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Friday, April 10, 2009

Details of drastic MBTA cuts

By Globe Staff

Eliminate Green Line stops at Boston University, St. Paul Street, and everything on the E line beyond Brigham Circle.

Cut the private carrier bus program used by more than 600,000 annual riders in Hull, Canton, Medford, and Winthrop.

End weekday commuter rail service after 7 p.m.

The MBTA outlined drastic cuts in an internal budget analysis obtained by the Globe. By slashing 805 jobs and service used by almost 52 million annual riders, the agency could save a projected $75 million. It would be combined with fare hikes that would generate another $85 million to close a $160 million deficit.

The agency has delayed making the contingency plan public as it awaits action from the Legislature on a potential gas tax increase designed to rescue the state's transportation system.

Here is a full list of the cuts under consideration by the MBTA:


- Reduce weekday evening bus service by 50 percent after 8 p.m.
- Reduce weekend bus service by 50 percent
- Eliminate service at Quincy and Lynn bus garages after 9 p.m. weekdays and all day on weekends
- Eliminate highest net cost per passenger bus routes
- Moderate "surgical" cuts to bus service
- Eliminate routes due to network redundancy
- Reduce THE RIDE service area
Annual Ridership Loss: 15,524,761
T Jobs Lost: 361


- Eliminate customer service agents in subway stations
- Eliminate Mattapan trolley after 8 p.m. weekdays and all day weekends
- Eliminate selected Green Line B branch surface stations: BU East, BU West, and Pleasant St.
- Eliminate selected Green Line C branch surface stations: Brandon Hall, St. Paul St., and Hawes St.
- Eliminate E branch on weekends; extend C Line to Lechmere
- Eliminate E Line service beyond Brigham Circle
- Reduce weekday midday light rail and heavy rail service by 50 percent from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
- Reduce weekday evening light rail and heavy rail service by 50 percent after 8 p.m.
- Reduce weekend light rail and heavy rail service by 50 percent
Annual Ridership Loss: 28,344,935
T Jobs Lost: 441

Operations and Service Development

- Eliminate Suburban Bus Program subsidy
- Eliminate Private Carrier Bus Program in Hull, Canton, Medford, and Winthrop
- Eliminate Commuter Boat Program subsidy
- Reduce THE RIDE service area to within 0.75 miles of fixed route in 29 communities
Annual Ridership Loss: 2,264,470
T Jobs Lost: 3

Commuter Rail

- Eliminate weekday commuter rail service after 7 p.m.
- Eliminate all Saturday and Sunday commuter rail service
- Eliminate 16 commuter rail stations due to low usage or network redundancy
Annual Ridership Loss: 5,734,251
T Jobs Lost: -

Boston hospital performs face transplant

Boston hospital performs face transplant

BOSTON -- A Boston hospital has performed the nation's second face transplant on a man who suffered traumatic facial injuries from a fall.

Hospital spokesman Kevin Myron said the 17-hour operation took place Thursday at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. A team led by plastic surgeon Dr. Bohdan Pomahac (Bow-DAWN POE-mahawk) replaced the man's nose, palate, upper lip, and some skin, muscles and nerves with those of a dead donor.

The hospital would not identify the donor or the recipient, but plans a news conference Friday afternoon.

The first U.S. face transplant was done in December by doctors at Cleveland Clinic who replaced 80 percent of a woman's face with that of a female cadaver. The woman's identity has not been revealed, nor the circumstances that led to the transplant, except that her injury occurred several years ago.

The woman left the Cleveland hospital in February, and her progress was described as astonishing by her doctors.

The Boston surgery is the world's seventh face transplant, as an operation once considered the stuff of science fiction is suddenly becoming more common.

Last weekend in Paris, doctors performed the world's first simultaneous face-and-hand transplant on a man who suffered severe burns. In that case, doctors replaced the upper half of the man's face and both his hands, all the parts coming from a brain-dead donor.

French doctors also did the very first transplant, successfully performed in 2005 on a French woman.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

The Picasso’s of Chess Boards: 10 of The Best

These are not your usual Chess Boards.

Chess is a timeless game. A game of kings. Each of the following sets offers a distinct and exceptional look to chess. Playing on the same generic chess board over and over again can get boring rather quickly. Listed below are ten chess boards so unique, that any player, novice or expert, will enjoy playing on them. Due to the various styles, one may now get a board that suits their lifestyle perfectly.

1. The Colorful Board

The vibrant rainbow colored glass pieces are accompanied with an attractive mirrored glass board. The varied colors will either be clear or frosted finish. Many different eye popping colors of the pieces for this set will add color to any drab environment.


2. Simpsons Board and Pieces

Big and detailed painted chess pieces make these Simpsons characters very recognizable in this particular set. Homer is the King, Bart represents the pawns, and Grandpa Simpson is the Rook. Finally, get your opponent to say, “D’oh,” when you win by checkmate. This set is definitely made exclusively for the Simpson fanatic.


3. Dog Chess Board

This chess set is for the avid dog lover—a wonderfully designed set showcasing the loyal domestic animal. All the pieces in this set are of Man’s best friend, now immortalized in a chess board. Definitely for those who love dogs more than cats. Woof.


4. Norwegian Chess Board

This beautiful chess set contains attractive wooden playing pieces where each side is hand carved from either oak or pine. The pieces are heavy enough to avoid them toppling over during the game. Another benefit of this chess set is that each one is one of a kind.


5. Expressive Chess Board

Finally a set designed for all of the logophiles out there. This chess set will make the perfect gift for anyone who likes the “literal” aspect of the game. Some sets pieces out there are difficult telling which one the Bishop is and which one the Queen piece is for the game. For this set, all of the pieces are spelled out informing the player which piece is which.


6. Old Style English Chess Board

For hundreds of years, chess players have played chess to represent their personal favorite military units. Many chess sets are available showing off the different armies. The Egyptians vs. the Romans, England vs. France, and there is even a “U.S. Civil War” set available. With this ceramic chess set, the Cold War is back. Players can either play on the side of Communism with such pieces resembling Castro and Putin, or play for the side of freedom with pieces representing the free World.


7. Edible Chess Pieces Chess Board

Chess has the reputation of not being the most action packed game out there, but now one can add some more fun to the game. Players are now involved in making the chess pieces out of their favorite sugar filled snack. These pieces shown look more or less like remnants from the yellow marshmallow peeps candies that were left over from last Easter. However, the pieces can be made out of chocolate, hard candy or any other food to tackle one’s sweet tooth. The bright side is that as you play, you can eat the pieces you take over.


8. Creative Chess Board

An attractive, but avant-garde looking chess set. This modern looking set is ideal for those who keep a modern lifestyle in their home. However, this Creative Chess Board does remind one what would happen if IKEA started selling chess sets.


9. Apartheid Chess Board

The oppressed black people against the white supremists. The King on the black side is actually Nelson Mandela, next to his queen (at the time) Winnie Mandela..


10. Last but not least one of our favorites “Shot Glass Chess Board”

This particular chess set adds a definite twist to the game where players now can drink their way to victory. The pieces are of various sizes of shot glasses. Do you want a game of Whiskey vs. Tequila? Vodka vs. Scotch? The choices are as vast as your liquor cabinet. No matter who wins or who loses, players are bound to have a great time playing!


This Story Will Change Your View on Plastic Surgeons

A powerful story about a girl, afflicted by a physical condition, whose life changed when she was treated by a plastic surgeon. "The day's routine consultations slipped away -- the breast augmentations, face lifts and tummy tucks -- and he began wondering how he would treat her condition and what he could possibly achieve."

read more | digg story

Dramatic Image Shows Volcano's Lightning

By Andrea Thompson, Senior Writer

For the first time, scientists have been able to “see” and trace lightning inside a plume of ash spewing from an actively erupting volcano.

When Alaska's Mount Redoubt volcano began rumbling back to life in January, a team of researchers scrambled to set up a system called a Lightning Mapping Array that would be able to peer through the dust and gas of any eruption that occurred to the lightning storm happening within. Lightning is known to flash in the tumultuous clouds belched out during volcanic eruptions.

The lightning produced when Redoubt finally erupted on March 22 was "prolific," said physicist Paul Krehbiel of New Mexico Tech. Check out the image.

"The lightning activity was as strong or stronger than we have seen in large Midwestern thunderstorms," Krehbiel said. "The radio frequency noise was so strong and continuous that people living in the area would not have been able to watch broadcast VHF television stations."

Lightning mapping arrays are increasingly being used by meteorologists to issue weather warnings, but have only been deployed at volcanoes twice before.

Thousands of individual segments of a single lightning stroke can be mapped with these arrays, and later analyzed to reveal how lightning initiates and spreads through a thunderstorm, or in a volcanic plume.

After setting up the arrays, researchers waited nearly two months for Redoubt's first eruption, but the wait was worth it.

"For the first time, we had the Lightning Mapping Array on site before the initial eruption," said scientist Sonja Behnke of New Mexico Tech.

The eruptions that continued to occur on March 22 and 23 provided plenty of data, and the arrays returned dramatic information about the electricity created within volcanic plumes, and the resulting lightning. As of today, Redoubt has erupted several times since its initial eruption on March 22.

"The data will allow us to better understand the electrical charge structure inside a volcanic plume," said scientist Ron Thomas of New Mexico Tech. "That should help us learn how the plume is becoming electrified, and how it evolves over time."

A recent study in the journal Nature found that volcanic plumes spin like tornadic thunderstorms, a finding which helps to explain the lightning storms, as well as the waterspouts and dust devils produced by some volcanic plumes.

The New Mexico Tech researchers plan to compare the Redoubt data with observations taken from Chaiten Volcano in Chile last year. The project was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Redoubt hasn't finished making noise yet; after quieting down for a few days, Redoubt exploded again, with the last major eruption occurring on March 28. Scientists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory expect the eruptions will continue periodically for weeks to months.

The Restive Redoubt Volcano Video

The Redoubt Volcano, which erupted several times since March 22, 2009, is seen here on Feb. 7, 2009.

Wolverine's Origins: The Complete Guide To His Past

Wolverine seems simple enough on the surface. It's easy to think you know everything about him but his past is complex, he's over a century old after all. IGN dives into the topic, deciphering the comprehensive history of Wolverine.

read more | digg story

One-Eyed Filmmaker Goes Bionic

'Eyeborg' Wants to Transform Loss Into Superhuman Strength


Filmmaker Rob Spence want to replace prosthetic eye with wireless camera
Filmmaker Rob Spence shows a prosthetic eye with a red LED. Spence is working with an engineer to create a prosthetic embedded with a wireless video camera.
(Team Eyeborg)

Meet the newest Six Million Dollar Man.

Canadian filmmaker Rob Spence, who lost an eye in a childhood accident, is determined to replace his artificial eye with a video camera and said he's almost there.

Like the fictional bionic man, Spence wants to transform his loss into a superhuman strength. But instead of using his enhanced ability for secret agent-type espionage, he wants to use it for his art.

Calling himself an "eyeborg," the 36-year-old, who is originally from California, wants to produce videos with his camera eye that explore privacy and surveillance issues. As surveillance and other hidden cameras increasingly monitor our daily lives, Spence wants his unusual perspective to serve as a check.

"We're sleepwalking into an Orwellian society," he said. "There's surveillance, but who's doing the surveillance. Who's watching the watchers?"

Last week, for the first time, he and his team succeeded in outfitting his prosthetic eye with an electronic device.

Although it wasn't yet a camera, the red LED gave them (and potential supporters) confidence that a prosthetic eye could house a working device and battery.

"This is every adult male's fantasy," Spence quipped. And though it's a minor detour, he hopes it will draw attention to grander plans.

The Eyeborg Project

Spence lost his eye when he was 11 years old. He was playing with a gun at his grandfather's farm in Ireland; when it backfired, it severely injured his eye. Years later, he had his eye removed.

As a filmmaker, wanting to turn his eye into a camera is only natural, he said.

He's been working with his ocularist and a couple of camera companies for a while, but launched a blog in November to officially announce his plans.

In January, he migrated his blogspot to a dot-com and revealed the Eyeborg Project.

Along with Kostas Grammatis, a former SpaceX avionics systems engineer who joined the project after reading a Wired story about him in December, Spence is working with Santa Clara, Calif.-based Omnivision, Inc., and RF-Links in Toronto to develop the working camera eye.

Wearable Video Camera Is Feasible

Omnivision develops the tiny cameras used in phones, laptops and medical equipment. RF-Links specializes in wireless audio and video equipment.

The team recently succeeded in creating a prosthetic eye with a video camera that allowed Spence to transmit video for about three minutes. But, Grammatis, 23, said the image quality wasn't good enough to share.

"We have some other prototypes coming down the pipe," Grammatis said. "What we've demonstrated is its feasibility."

He said they want to wait for a broader debut when they've managed to create a device that can record producation-quality film.

One-Eyed Artist Also Seeks Webcam Eye

However, as incredulous as it may seem, Spence isn't the only one-eyed creative looking to replace an artificial eye with a webcam.

In November, Tanya Vlach, a San Francisco artist sent ripples through the blogosphere when she posted a "call for engineers" on her Web site, asking for advice on a bionic eye.

After Vlach lost her left eye in a 2005 car accident, the 35-year-old artist launched a blog to document her experience.

Titled One-Eyed, the site is about "the future of sight, a chronicle of her adjustment to a monocular life."

Given the preponderance of miniature cameras in cell phones, webcams and other mobile cameras, she wondered whether a camera small enough to fit in her prosthetic eye might also exist.

Vlach said she's been working on a documentary about her accident and researching the eye-cam idea for more than a year.

"It was my way of recreating the eye that I lost," she told in November.

Although the two have separate projects, they're in contact and, Spence said, are actually planning a "one-eyed party" in San Francisco for later this year.

But it isn't just one-eyed artists who are interested in wearable technology that records and transmits video of the day-to-day.

Spence said he has been working with Steve Mann, an MIT graduate and University of Toronto engineering professor who is a pioneer in wearable computing.

For the last 30 years, Mann has lived as a "cyborg" glogger -- short for cyborg logger -- with a wireless video camera that allows him to transmit the daily events of his life to the Internet .

Glogging Preceded Blogging

Mann said about 30,000 gloggers around the world use a transmitting video camera strapped to some part of their body to broadcast the events of their lives with others via the Web.

Like Spence, they want to be able to document their lives and share their perspectives. But instead of writing about their experiences on blogs, they simply share the video.

"Glogging has been around a lot longer than blogging," Mann said.

And, Spence said, it has a special effect on the imagination.

"It taps into some kind of immature pop culture supero hero fantasy," he said.

Cartwheel galaxy

An image provided by NASA on Thursday shows the Cartwheel galaxy. About 100 million years ago, a smaller galaxy plunged through the heart of Cartwheel, creating ripples of star formation. (Associated Press/NASA)

Wheres Waldo....Found Him!

Students, faculty, and staff at Rutgers University tried to break the Guinness World Record for the largest number of people dressed as Waldo at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, N.J., Thursday. More than 1,000 people participated. The children’s character has been around for 21 years. (Augusto F. Menezes/Home News Tribune via Associated Press)

Batter up: HBO orders second season of 'Eastbound & Down'

Danny mcbride
Kenny Powers may not have made it back to the big leagues last year, but he'll be returning to HBO.

The network has renewed the comedy starring Danny McBride as a has-been pitcher who, after being booted from Major League Baseball, winds up back home in North Carolina teaching Phys Ed. Production on Season 2 will begin later this year for a premiere in 2010.

The show averaged 3.7 million viewers, cumulatively, per episode, according to HBO. Its Sunday-night airings, meanwhile, grew 35% over its six-episode run (617,000 viewers for the premiere vs. 904,000 for the finale.)

"'Eastbound & Down' is a raucous comedy that sparked a loyal and enthusiastic following that grew throughout the season, and we're happy to bring the show back for more innings," HBO programming president Michael Lombardo said in a statement.

Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Chris Henchy, Jody Hill, Danny McBride and Ben Best executive produce.

-- Denise Martin

Photo: Fred Norris / HBO

Illinois Drive-In Becomes World’s First Wind-Powered Movie Theater

Written by Timothy B. Hurst

drive in and small wind turbinesDrive-ins are not as ubiquitous on the American landscape as they once were. Whether sitting outside in lawn chairs, or inside with the windows rolled down, at the drive-in you get to experience movies on a big screen without being crammed into a multiplex theater with a sticky floor.

I can say without equivocation that drive-ins are my favorite way to go see a movie — though, perhaps, not always the greenest. That is, unless you happen by the Harvest Moon Holiday Twin Drive-In in Gibson City, Illinois, where the owners just installed two small wind turbines on the premises that they hope will ultimately produce 100% of the theater’s electricity.

The Harvest Moon’s owner, Mike Harroun expects the small wind turbines to initially cut his costs by 30 percent, but that is only in the first year. Eventually, Harroun hopes the turbines will provide all of the drive-in’s power.

Even though the strongest winds hit Gibson City in the winter, when the Harvest Moon is closed, Harroun is able to take advantage of his utility’s net-metering program by banking the energy he produces in the winter to count against the energy he consumes in the summer. With a consistent 12-15 mph winter breeze, Harroun’s goal of being 100% wind-powered is definitely achievable.

The turbines, a Skystream 3.7 horizontal-axis wind turbine (pictured right) and a Mariah Power Windspire vertical-axis turbine (left) both begin generating power at lower wind-speeds, making them ideal for many applications. Both turbines were also on display on the National Mall and feeding to the Washington D.C. grid during President Obama’s inauguration in January.

>>See also: Top Five Micro-Wind Turbines

The Harrouns hope not only to slash the theater’s rising costs, but also pass savings along via stabilized ticket and concessions prices. “I don’t know why no one else has thought of this before,” Harroun told the Chicago Tribune.

The Harvest Moon in Gibson City is about 30 miles north of Champaign and is the only drive-in in east-central Illinois.

Images: AICAD via flickr (top); Harvest Moon Twin (turbines)

More on the success of drug decriminalization in Portugal

Last Friday at the Cato Institute, I presented my study on the success of drug decriminalization in Portugal. I wrote about how and why I worked on this report here, and the report itself is available to read or download here. At Friday's event, I presented the report's findings in a 30-minute presentation; a long-time skeptic of drug decriminalization -- University of Maryland Criminology Professor Peter Reuter of the School of Public Policy -- commented on the report; I then responded to his commentary, and that was followed by a question-and-answer session. The video of the full event is now online here.

Whatever else is true, the empirical evidence leaves no doubt that Portuguese decriminalization has been a resounding success, so much so that even Professor Reuter conceded that decriminalization achieved its policy goals and produced none of the bad results which decriminalization opponents warned about. Scientific America's Brian Vastag attended the Cato event and then wrote this article:

Peter Reuter, a criminologist at the University of Maryland, College Park, says he's skeptical decriminalization was the sole reason drug use slid in Portugal, noting that another factor, especially among teens, was a global decline in marijuana use. By the same token, he notes that critics were wrong in their warnings that decriminalizing drugs would make Lisbon a drug mecca.

"Drug decriminalization did reach its primary goal in Portugal," of reducing the health consequences of drug use, he says, "and did not lead to Lisbon becoming a drug tourist destination."

Walter Kemp, a spokesperson for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, says decriminalization in Portugal "appears to be working." He adds that his office is putting more emphasis on improving health outcomes, such as reducing needle-borne infections, but that it does not explicitly support decriminalization, "because it smacks of legalization.". . . .

A spokesperson for the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy declined to comment, citing the pending Senate confirmation of the office's new director, former Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs also declined to comment on the report.

There are also articles on the report from Raw Story's Rachel Oswald (here); CAP's Campus Progress' Jesse Singal (here); Marijuana Policy Project's Dan Bernath (here); and Stop the Drug War's Scott Morgan (here). Other large publications -- including Time -- assigned a reporter to cover this event and it's likely there will be additional articles.

As the above-excerpted passage from Scientific American demonstrates, there are few debates driven by as much rank irrationality as those over drug policy. Thus, we have emphatic acknowledgments that decriminalization has been a resounding success -- it has enabled the Portuguese to manage what had been their out-of-control drug crises of the 1990s far better than virtually every other country that continues to criminalize drug usage -- combined with ongoing opposition to that successful policy (along with the U.S. Government's steadfast refusal even to comment on the success of decriminalization in Portugal). That is the very definition of irrationality.

Just consider these three tables from the study, the first of which compares absolute drug usage rates for the 16-18 age group in Portugal between 2001 (the last year of criminalization) and 2006 (five years after decriminalization began) (click on images to enlarge):

For every drug that was in use since 2001 -- every one -- absolute drug usage rates declined in the five years following decriminalization, and that occurred as drug usage rates in most other EU member-states was increasing, often severely.

These two charts show how Portugal -- after it decriminalized -- compares to other EU nations (all of which still criminalize and many of which criminalize harshly) for general population usage rates for cocaine and cannabis respectively (based on data compiled by the central EU drug data monitoring agency):

Prior to decriminalization -- throughout the 1990s -- Portugal had among the worst drug crises in the EU, if not the worst. The more they criminalized, the worse the problems became. After decriminalization, Portugal has among the best drug usage rates both within the EU and outside of the EU (especially when compared to the harshest criminalized countries, such as the U.S. and Great Britain). Those are just facts.

The central myth which shields our failed drug laws from challenge and scrutiny is that decriminalization or legalization will cause an explosion of increased drug use. That is patently false. A much stronger argument can be made that the exact opposite is true: that by eliminating the barriers of fear which criminalization imposes between the government and the citizenry, and by freeing up the vast resources which criminalization squanders on arrests, prosecutions and imprisonment and instead devoting those resources to treatment, harm-reduction and education programs, few things are more effective in reducing drug-related problems than decriminalization, and nothing exacerbates those problems more than criminalization. Once that proposition is widely understood -- and the evidence for it is close to irrefutable -- the central propaganda pillar on which the drug war rests will be gutted.

-- Glenn Greenwald

Drinking Coffee before Working Out May Lessen Muscle Pain

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A couple cups of coffee before a tough workout may lower the chances of sore muscles later on, a small study suggests.

The researchers found that young men who performed an intense bout of cycling had less muscle soreness when they took a pre-workout dose of caffeine.

What's more, the benefits were seen in both habitual caffeine consumers and those who typically shunned caffeine, the researchers report in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.

The findings add to evidence from earlier studies showing that caffeine may help prevent that familiar muscle soreness that strikes during and after a particularly tough or new exercise routine.

In theory, caffeine may limit muscle pain by blocking the activity of a chemical called adenosine. Adenosine is released as part of the inflammatory response to injury and can activate pain receptors in body cells.

These latest findings suggest that caffeine could be a safe way for exercisers to pre-empt muscle soreness, senior researcher Robert W. Motl, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois in Champaign, told Reuters Health.

The study included 25 physically fit college-age men, about half of whom normally consumed little to no caffeine. The rest typically consumed at least 400 milligrams of caffeine per day -- the equivalent of three to four cups of coffee.

Motl's team had the men pedal on a stationary bike for two high-intensity, 30-minute sessions. On one occasion, the men were given a dose of caffeine equivalent to two to three cups of coffee one hour before the workout; on the other, they were given a placebo pill instead.

In general, the researchers found, the men reported less thigh-muscle pain with caffeine compared with placebo. Since there was no difference between habitual caffeine consumers and non-consumers, people may not build up a tolerance to the pain-dampening effects of caffeine.

According to Motl, exercisers might want to consider a shot of caffeine before a particularly tough or new workout -- or if they are going to perform exercise that has left them with next-day soreness in the past.

SOURCE: International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, April 2009.

Spain Leads the World in New Solar Energy Development

Written by Bryan Nelson

According to a newly released draft of a report by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), Spain now leads the world in added photovoltaic capacity.

Solar Energy Panels

Although Germany is still the leading nation in total grid-connected solar photovoltaic capacity, this news now means Spain has surged into second place there. The report comes as an embarrassment for a floundering Japan, who used to lead the world, but now has fallen to third place in total capacity and forth place in added capacity.

Spain added 1.7 million kilowatts of capacity in 2008, followed by Germany at 1.5 million kilowatts. The United States lagged behind in a distant third place at 300,000 kilowatts, followed by Japan with only 240,000 kilowatts. The news is disappointing for Japan, but it should be equally as distressing for the United States, which continues to show only slow improvements year to year.

The big difference between the top two countries and the U.S. and Japan appears to be public policy. In Germany and Spain, power companies are required to make long term purchases of renewable energy at uniform prices. Although similar requirements exist in the U.S. and Japan, they are so small that they lead to policy failure, which in turn prompts legislators to be apprehensive when it comes to strengthening those policies.

Nevertheless, Spain has become a shining example of how more ambitious policies can lead to real improvements.

Image Credit: Schwarzerkater on Flickr under a Creative Commons License

Joystiq hands-on: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

by Randy Nelson Featured Story Xbox PlayStation

When we first got our hands on X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the fiercest of Charles Xavier's mutant do-gooders was carving his way through South America in a game that played like a mix of God of War and Uncharted. And we liked it.

We've now played a near final version -- once again starting out in the jungle -- and, well, we still like it. Luckily we got to see a lot more of what players are in for and found that, while Kratos probably has grounds for a civil suit, there are definitely plenty of unique elements to help Wolverine's adventure stand on its own.

Another taste of the game's variety came when Wolverine battled a 200-foot-tall Sentinel.

The fully built-out and polished first level of the game gave us a good taste (and smell?) of what the ferocious X-Man is capable of. Which is, in addition to being super-strong, being able to regenerate his body, and possessing animal-like senses -- well, he rips his enemies to shreds (and rips off their heads, arms, legs) like nobody's business. We also came across a lot of conveniently placed -- and very sharp -- background objects just perfect to slam enemies onto with the grab button.

Part of the way through, an interactive sequence kicked in that had us controlling Logan as he leapt at a helicopter, used his claws to climb around to its front, then pulled the pilot out and held him up into the rotors, severing his head and coating the screen in blood. (Need any more convincing that it's gory?)

(It's worth noting that none of the screenshots or videos provided by Activision display the game's blood and gore. Wolverine is, at pace of almost one per every 10 seconds, grabbing an enemy and decapitating/disemboweling/eviscerating them using a timing-based attack.)

The level didn't offer much we hadn't seen and played before, sans a final "living rock" Golem boss Wolvie had to leap onto and stab away at. What happened next was a nice surprise (for us, probably not Logan). The setting changed to Canada, and the battle became a bar fight with Sabretooth. It incorporated pretty much every environmental object you'd imagine could be smashed over someone's head, including a telephone pole when the fight spilled outside into the rain.

We were told this admittedly brief scene was a taste of the gameplay variety to come later on. Another taste of it -- which we sadly didn't get to play -- was Wolverine battling a 200-foot-tall Sentinel. After strategically taking out the Goliath's feet and fists (while trying not to get squashed), Logan caught a ride as it attempted to rocket its way into orbit. The ensuing sequence saw him ripping parts off the robot using rapid button presses until it went hurtling back to Earth. Wolverine followed in free fall, dodging debris until finally landing on the giant and taking out its final core systems.

The second of the two areas we played was the interior of the Weapon X facility. This scene was Wolverine's enraged escape from captivity. We had to take out dozens of guards (while trying not to hit explosive objects), fight genetically engineered giants (these were almost exactly like the earlier Golem in terms of how they're fought), and use feral senses to escape the labyrinthine compound. Deflecting bullets with Logan's newly acquired adamantium claws was helpful -- and fun -- and we found his spinning attacks worked nicely in the cramped hallways.

While it wasn't especially useful in this environment (except to get onto the larger enemies' backs), we found the game's leaping/pouncing mechanic to be one of its most fun -- and handy. It's not only a combat move; it's used to traverse large gaps, spring on enemies below and cover large areas more quickly.

Raven Software says it's excited to get a chance to make a "true to form" Wolverine game. Well, we're excited to say we played just that. Heck, we're even more excited about it than the film on which it's based, and that's saying a lot.

Van Damme Friday...Universal Soldier??