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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lego House an update

Who lives in a house like this? James May to stay in the world's first house made entirely from Lego

By Daily Mail Reporter

While the outlook remains gloomy for much of Britain's property market, here's a house that should brighten things up.

James May's colourful Lego home, complete with a fully plumbed Lego loo, bath and giant bed, is finally taking shape.

If building work goes to plan, it will be the world's first full-size house made entirely from Lego - and the Top Gear presenter has promised to live in it.

lego house

Building blocks: James May's house of Lego, in the grounds of Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking, Surrey, should be finished in a few days' time

The house, which started being built on the Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking, Surrey on August 1, is due to be completed at the end of this week.

The TV presenter said: 'I'm planning to stay there for two or three days, or until it falls down - whichever is sooner. I'm pretty relaxed about it, but will just have to be careful moving around.

'If I wake up buried under a pile of bricks, I'll know it's gone wrong.'

James May

Through the keyhole: The Top Gear presenter tries out a Lego window for size at the start of the project back in early August

Speaking from the vineyard, Mr May said: 'The idea first came up over a beer, when we were talking about what we would have built as kids if we had enough Lego.

'Your imagination is always bigger than your stockpile when you're a kid.

'Up until now, the largest thing I've ever built with Lego was probably a plane or a battleship, because that was all I could build with the amount I had.'

James May

Safe as houses: Security man Charles Zierik helps build the world's first home made entirely from Lego

Members of the public have been involved in the initial stages of building work and professional builders are now taking over, laying the bricks during a six-day construction process.

Over two million Lego bricks have been used so far.

The Lego house is being built as part of a new BBC series called James May's Toy Stories in which the TV presenter takes Britain's best-loved toys and uses them in new adventures.

James May's Lego house

Plastic fantastic: The house will be filled with furniture made from Lego bricks including a toilet, bath and bed

May said: 'For too long now we have regarded the great toys as mere playthings.

'It's time to use them to bring people together and achieve greatness. And I bet it'll be a right laugh as well.'

A recent attempt to build the world's longest model railway stretching 10 miles from Barnstaple to Bideford, North Devon was thwarted amid claims that vandals and thieves tampered with the track.

The presenter won an award for a Plasticine garden he created at the Chelsea Flower Show for an earlier show.

Scituate Man Catches Largest Mako Shark

August 31, 2009


Total Pro Sports - If you thought catching the King of Common Carps would put up the fight of a lifetime, think again.

Taylor Sears, a 20-year-old man from Scituate, Massachusetts reeled in a 624-pound mako shark on Thursday. The 10-foot monster is the largest male mako shark ever to be recorded in the Atlantic Ocean may even be the largest male mako ever caught anywhere. As stated by Dr. Greg Skomal of the state division of Maritime Fisheries, "we didn't think they got this big basically."

Sears is no stranger to fishing the deep seas, but the Massachusetts Maritime Academy junior will remember not be forgetting the feeling of this big catch anytime soon.

“I’ve caught a million sharks before, but never anything this feisty."

We are impressed with the sharpshooter he put on the giant shark, but would have been even more impressed had he caught this baby while fishing from a kayak.

Check out the pics of this trophy catch.

Mako in the sharpshooter

Mako in the sharpshooter

Mako shark

Mako shark

Hat Tip - [Barstool Sports]

Mitsubishi Electric Corp. to install a huge solar farm in space

space solar power

Harvesting solar power from space through orbiting solar farms sounds extremely interesting. Mitsubishi Electric Corp., a manufacturer of solar panels, has decided to join an AUD $25 billion Japanese project to construct a massive solar farm in space within three decades.

This could be underwater love: Spectacular photos from Pinewood Studios show stars swimming in world-famous giant tank

By Jo Riley

Underwater photos from some of Pinewood Studios' most famous films are to go on display for the first time.

The photographs offer a rare glimpse into life behind the scenes at the studio's world famous underwater stage.

They feature stars such as Keira Knightley, Myleene Klass, Sharon Stone and Matt Lucas, who have all swum in the giant tank.

Keira Knightley

Like a duck to water: Keira Knightley floats effortlessly while doing a charity shoot for Fresh 2o drinking water

Keira, left, filming for a scene in the film Atonement and, right, the finished article from the sequence shot for the Fresh20 charity

''It's exciting to show the story of the production through underwater pictures,' said Phoebe Rudomino, a commercial diver and photographer who took all the shots.

'It's interesting to take a wider shot and show what is going on behind the camera.The final image or film sequence may look very slick but the reality will often be very different.

'There may be gaffer tape holding a bikini together or divers hanging upside down to keep someone in a certain position but the viewer will only ever see the final polished shot.'

advert being filmed at the pinewood studio underwater facility

Knockout blow: Two female boxers spar underwater for a commercial

The underwater stage, which opened in 2005, is a globally unique facility and has been used for a huge number of TV commercials, music videos and films, including the Boat That Rocked, Bourne Ultimatum, Atonement, Elizabeth and Casino Royale.

It houses a permanently filled water tank, which holds 1.2 million litres of water and is heated at 32 degrees.

'All the underwater sequences are a challenge as you have to come at it from a different angle and there will often be a lot of people squeezed into a small space,' said Phoebe, who has worked at Pinewood since the facility opened five years ago.

'Underwater access is limited so often all the director can see is the image coming out of the camera.

'They don't get to see all the things which are going on behind the scenes so it's interesting for me to capture that.

'We have a very good team but each shoot presents its own problems and its all about planning.'

Actress Keira Knightley is among a number of celebrities to have filmed in the underwater studio and was a 'natural.'

James Blunt

Natural born swimmer: James Blunt during a film shoot for the Brit Awards

Matt Lucas

Water baby: Matt Lucas takes the plunge while filming Little Britain

'She did a charity shoot for Fresh 20 drinking water and she was very good underwater,' said Phoebe.

'We had to train her to use scuba equipment and she was naturally very good.

'She was wearing a fairly heavy dress which made it hard but she was surrounded by safety divers and she did very well.'

Presenter and singer Myleene Klass was also filmed swimming gracefully underwater for her monthly CNN International show.

'She was great in the water. We often find singers are good at holding their breath,' added Phoebe.

'A big part of the shoot is making the artiste feel comfortable because they may have to look serene and beautiful in the water but are likely to be feeling exactly the opposite. I think Myleene really enjoyed the shoot and the images looked fantastic.'

Sharon Stone

Pouting for the camera: Sharon Stone gets into character filming a scene for Basic Instinct 2

Myleene Klass

Graceful swimmer: Myleene Klass does an underwater scene for her CNN International show

Singer James Blunt had no problems when he filmed a Brit Awards promo underwater as he is a trained diver.

'He is very experienced and knew exactly what he was doing,' said Phoebe.

'We did a shot where he is suspended mid-water which can be a bit tricky.' Phoebe, who has been shooting underwater photography for eight years, says she finds working with babies one of the most challenging parts of the job.

Robert Lindsay

Fish eye lens: Robert Lindsay in a scene from a Morrisons advert

Baby swimmer

Charlie the baby gets in on the act, despite floating the wrong way round

'The Getty baby shoot was hard as Charlie kept floating the wrong way round,' she said.

But one of her favourite shoots was a piece about sharks for the Discovery Channel.

'We had two animatronic six foot Great Whites and 5,000 litres of fake blood. It was a lot of fun.' The exhibition, entitled Water on the Lens will be held in Movieum of London on the Southbank throughout October.


Cup of tea, anyone? On a break while shooting the film Houdini

SHOCKER! Disney Buying Marvel For $4B!

marvel disney universal

15TH UPDATE: Behind-The-Scenes Of Disney-Marvel Deal

14TH UPDATE: Universal vs Disney Over Marvel Characters

13TH UPDATE: Why Disney Must Wait For Marvel Synergy

12TH UPDATE: VIDEO: Stan Lee On Disney-Marvel Deal

11TH UPDATE: Here's the list of characters included on Universal Islands Of Adventures' Marvel Island -- Spider-Man (also attraction), Dr. Doom (also attraction), Hulk (also attraction), Storm (also attraction), Captain America, Cyclops, Green Goblin, Rogue, Storm, Wolverine, "and lots more if you include stores and dining," a Uni exec tells me.

10TH UPDATE: I get the impression that Universal lawyers right now are scrutinizing their theme park licensing and merchandising contracts with Marvel. Universal has just updated its earlier statement to me to say this, "Marvel Super Hero Island at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and the Marvel characters are an important part of the Universal Orlando experience. They will remain so. Our agreement with Marvel stands for as long as we follow the terms of our existing contract and for as long as we want there to be a Marvel Super Hero Island." So privately Universal execs tell me they've got the Marvel characters "until the end of time if we want them" and use phrases like "in perpetuity". But here's the rub: a Universal insider tells me the studio only retain the existing characters it's already made use of. Sure there are Spider-Man and Hulk attractions, but what about all the other characters? Do those revert to Disney?

9TH UPDATE: Let's not forget the still active lawsuit that clouds the Disney-Marvel deal. The usually insightful THR, Esq does an excellent job boiling down the outstanding legal dispute involving Stan Lee and the rights to many of Marvel's most valuable characters. Presently, the defendants in the case have filed motions to dismiss, but the federal judge hasn't made a ruling yet:

"The executors and shareholders of Stan Lee Media, an online comic site created in the 1990s, are unhappy with the way that Lee parted ways with the company that bears his name and took his intellectual property to Marvel. In 2007, Stan Lee Media filed a lawsuit against Marvel Entertainment that claimed that Lee assigned the rights to his creations to SLM in a 1998 "Employment Agreement/Rights Assignment" contract. In the lawsuit filed in New York District Court, SLM claimed 50% of all income, proceeds, and profits realized by Marvel's use of the characters. Then, this past January, shareholders of SLM filed a separate lawsuit in California claiming $750 million in damages after a District Court denied Lee's claim that he properly transferred assets belonging to SLM..."

"...Here's another twist of fate: Five years ago, Marvel sued Disney after the Mouse House bought the Fox Family Channel and rebranded it as ABC Family. At the time, the channel aired an animated series that featured Marvel characters. Marvel claimed that Fox couldn't transfer the copyright license to these characters to Disney. Ironic."

And here's still more irony courtesy of one of DHD commenters: "What’s hilarious is that years ago, when Disney was looking for new direction, Stan Lee had a meeting with the board and said he had the solution to all their problems – “Me!” (meaning Stan Lee and Marvel). They thought he was crazy then."

paramountlogo8TH UPDATE: Paramount just issued this statement to me: “Paramount Pictures has enjoyed a productive and fruitful relationship with Marvel Studios from the start of our distribution agreement in 2005. So much so, we announced a five-picture slate distribution deal last year which includes worldwide distribution rights for upcoming films: Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America, Avengers, and Iron Man 3. This distribution deal will be unaffected by today’s transaction. We look forward to continuing to work with Marvel and, with today’s announcement, to working with Disney to replicate the incredible success of Iron Man on all our future collaborative projects.”

7TH UPDATE: Bob Iger on CNBC: "We'd like love to attract more boys, and we think Marvel's skew is more in boys' direction. Although there's a universal appeal, we think, to a lot of their characters and a lot of their story. Just look at Spider-Man and Iron Man films. This is a great fit. But we obviously know Disney has a lot of products that are more girl-skewed than boy. And we'd like the opportunity to go after boys more aggressively."

6TH UPDATE: Did Disney overpay for Marvel? Well, here's the argument for a resounding "Yes!" In both November 2008 and March 2009, Marvel's stock traded below $24 per share. And the run-up of the stock since March of this year has been +58%. If Disney was interested in buying Marvel, why didn't Bob Iger do it when he could have bought it at a far cheaper price? Meanwhile, in today's trading, Marvel stock is up more than 25% (+$9.75) at midday, while Disney shares are trading down almost 3% (-$.75).

5TH UPDATE: Paramount still has a 5-film distribution deal with Marvel, and Bob Iger has confirmed in his press remarks that Marvel's upcoming films will be released by Paramount.

4TH UPDATE: I'm told that Sony's deal on Spider-Man motion picture right is unaffected by today's announcement and not subject to renewal. In fact, Sony is currently developing the next three films in the franchise.

3RD UPDATE: No official word from Paramount yet about how this affects the lucrative distribution agreement with Marvel, or Sony and its Spider-Man franchise. But Universal just issued this statement to me about the future of their theme park licensing pact with Marvel: "Marvel Super Hero Island at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and the Marvel characters are a beloved and important part of the Universal Orlando experience. They will remain so. Our guests are going to get to meet Spider-Man and all our other Marvel characters. We believe our agreement with Marvel stands and that the Disney/Marvel deal will have no impact on our guest experience." Hmm, interesting how there's a "we believe" in there. Sounds unsure.

But it's important to note that the Disney/Marvel deal statement today does not mention Marvel in connection with Disney theme parks. In fact, Disney may not be able to use the 5,000 Marvel characters to freshen its theme parks for some time. Because Universal theme parks have a long-term licensing deal with Marvel that gives them the rights to the characters, and Universal not only has Marvel attractions (like the Spider-Man ride) in Orlando and Osaka but has also built them into future theme park plans. "We have a license deal that goes on for a long time," a Universal insider tells me. Or do they?

2ND UPDATE: Wow, was this kept secret. I knew something was up all weekend when a tipster told me that Disney had arranged an unscheduled investors call this AM and the art department at Disney Online went into a "lock-down" to create a logo. But the best guess by some of the experts I contacted was Disney buying Electronic Arts. Marvel seemed outside the realm of possibility. Yet I've learned that this was a deal which Bob Iger told intimates he'd been pursuing for a long time!

With the whole deal worth $4 billion in cash and stock, a little math shows that Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter, who owns 37% of his public company, stands to reap $1.5 billion in cash and stock. With so much to lose, and the SEC casting a watchful eye, Perlmutter had every reason to keep this negotiation secret from everyone, even intimates who described themselves to me as "completely blindsided". But they tell me that this sell-out has been the strategy all along of this no-nonsense Israeli. "Ike is the real story here. He's really operated like the Great Oz behind the scenes, not accessible to the public but always mindful of shareholders. This was always an acquisition play for Ike," one insider explains to me. "The bottom line is he turned the whole thing around after he fought tooth and nail with Ron Perelman for the company. Today he runs a nifty company that's tidy on expenses and has no cash flow issues. This deal with Disney just ups his game and creates shareholder value and lets him walk away a billionaire."

With this morning's announcement, Bob Iger today finally steps out of Michael Eisner's shadow and earns his keeps as Corporate America's 3rd highest paid CEO. Because everyone knows that Eisner, when he ran Disney, had to be pushed kicking and screaming to make acquisitions like ABC. (Believing that Disney did best when it grew its businesses organically.) But Iger, first with Pixar, and now Marvel, is showing himself to be the boldest Big Media CEO with an acquisition that "highlights Disney's strategic focus on quality branded content, technological innovation and international expansion to build long-term shareholder value". Now the question is whether the other moguls can keep up with him, especially Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes who's sitting on a pile of cash after the spinoff of Time Warner Cable and needs to start making acquisitions and adding value to the company instead of just buying back the company stock.

That Marvel would be a prize worth having is a foregone conclusion: the entertainment company's aggressive exploitation of its comic book heros in movies and toys and licensing is so far unparallelled. In fact, some believe Marvel Studios is moving too fast and about to flood the comic book film market with product. Yet the public has shown an endless appetite for superhero fare. Nevertheless, marketing all those movies, when P&A costs for tenpoles average $60+M these days, was going to prove costly for Marvel. Now it can rely on the Disney distribution and marketing machine, especially around the world where Marvel was weakest.

On the other hand, there's a real possibility that the fanboys may not want their comic book fare "Disney-fied" by the Magic Kingdom. It undermines the cool quotient. But that hasn't hurt Pixar and it probably won't hurt Marvel, either, as long as Iger and his team are smart enough to keep their hands off Marvel and just count the money about to come in. But can they? Considering how dark some of those Marvel comics have become -- the sex, the gore? Yet that's the stuff that addicts those fanboys crucial to Disney's strategy here because the company is weakest attracting teenaged boys. And the merchandising possibilities are endless given that Disney does something like $1 billion a year sales with Wal-Mart alone. Meanwhile, the deal puts Marvel on much the same footing as the DC Comics/Warner Bros relationship. But to date Disney has been much better at building synergy with its brands, and Iger emphasized that ad nauseum in his investors call this morning.

Here's the official Disney/Marvel announcement:

August 31, 2009

Burbank, CA and New York, NY, August 31, 2009 —Building on its strategy of delivering quality branded content to people around the world, The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) has agreed to acquire Marvel Entertainment, Inc. (NYSE:MVL) in a stock and cash transaction, the companies announced today.

Under the terms of the agreement and based on the closing price of Disney on August 28, 2009, Marvel shareholders would receive a total of $30 per share in cash plus approximately 0.745 Disney shares for each Marvel share they own. At closing, the amount of cash and stock will be adjusted if necessary so that the total value of the Disney stock issued as merger consideration based on its trading value at that time is not less than 40% of the total merger consideration.

Based on the closing price of Disney stock on Friday, August 28, the transaction value is $50 per Marvel share or approximately $4 billion.

"This transaction combines Marvel's strong global brand and world-renowned library of characters including Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-Men, Captain America, Fantastic Four and Thor with Disney's creative skills, unparalleled global portfolio of entertainment properties, and a business structure that maximizes the value of creative properties across multiple platforms and territories," said Robert A. Iger, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company. "Ike Perlmutter and his team have done an impressive job of nurturing these properties and have created significant value. We are pleased to bring this talent and these great assets to Disney."

"We believe that adding Marvel to Disney's unique portfolio of brands provides significant opportunities for long-term growth and value creation," Iger said.

"Disney is the perfect home for Marvel's fantastic library of characters given its proven ability to expand content creation and licensing businesses," said Ike Perlmutter, Marvel's Chief Executive Officer. "This is an unparalleled opportunity for Marvel to build upon its vibrant brand and character properties by accessing Disney's tremendous global organization and infrastructure around the world."

Under the deal, Disney will acquire ownership of Marvel including its more than 5,000 Marvel characters. Mr. Perlmutter will oversee the Marvel properties, and will work directly with Disney's global lines of business to build and further integrate Marvel's properties.

The Boards of Directors of Disney and Marvel have each approved the transaction, which is subject to clearance under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act, certain non-United States merger control regulations, effectiveness of a registration statement with respect to Disney shares issued in the transaction and other customary closing conditions. The agreement will require the approval of Marvel shareholders. Marvel was advised on the transaction by BofA Merrill Lynch.

BMW Vision EfficientDynamics, scorching hybrid for a perfect ride

Naresh Chauhan

Slated to be showcased at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show next month, the BMW Vision EfficientDynamics is a 2+2 sports concept car with plug-in full-hybrid technology that not only ensures high performance but also low fuel consumption and thus low carbon emissions, maintaining BMW’s latest design philosophy. Touting attributes like BMW ActiveHybrid, economical combustion engine and aerodynamics, the futuristic vehicle integrates a hybrid drivetrain with a 1.5 liter, three-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, located in front of the rear axle, is capable of reaching 62 mph (100 km/h) in just 4.8 seconds with the top speed of 155 mph.

Grand Theft Auto game coming to iPhone


GTA is coming to your iPhone.

(Credit: Rockstar Games)

Rockstar Games, the developers behind the Grand Theft Auto series, announced on Monday that Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars will be coming to Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch this fall.

The developer also announced that Beaterator, an app that allows users to create "world-class beats and songs," will also be made available on the App Store. Like the Chinatown Wars title, Beaterater is slated for availability this fall for an undisclosed price.

Chinatown Wars gives gamers control over Huang Lee, a member of the Triad crime syndicate, who travels to Liberty City to investigate his father's death. iPhone and iPod Touch owners will be able to control Lee as he travels through the streets of Liberty City.

Chinatown Wars is currently available on the Nintendo DS. It's coming to the Sony PlayStation Portable in October. According to Rockstar, it made perfect sense for the handheld title to make its way to Apple's mobile devices.

But since it has been ported from traditional handheld game devices, I asked Rockstar if iPhone owners will see much of a difference between the Nintendo DS or Sony PSP versions and the iPhone version.

Rockstar said there will be some textures that will look low-res, compared to the PSP version, but other than that, the game is exactly the same.

That comes as a surprise, considering that the typical content featured in a Grand Theft Auto game has clashed with Apple's policies against adult-theme material finding its way to into the App Store. Apple denied access to Eucalyptus, an e-book reader application, because it allowed users to find and read the Kama Sutra. Apple even denied access to Ninjawords, a dictionary app, because it contained vulgar words.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars promises a typical GTA experience, complete with the sexual content and vulgar words that have made it such a controversial franchise. Rockstar told me that it had no trouble with Apple's App Store policies and that the game will be made available as is.

Rockstar also said that controlling the on-screen character will be slightly different than what gamers are used to with other handhelds. According to the company, the game will display an on-screen analog stick that users will be able to control with their thumb. The developer wouldn't reveal any more information about the game.

Hamas leader denies Nazi genocide of Jews

A Palestinian child walks by a United Nations school in Gaza City, painted with AP – A Palestinian child walks by a United Nations school in Gaza City, painted with an Arabic mural reading, …

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – A Hamas spiritual leader on Monday called teaching Palestinian children about the Nazi murder of 6 million Jews a "war crime," rejecting a suggestion that the U.N. might include the Holocaust in Gaza's school curriculum.

A senior Israeli official said such statements should make the West think twice about ending its boycott of Hamas, in place since the group seized Gaza by force in 2007. Israeli officials called the comments as "obscene" and said they place Hamas in a pariah club of Holocaust deniers that includes Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Hamas spiritual leader Younis al-Astal lashed out after hearing that the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, the main U.N. body aiding Palestinian refugees, planned to introduce lessons about the Holocaust to Gaza students.

Adding the Holocaust to the curriculum would amount to "marketing a lie and spreading it," al-Astal wrote in a statement.

"I do not exaggerate when I say this issue is a war crime, because of how it serves the Zionist colonizers and deals with their hypocrisy and lies," he wrote.

A U.N. official said no decision has been made about introducing Holocaust education in Gaza.

Many Palestinians are reluctant to acknowledge Jewish suffering, fearing it might diminish their own. Attitudes toward the Holocaust range from outright denial to challenging its scope.

Hamas has been making overtures to the West, hoping to end a stifling blockade of Gaza. And the statements about the Holocaust by senior Hamas officials could undermine the group's attempt to present itself as pragmatic. The U.S. and Europe list Hamas as a terror group, but there have been growing calls, particularly in Europe, to talk to the militants. Hamas control of Gaza is seen as a key obstacle to any Mideast peace deal.

Three teachers at U.N. schools said that according to the new program, basic information about the Holocaust was expected to be taught to eighth grade students as part of human rights classes.

Two of the teachers said they were told about the lesson plan by colleagues involved in the new syllabus. Another teacher said he attended a recent meeting with education officials where he was told to try to teach the new syllabus without offending parents' sensibilities.

All three said they had not received the syllabus for the human rights classes yet, even though the school year began in late August. They requested anonymity because they are not allowed to speak to reporters.

UNRWA provides education, health care and welfare services to more than half of Gaza's 1.4 million people. Spokesman Chris Gunness said a final decision has not been made about the Holocaust course for Gaza schools.

"While the Holocaust is currently not included on the basis of age appropriateness, all elements (of the curriculum) remain under review and under evolution," he said.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri also objected to including what he referred to as the "so-called Holocaust" in the lesson plan. "We think it's more important to teach Palestinians the crimes of the Israeli occupation," he said.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said countries contemplating ending their boycott of Hamas must "seriously reconsider" after the Hamas statements, which he described as "obscene."

The Holocaust is not taught in West Bank schools, said an education ministry official in Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas' government.

Israelis have long complained that Palestinian textbooks present Israel only as an enemy, despite a series of interim peace deals. Also, they charge that maps in the books do not show Israel at all.

Palestinians make similar charges about Israeli education. Recently Israel's education minister ordered a halt to using the accepted Arabic term "nakba," or catastrophe, to describe the results of the two-year war that followed Israel's creation, when about 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes.

The U.N. runs 221 schools in Gaza for more than 200,000 students and is the largest independent agency in the territory, controlled by Hamas since a violent takeover in 2007. The West Bank, the other territory that is supposed to comprise a future Palestinian state, is controlled by Hamas' Western-backed rivals of the Fatah movement, led by President Mahmoud Abbas.

Some 6 million Jews were killed in the Nazi campaign to wipe out European Jewry, and the urgent need to find a sanctuary for hundreds of thousands of survivors contributed to the creation of Israel after World War II.

Many Palestinians are reluctant to acknowledge the full extent of the Holocaust because they feel it provided legitimacy for Israel's establishment. A majority of Gaza's 1.4 million people are Palestinian refugees or their descendants.

Some parents opposed the idea of their children learning about the Holocaust. "I don't want them teaching my children Jewish lies," Mohammed Silmi, 33, said Monday, after driving his son to a U.N. school in Gaza City on the back of a motorbike. "It will just be Zionist propaganda."

Hamas' founding charter calls for Israel's destruction, though senior Hamas officials have recently said they would accept a Palestinian state alongside Israel as an interim stage to full Islamic control of the region.

Hamas is frequently at loggerheads with the U.N. refugee agency, which it considers the only serious challenge to its control of Gaza. Over the summer, Hamas accused the U.N. of spreading "immorality" in summer camps for children, because it offered activities such as folk dancing and crafts.


With additional reporting by Rizek Abdul Jawad in Gaza City

Hyundai is taking the high road with Equus: South Korean carmaker goes after BMW, Lexus and other luxury brands

By Paul Eisenstein contributor
Image: 2010 Hyundai Equus
Hoping to build on the success of its Genesis sedan, Hyundai is getting ready to roll out an even more luxurious sedan, dubbed Equus.

Its very name has long been synonymous with “cheap,” yet the South Korean carmaker, Hyundai Motors, is taking aim at some of the most lavish and costly segments of the automotive market.

Hoping to build on the success of its up-market Genesis sedan, which was named North American Car of the Year last January, Hyundai is getting ready to roll out an even more luxurious sedan, dubbed Equus, which will target some of the toughest — and highest-priced — competitors in the automotive market, including Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Lexus.

But will buyers be willing to trade in their S-Class and 7-Series sedans for a new, $60,000 car that will be sold alongside more plebeian products, such as the $10,000 Hyundai Accent? Apparently Hyundai believes they will, based on the unexpected success of the Genesis sedan, which nudged the company’s products into the $40,000 range for the first time.

“We’re a lot more positive about Equus than we were when we were getting ready to launch Genesis,” says Hyundai America’s marketing chief, Joel Ewanick.

But within the South Korean company, there were skeptics who didn't understand how Hyundai could enter the luxury market when its traditional marketing emphasized rock-bottom pricing. Yet in some ways that turned around when the Genesis sedan, targeted at the mid-luxury Mercedes E-Class level, hit the market.

Though many of the 50-member North American Car of the Year jurors — of which, in full disclosure, I am one — felt the four-door wasn’t quite best-in-segment, the tremendous leap Hyundai took was enough to sway the vote, with the Genesis sedan narrowly nudging past the Ford Flex “people mover” in January’s vote.

Hyundai certainly had a good story to tell. Long lingering at the bottom of the quality charts, it has, in recent years, climbed into the upper strata, along with long-time leaders Lexus and Porsche. Savvy marketing campaigns also helped, such as the Hyundai Assurance program, designed to protect customers who might lose their job after buying one of its new cars.

Only a few years ago, less than one in five American motorists would even consider a Hyundai product, according to a variety of industry surveys. By the time of the Genesis launch, that had risen to one in four. And more recently, the carmaker claims, the “consideration factor” has nudged close to 40 percent, ahead of domestic makers GM and Chrysler, as well as many mid-line Asian makers.

That change in public attitude started to entice Korean planners, who had begun working on several products even more upscale than Genesis. Barely a year ago, there was no plan to bring any of those over to the U.S., according to Hyundai America CEO John Krafcik. Then the company decided to test the waters by revealing a concept version of Equus at the New York Auto Show in April.

With unexpectedly positive feedback from the show, and subsequent consumer clinics, “We built confidence we can take this to another level," Ewanick says.

A running prototype of the Equus reveals a car that is definitely a step above Genesis when it comes to classic luxury touches. The car is roughly half a foot longer than Genesis, most of it going toward the cavernous back seat. The sedan is swathed in leather, the cabin featuring plenty of requisite hand-rubbed wood. All windows, front and back, use laminated glass designed to block out all but the loudest exterior noises.

The interior features all the expected technology, such as a large LCD monitor in the center stack for navigation and other features including a first-of-its-kind forward-looking video camera.

Under the hood, Equus will share the 4.6-liter V-8 found in the topline Genesis model. Performance is part of the price of admission in the premium-luxury segment, Hyundai officials note. When the American version is ready, they promise it will have the handling and road feel somewhere between the soft Lexus LS460 and the more Teutonic Mercedes-Benz S550.

Will buyers believe that a Hyundai can really compete with such benchmark brands? Company officials note that they’ve been taking plenty of Mercedes and BMW trade-ins for the Genesis. But they also concede that there’s a big difference when a manufacturer tries to stretch from mid-luxury models like the E-Class to the elite and rarefied S-Class.

So far, “Nobody’s been able to run the gamut from entry cars, like Accent, all the way up to the highest levels of luxury,” echoes analyst Dan Gorrell of the consulting firm Autostrategem, in North Tustin, Calif. “People who buy these cars are likely to look down on their nose at traditional Hyundai buyers, and I can’t even imagine them willing to share the same showroom.”

Hyundai officials admit that will be a particular challenge and hint that they are looking at alternatives. One possibility would be to create a sort of “showroom-within-a-showroom,” says Ewanick, open only to Equus customers. And even then, he adds, only one in four of Hyundai’s current, best dealers will be allowed to distribute the new model.

Another alternative might be to approach top-line customers directly at home or in the office, or just about anywhere else that might suit them, rather than bringing them into a showroom.

Hyundai will have to move fast — the launch of Equus comes early next year. But for now, Hyundai is holding down expectations, suggesting it only intends to import about 2,000 of the big sedans annually.

And if Equus hits that target? For now, insists Ewanick, there are no plans to bring any other Hyundai luxury cars to the states. Nor does the carmaker intend to set up a separate luxury channel, like Toyota’s Lexus division, but “we haven’t ruled that out,” the marketing executive adds.

One thing is certain, Hyundai doesn’t plan to abandon mainstream products like the Accent, Elantra or Santa Fe. “We know end of the day [that if our core products aren’t successful,’ says Ewanick, “Equus won’t matter.”


© 2009

Dr. Dre's The Chronic to Get Re-Lit

Dr. Dre's The Chronic will be re-released on September 1 as The Chronic Re-Lit, according to MTV. This is all Death Row's doing, and according to the article, Dre wasn't involved at all. I suppose that's why we're getting this before Detox.

​Seriously, it's been a decade since The Chronic 2001. I'll take an album once a decade if Detox manages to live up to those records, but if we get another Aftermath after all of this (including a Dr. Pepper commercial), I'm gonna be pissed.

The Chronic Re-Lit comes with a DVD, featuring an interview with Dr. Dre from 1997, "never before seen in its entirety," in which "he discusses hip-hop and the music business." It also features seven songs from the Death Row vaults, and it also seems that the album's going to sound better than it has in past years, so if you've bought a copy recently, you might want to upgrade.

Five Best Disk Defragmenters

Your omputer's a busy beaver, rapidly accessing and utilizing files all in the name of bringing you what you want, when you want it. Sometimes it needs a little help tidying up, and that's where these five disk defragmenters come in.

Photo by Alex Witherspoon.

Earlier this week we asked you to share your favorite defragmentation tools and now we're back to share the results.

For those of you unfamiliar with the problem of file fragmentation, a quick—and quite simplified—primer is in order. Files are stored on a hard drive in blocks of data. The larger the file, the larger the number of blocks it is composed of. As your operating system accesses files, moves files around, and so on, data blocks are not always arranged in the most effective manner. Imagine it like a messy office where as you opened file folders from your file cabinet you frequently placed documents from inside all over the room. You have a great memory, and you can find all the pages from each folder again if you need to, but you waste a lot of time just moving around looking for them.

In a perfect system the blocks of data that compose a file would be in the immediate vicinity of the file header, and your operating system would waste no time at all looking for the other pieces of the file. As it stands, however, on a badly fragmented disk the data can be scattered in pieces across the entire platter of the hard disk. The following defragmentation applications are specialized tools which will help you optimize your hard drive. Continuing with the analogy of the file cabinet, a defragmenter is the helpful assistant that comes in and alphabetizes all your documents in the appropriate folders and file drawers for you.

If you're in the mood to dig into the more arcane aspects of the topic, definitely check out the Wikipedia entries on file system fragmentation and defragmentation. Now onto the top five nominees:

Auslogics Disk Defrag (Windows, Free)

Auslogics Disk Defrag is a simple disk defragmentation program. You can defragment multiple disks or select individual files or folders for defragmentation. Auslogics allows you to set the priority of the application and can tell your computer to shut itself down when the defragmentation process is complete—a handy feature when you want it to scan and defragment while you're sleeping but don't want to leave your computer idling all night. Auslogics Disk Defrag is a free and portable application.

MyDefrag (Formerly JKDefrag) (Windows, Free)

MyDefrag is an effective tool for defragmenting your disks. You can run it in default mode and get not only a defragmented disk but also optimized file placement; or you can tinker with it via scripting and further increase your disk optimization for your specific needs. Even without its script support, MyDefrag does an excellent job defragmenting files and moving them to the optimum place on your hard disk. Files that are frequently accessed together are grouped together in zones for increased performance. MyDefrag will even scan the space allocated to the master file table and will move files from that space back to more appropriate places (sometimes when pressed for space Windows will dump files there, effectively orphaning them from the rest of the system).

PerfectDisk (Windows, $29.99)

PerfectDisk is one of only two commercial entries in this week's Hive Five. One of PerfectDisk's biggest claims to fame is what they call "Space Restoration Technology". On top of optimizing your disks during actual defragmentation, PerfectDisk monitors disk writing to ensure that future files are written in the most efficient way possible in order to cut down on potential defragmentation. PerfectDisk will also analyze your data usage and create optimization patterns suited for your style of file use and work. It can be scheduled or set to run when the computer is idle for continuous defragmentation.

Defraggler (Windows, Free)

Defraggler, from the same company that produces popular applications CCleaner and Recuva, is a portable defragmentation tool. It can scan multiple disks, individual disks, folders, or individual files for some quick, specific defragging. When Defraggler scans a disk, it shows you all the fragmented files and lets you either select sets to be defragmented or batch defragment all of them.

Diskeeper (Windows, $29.99)

Like PerfectDisk, Diskeeper is packed with features not usually found in free defragmentation solutions. In addition to the basic defragmentation tools, Diskeeper can, for example, perform a quick defragmentation of system files on boot to keep your operating system running as efficiently as possible. Diskeeper, like PerfectDisk, has a system for continuously defragmenting files and optimizing new files for disk storage while you work. When you defragment multiple hard drives, Diskeeper selects different algorithms based on the disk—for example, it optimizes your operating system disk differently from a media storage disk.

Now that you've had a chance to look over the most popular defragmentation applications, it's time to cast a vote for your favorite:

Which Disk Defragmenter is Best? (Poll Closed)
Total Votes: 10399

Have a strong opinion about defragmenting? Can't believe your favorite program wasn't included? Sound off in the comments.

Flashy '80s drug kingpin is now pushing hot dogs

Johnny's Wee Nee Wagon

Johnny Cappas stands outside his Markham hot dog stand, Johnny's Wee Nee Wagon. (Terrence Antonio James, Chicago Tribune / August 28, 2009)

First there was Felony Franks, the controversial West Side hot dog stand staffed by ex-cons.

Now notoriously loudmouthed 1980s cocaine kingpin John Cappas has taken the encased-meat-served-by-a-criminal concept one step further.

Cappas doesn't just work at Johnny's Wee Nee Wagon in south suburban Markham: He owns it.

"I've got the best weenies in Chicago," said Cappas, who as a teenager controlled the cocaine trade on the Southwest Side, before his arrest and trial became national news.

The Marist High School graduate was making $25,000 a week selling cocaine before he hit age 20, attracting attention with his flashy cars, fast women and crew of flunkies, who he'd take to nightclubs in stretch-limos, wearing jackets emblazoned with his name.

When federal warrants were issued for his arrest, he famously flaunted his contempt for the law by partying on a friend's speedboat on Lake Michigan with TV reporter Giselle Fernandez before turning himself in.

But after two Chicago cops' kids who owed him money killed themselves, Cappas was sentenced to 45 years in federal prison in 1989.

Now 43, he served 15 years, an experience he said changed him for the better.

"This is my chance to give back," he said, explaining that he plans to sponsor Little League teams and turn his hot dog stand into a playground for kids, complete with a miniature railway ride and a stagecoach.

The business, previously called Willie's Wee Nee Stand, has been on the 15900 block of Pulaski Road since 1955, and Cappas said he hopes to re-create with it the western-theme amusement arcades of his Oak Lawn youth.

Though the scrappy two-lot stand is decidedly smaller than the illegal empire he once controlled, and he expects to make less money than he did selling cars since his release from prison in 2003, Cappas said "feeding families is an honest business that I can take pride in."

Even so, he's happy to trade on his bad guy reputation.

At a grand opening party for the business Sunday, he said, will be Julie Craig, his former girlfriend and a one-time Playboy model best-remembered for spending his drug money on a diamond necklace that spelled out the letters "SPOILED BRAT."

Also at the party, he said, will be Dick and Clement Messino, brothers and former Chicago police officers convicted of selling hundreds of pounds of cocaine. Prosecutors alleged they supplied Cappas, but he refused to testify against them.

A smaller courtesy will be extended to police visiting Cappas' new business.

"I've told the local cops they can have all the free soda they want," he said.