- Nirvana's Bleach
- Madonna's first album

Hitting Your Stride

You're not an amateur any more, but you're not yet at the top of your game -- artistically or commercially.
- Stones: 1964-1965 -- From their first album to Satisfaction. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards started writing songs -- after famously being locked in a room together -- while the band's relentless touring made inroads in America.
- U2: 1983-1984 -- War and Unforgettable Fire. Okay, maybe Fire wasn't that unforgettable. But on War, Bono found his political feet with Sunday Bloody Sunday and New Year's Day. A glimpse of the greatness to come.
See Also:
- Metallica's Ride the Lightning & Master of Puppets
- R.E.M. from Reckoning to Life's Rich Pageant
- KISS' Hotter Than Hell & Dressed to Kill
- The Clash's Give 'Em Enough Rope
- Eagles' Desperado & On the Border


At the Summit

The glory days when you can do no wrong. Everything you release turns to gold (and then platinum). Every show is a sellout and every award has your name on it.
- Stones: 1965-1972 -- From Satisfaction to Exile on Main St. The era of Jumpin' Jack Flash, Honky Tonk Women, Brown Sugar, Street Fightin' Man, and nearly every other Stones classic. Even Altamont, Their Satanic Majesties Request and the death of Brian Jones couldn't stop them.
- U2: 1985-1990 -- Live Aid, Joshua Tree, Rattle & Hum. They played for millions. Joshua earned them their first Grammys. Even Bono's giant white flag (and equally outsized ego and ambition) couldn't stop them.
See Also:
- Bruce Springsteen from Born to Run to Born in the U.S.A.
- Elton John from Your Song to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
- Pink Floyd from Dark Side of the Moon to The Wall
- Michael Jackson from Thriller to Dangerous
- Nirvana from Nevermind onward


Missteps & Stumbles

Self-indulgence, supermodels, substances and solo albums -- they all take their toll. And when you're at the top, there's only one way to go.
- Stones: 1973-1977 -- Goat's Head Soup to Black & Blue. Mick marries Bianca. Keith gets busted in Toronto. Bill Wyman makes solo albums. Things get so bad Mick Taylor quits the best-paying gig he'll ever have. Yep, it's only rock 'n' roll -- but they've lost it, lost it, yes they have.
- U2: 1991-1999 -- Achtung Baby, Zoo TV, Zooropa, Pop. Bono called Achtung "the sound of four men trying to chop down The Joshua Tree." It worked. High-concept tours with Bono as MacPhisto, umpteen TV screens and giant lemons didn't help. On the plus side: Clayton didn't marry Naomi Campbell.
See Also:
- Jerry Lee Lewis' marriage to his cousin
- KISS solo albums
- Van Halen hiring Gary Cherone
- Britney Spears shaving her head (and marrying Kevin Federline, and, and, and ... )
- Virtually every decision Axl Rose made between 1995 and 2008


Reclaiming the Throne

F. Scott Fitzgerald said there were no second acts in American lives. Maybe he was right -- but everybody know there are encores in rock 'n' roll. And every band gets one. Sometimes more.
- Stones: 1978 -- Some Girls. Revitalized and challenged by the no-nonsense spirit of punk, they shake off the cobwebs, reawaken their inner rockers and produce their last undeniably brilliant work. And their biggest-selling CD to date.
- U2: 2000-2006 -- All That You Can't Leave Behind & How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. As Bono put it, they reapplied to be the best band in the world. And they got the job by getting back to basics with straightforward songs and shows that connect with fans.
See Also:
- David Bowie's Let's Dance
- Tina Turner's Private Dancer
- AC/DC's Back in Black
- KISS' reunion tour
- Led Zeppelin's 2007 reunion concert


The Endless Plateau

You'll always be huge. You'll sell out stadiums. You might even make some great albums. But you'll never be the It Band again. You're too big, too rich, too coddled, too removed from the streets, the kids and the zeitgeist -- no matter how much your personal assistants and image consultants assure you otherwise.
- Stones: 1980 - ? Everything from Emotional Rescue to A Bigger Bang. Some of it's good. Some of it's bad. But none of it matters.
- U2: 2009 - ? It begins with No Line on the Horizon. Who knows how it will end? With one final return to greatness? Or with The Edge falling out of a coconut tree?
See Also:
- Rod Stewart
- Paul McCartney
- Madonna
- Bon Jovi
- Michael Jackson

Good Chunk of Wow: Cool New Dutch Coin

Matthew Dent's new coinage for the UK was pretty great, but this Dutch commemorative coin is a fully contemporary chunk of wow.

Dutch Coin

On the front, the names of famous Dutch architects form an image of the queen while some Dutch architecture books on the back form an outline of The Netherlands. The design was done using free software running on Ubuntu/Debian. (via design observer)

Jimmy Fallon Promises More Gaming Exposure on 'Late Night'

New 'Late Night' host says they'll treat game releases "like movie premieres."

By Kris Pigna, 02/28/2009
Jimmy FallonEver wondered why big new game releases don't get the same promotional attention on late night talk shows as new movie or music releases? Well, sure, part of that has to do with the relative lack of recognizable star power in gaming, but it appears it's something that new Late Night host Jimmy Fallon intends to correct.

Speaking to (via Joystiq), Fallon -- who follows in the footsteps of David Letterman and Conan O'Brien when he takes the reigns of Late Night starting Monday -- talked about how his show will treat gaming differently. "We're going to treat a videogame premiere as if it was a movie premiere," Fallon promised. "My generation grew up with the computer. We grew up with the Internet. We live in a videogame type of world -- videogames are second nature to us. Games make more money, as an industry, than the film industry."

Fallon went on to explain that he's a tech-savvy guy in general; "I want tech people to come on my show, whether it's Bill Gates or the guy who designed the new Palm Pre, to talk about new inventions. I want to know what makes it so great," he said.

Sure, replacing Conan O'Brien will be a monumental task, but we have a feeling this will at least earn the sympathies of gamers. It seems like a good fit, anyway -- after all, how many people who are up and watching television at 12:35AM on a regular basis aren't at least a little bit interested in gaming, anyway?

Best Home Server Software

Media files, data synchronization, and remote backups, oh my! Home computing has advanced to a point where it's practical to run your own home server, and we're running down the five best tools for the job.

Photo by Rudolf Schuba.

Earlier this week we asked you to tell us what software you used to power your home servers and add that extra kick of convenience and power to your home networks. After tallying up the votes we're back to share the top five contenders for the home server championship belt. The following server implementations cover a broad spectrum of solutions ranging from install-it-and-forget-it to tinker-your-way-to-perfection and everything in between.


FreeNAS is by the far the most bare bones home server software in the top five. More specifically, FreeNAS is an extremely minimal distribution of FreeBSD. How minimal, you ask? You can run FreeNAS off a 32MB flash drive. Designed to be an absolutely skeletal operating system to maximize the resources devoted to storage FreeNAS is great for when you want a simple operating system that leaves every hard drive bay and disk platter wide open for file storage goodness. Despite being so slim, FreeNAS is still feature packed, including support for BitTorrent and remote web-based file management via QuiXplorer; it even serves as the perfect iTunes music server. You can boo FreeNAS off nearly any media: hard drives, optical discs, floppy disks, and flash-based media. It has support for both hardware and software based RAID, disk encryption, and management of groups and users via local authentication or Microsoft Domains. Even an old dusty Pentium III can become a headless file-serving powerhouse with the addition of a basic $20 SATA PCI card to pack it full of modern hard drives, thanks to FreeNAS's scant 96MB of RAM requirements.

Ubuntu Server Edition

Ubuntu Server Edition shares the ease of use that has catapulted its desktop-edition sibling to popularity. The automated LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) installation makes installing the core components of a robust server a walk in the park compared to manually configuring each component on your own. While configuring Ubuntu isn't going to be as easy as grabbing a pre-configured Windows Home Server off the shelf at your local Best Buy and plugging it in, there are a wealth of applications to help you integrate your Linux based home server with the rest of your network. It won't be as straight forward as using Windows Home Server or a Time Machine backup, but Ubuntu is more than powerful and capable enough to handle all your media streaming, remote back up, and file serving needs. We've covered using Ubuntu as the basis for a home media server before, so if you're considering trying it out check out how to build a Linux media server and build yourself an affordable media server to get an idea of what you're in for.


Apache is the only entry in the top five that isn't a completely stand alone server package. Apache is, however, open source and cross platform; it support a dozen operating systems; and it's the backbone of many of your fellow readers' home server operations. Because of its widespread adoption and extreme compatibility with a variety of platforms, we're including it here. No matter what operating system you throw on your home server, you're almost guaranteed that you can run Apache on it. Nearly four years ago we covered how to set up a personal web server using Apache, and it's still relevant and worth a look for getting an idea what the setup entails. While you're at it, you may also want to try setting up a home Subversion server with your Apache installation for keeping track of file revisions.


Why use Debian for a home server? There are over twenty five thousands software packages available for Debian, and the operating system supports 12 unique hardware architectures. There's a a slim-to-none chance you've got a computer that can't run it. Like Ubtuntu—a Debian derivative by the way—you can configure this flexible operating system to do nearly anything you can imagine, from serving media and remote backups to running your own web server with a wiki and running your own mail server. Like other Linux distributions, Debian can be used to run a low-power and headless server when run without a GUI and using remote administration. Along with FreeNAS, Debian is a prime candidate for turning an aging computer into a quiet, tucked-in-the-basement server.

Windows Home Server

If your home is filled with Windows-based computers—which the average American home certainly is—it's tough to go wrong with Windows Home Server. It isn't free, and until recently you couldn't even buy it separately from the home servers sold by Hewlett Packard and others—but even though it has the distinction of being both the only commercial and closed-source software package on the list, that doesn't mean you should dismiss it out of hand. Windows Home Server stands definitively as the most Average Joe-friendly server implementation on the list. Not only is it the only server package you can buy pre-configured and installed in a ready to go off-the-shelf server, but Microsoft has gone out of their way to make the experience of using Windows Home Server as transparent and painless as possible for the end user. In fact, many Lifehacker readers expressed the "It just works" sentiment when logging a vote for Windows Home Server. Once you have all your computers connected to your Windows Home Server, you'll have a centralized backup location that supports up to 10 remote PCs and indexed remote file storage. Printers are shared and there is easy to use remote server access to log into your archives from anywhere in the world. Files are no longer lost in a mass of drives, add a few terabyte drives to a Windows Home Server and you'll never wonder if that movie file is on the F, G, or H drive again. Windows Home Server spans drives using Drive Extender so that files are located in a single folder namespace, sans drive divisions. The most recent update of Windows Home Server even adds an option to backup the server itself to external drives for extra data redundancy. Since the Microsoft site for Windows Home Server is heavy on promotion but low on actual screenshots, check out our screenshot tour for more.

Now that you've seen the contestants vying for the title of best home server, it's time to log your votes to see who will go home with the belt—and the task of storing your mountains of media files and remote backups.

If you have tips or tricks for running a home server, sound off in the comments below. Many readers will be considering running a home server for the first time after reading over the top contenders above, so your experience (and accolades) could help them find a home server package that works for them.

Microsoft shows a glimpse at the future of computing and the people who can afford it

Microsoft shows a glimpse at the future of computing and the people who can afford it
Hey, want to know what the future looks like? Okay, how about what Microsoft thinks the future will look like? If you're still reading, Stephen Elop, Microsoft's Business Division President, recently presented that vision as part of this year's TechFest. In an embedded video below you can get a glimpse, which includes plenty of augmented reality, a personal identification device that could (finally) replace your wallet, and naturally lots and lots of Surface action -- extending from tables to walls and beyond. Some of these conceptual clips are old, but overall it looks like something of a computing utopia to us, and according to Elop these are all representative of currently active projects. But, with the company shedding employees and surely focusing on tangible revenue right now, we're wondering how long they'll stay that way.

<a href="" target="_new" title="Future Vision Montage">Video: Future Vision Montage</a>

Casting Out Devils, BMW’s 7 Becomes More Heavenly

2009 BMW 750Li. More Photos >

Published: February 26, 2009

THE BMW 7 Series has long been a car for, shall we say, the mature gentleman who wants a gold-watch reward without the whiff of impending retirement.

Compared with sumptuous but conservative competitors — the Mercedes S-Class, the Jaguar XJ and the Lexus LS 460 — the BMW says of its owner, “My hair may be gray and I may wear funny hats in Boca Raton, but you won’t catch me doing 55 in the fast lane.”

Unfortunately, the delights of the 7 Series, which include blowing away rosy-cheeked lads in Subarus, had become weighed down by baggage. The often-derided iDrive controls made it hard to tune in Neil Diamond without wanting to punch out the display screen. And while I usually have no beef with icy Germanic interiors, the outgoing model took the dominatrix-in-Berlin theme too far; no flagship luxury sedan should make people suffer for their driving pleasure. Cabin demerits included obtuse controls and rigidly minimalist appointments.

That’s why the 2009 7 Series is such a double delight, whether in standard (750i) or stretched (750Li) guise. Yes, the new 7 is faster, nimbler and more fun than any plus-size sedan has a right to be. But with all due respect to the Bavarian engineering on display, that’s almost an easy birdie on the BMW course. More surprisingly, the big BMW has ditched its misanthropic ways to embrace anyone in its rich presence. And rich it is, with the 750i starting at $81,125 and the 750Li topping out around $112,000 with every conceivable option.

The 7 arrives just as Chris Bangle — that’s his picture with the dictionary citation for “controversial” — departs BMW after 16 years as design director. And it was the last-generation 7 Series of 2002 that spawned the term “Bangle butt,” a snarky characterization of that car’s jutting, coffin-lidded trunk.

In Mr. Bangle’s defense, talk is cheap and BMWs are not. Actual buyers, as opposed to dittoheads on car blogs, made the departing model the best-selling 7 ever. In the same vein, be wary of revisionist nonsense suggesting that the new 7 succeeds because it erases Bangle’s memory faster than a Communist re-education camp.

Those willing to remove their anti-Bangle blinders will see the latest car as a clear evolution of his work. Certainly the 7 looks better, yet it is no mea culpa. All the cues are there — even a slimmed-down Bangle booty — but they are better integrated.

I began my testing in the short-wheelbase 750i, whose ski-sack pass-through made it ideal for a quick ski trip to Vermont. Later, I switched to a glossy black 750Li. The preschool ease with which I linked my Bluetooth phone, address book and iPod was the first omen of a great road trip.

The new iDrive, defying expectations, has gone from worst to first in the wacky world of rotary-knob systems controllers. It essentially mimics the best features of Audi’s M.M.I. system and in some cases improves on them. Nearly all the infuriation is banished — buried submenus, illogical functions, stingy displays, even the gummy knob itself. Toggling between menus is now a simple left-or-right operation; call up a radio station, press the downsized iDrive button and file it as a preset.

At 10.2 inches, the high-resolution display screen may be the largest I’ve seen in a production car, big enough to contain split-screen maps plus a submenu.

Ease of use extends to Driving Dynamics Control, with simple up-down buttons to range through four settings (from comfort to sport plus) that urge the steering, suspension, throttle and transmission to ever-snappier levels of performance. The 7 is still a driver-first car, with basic-yet-gorgeous analog gauges and a serious mien. But this 7 is less stark inside, with warmer finishes like a flowing wedge of wood along the instrument panel. Seats are a long-haul fantasy, with built-in heating and ventilation, an optional massager and an additional adjustment for the upper seatback. As before, storage is meager up front, and at 14 cubic feet, the trunk is fairly puny in the big-car league.

The rear seat is the Rorschach test for owners. Stretched 5.5 inches, the long-wheelbase 750Li has a lounge-worthy 44.3 inches of rear legroom, two to three inches more than key rivals. The 750i is nearly 100 pounds lighter, but loses nearly six inches of rear kneeroom.

In the past, I’ve favored the short-bus 7, but now I’m inclined to go long: the 750Li gives up almost nothing in performance, so at these prices you may as well treat passengers to the decadent back seat with its cute carpeted footrests. And this time, BMW created a length-disguising roof for the 750Li.

Naturally, BMW engineers couldn’t resist showing off. Options include a camera-based lane-departure warning that vibrates the steering wheel when you stray over lane markers. There’s a blind-spot monitor, a backup camera and side-view cameras in the front bumper that let you see around corners — useful for spotting a pedestrian as you’re nosing out of a parking garage.

The latest infrared night vision system highlights a pedestrian in your path by wrapping the person in an animated on-screen border; it can also flash a warning in the heads-up display.

Some of this technology is of debatable necessity; night vision will have my vote when it can help detect and splatter zombies. But on a darkened two-lane road in Vermont, the new high-beam-assist feature proved pretty slick. Once activated, the system automatically dimmed the brights when it sensed an approaching car, then flicked them back on the instant the car passed. Allow me also to praise the toasty heated steering wheel, a feature that I find more beneficial than seat warmers.

Active front and rear steering, part of a $4,900 sport package, turns the rear wheels opposite the ones in front at lower speeds for easier maneuvering. With a low-speed steering ratio that requires 2.1 revolutions from full left to full right — compared with 3.1 in normal operation — the pivoting rear wheels reduce the turning circle by more than two feet, to a class-best 39.4 feet. Above 50 m.p.h. the rear wheels turn in tandem with the fronts to increase stability and comfort by generating less lateral turning force.

That sport package also adds 19-inch wheels, a sport steering wheel and active antisway bars to reduce body lean.

The only AWOL option is the full Internet access available to Europeans. For now, liability concerns will keep Americans from posting chocolate-covered-baby photos on Facebook while at the wheel. But next year, BMW will roll out the first all-wheel-drive 7-Series in the model’s five generations.

Like the compact 3 Series sedan and even tinier 1 Series coupe, the 7 has adopted dual turbochargers to bump up the power from a relatively small engine. Here, a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 develops 400 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque — much more torque than any direct rival makes, and only 15 pound-feet less than Mercedes’s S63 AMG, a $135,000 hot rod with a monumental 6.2-liter V-8.

Drop the hammer and the 750i blows from 0 to 60 in 5.1 seconds. Yes, this four-wheel McMansion is faster than the much smaller 335i, and quicker than the previous 12-cylinder 760Li, too. Alas, the mileage is estimated at 15 m.p.g. in town, 22 on the highway, for the 750i.

A slick double-wishbone front suspension, a first for a BMW passenger car, combines with computerized shock absorbers. The longer model adds a standard self-leveling rear suspension.

During a four-hour jaunt through the Hudson River Valley, I thought of all those digital zeroes and ones whirring around to increase the 7’s uncanny capability. Yet the car still feels communicative and natural, not an automaton.

Pricier sedans like the Bentley Flying Spur and Mercedes S-Class AMG, pushed near their limits, still betray some 2.5-ton insecurity, a sense that it’s time to back off and drive as if you’re in a normal car. The BMW is nothing like that. In normal or comfort mode, the car is cushy, yet seriously sporty. Move up to sport or sport-plus mode, and the BMW hustles with almost indescribable brio. The only big sedan that feels this athletic is the Maserati Quattroporte, which also costs significantly more.

Of course, the 7 remains the most expensive BMW, one reason you rarely see a 20- or 30-something at the wheel. But whether you’re a snowbird or a spring chicken, the car will trim hours off your next Florida getaway.

INSIDE TRACK: Good things in a big package.

This Weed Bust Could Pay for Itself — I saw an article on Digg which referenced a large drug bust and I decided to estimate the cost of the annual salaries of those involved, plus consider some other associated costs. Turns out if the confiscated marijuana was legal and taxed it could cover those costs!

Modern Showers and Creative Shower Heads

Modern Showers and Creative Shower Heads

Modern showers and creative shower head designs from all over the world.

Pocket Shower

This tiny gizmo unfolds to reveal a high performance waterproof reservoir that holds a mighty ten litres of water. The black fabric will (given a sunny day) warm the water up in no time. [link]

Pocket Shower

Tosca Oasis Shower Panels

Modern European luxury shower panels from Tosca line by Visentin. [link]

Tosca Oasis Shower Panels

Ishi Shower by Lockie von Moger

Besides looking good on the wall, Ishi shower features a slider that allows you to control the flow of water. Convenient pause button allows you to pause the flow mid-way so that you can lather-up the soap and then resume for the rinse. [link]

Ishi Shower by Lockie von Moger

Ishi Shower

WaterTile Rain Shower Panel

To further heighten your custom showering experience, WaterTile Rain shower panel provides targeted water delivery where you need it most with four 54-nozzle fully adjustable spray-heads. [link]

WaterTile Rain Shower Panel

The Aquavolo Shower

Creative waterfall shower becomes rain shower in one flip. [link]

The Aquavolo Shower

The Aquavolo Shower 2

Hansgrohe Raindance Rainmaker

Rainmaker shower system enriches the water with drawn-in AIR to create voluminous raindrops from a conventional shower spray. Unlike with a conventional continuous “spaghetti” shower spray, the subjective perception of the water coming into contact with the skin is more gentle. [link]

Hansgrohe Raindance Rainmaker

Gas Mask Shower

Chris Dimino has turned a gas mask into a shower head. [link]

Gas Mask Shower

Elemental Spa Shower

Part plumbing fixture, part architecture, the SATI and SANGHA shower heads are part of the new Elemental Spa collection by Dornbracht. [link]

Elemental Spa Shower

Pipe Shower

Floor mounted industrial style shower design from Boffi. [link]

Pipe Shower

Vola 50 Shower Head

Designed by Teit Weylandt, Vola 50 shower head features 5 parallel bars arranged horizontally, each comprising of 15 nozzles. [link]

Vola 50 Shower Head

Euridice Glass Shower Heads

Modern glass shower heads designed by Ritmonio. [link]

Euridice Glass Shower Heads

Eco Drop Shower

After showering for a long time, the concentric circles will rise to force you to stop showering and save water. [link]

Eco Drop Shower

Charade Orchidea Trio Shower Head

This shower head uses three shallow domes to form one giant shower head. Each head features three rings of anti-scale transparent silicon nozzles that rain sensuous streams of water. Combined, the three heads are then set into a larger circular body. [link]

Charade Orchidea Trio Shower Head

Drops Lighted Shower

Imagine standing under a beam of light that highlights each shimmering droplet of water as a shower of refreshing water cascades down upon you. Sound nice? Then the illuminating showering experience of the Drops Lighted Shower from Cisal is definitely for you. [link]

Drops Lighted Shower

Jet Shower Head

The X-Touch head is a jet shower head from Newform that juts down from the ceiling like a shiny pipe. [link]

Jet Shower Head

Geo 180 Shower

Modern tub by Kos of Italy combines a whirlpool option with a cascading ceiling mounted shower head that doubles as a soothing mood light. [link]

Geo 180 Shower

DF50 and DR50 Shower Heads

Totally stripped-down forms of pure steel, the DF50 and DR50 shower designs are striking industrial style shower heads from Balance. [link]

DF50 and DR50 Showers

DF50 and DR50 Showers 2

Viteo Outdoors Inverted Shower

Designed by Danny Venlet, the shower sits on the ground and shoots water up 4 meters in the air. It’s like a super-bidet! You activate the water stream by stepping on a little button in the middle of the unit. [link]

Viteo Outdoors Inverted Shower