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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dancing at the Movies - Music Video

From: Mart138
A collection of dance clips from almost 40 movies from dance movies to comedies, from Fred Astaire to Micheal Jackson. Apologies if I didn't fit your favourite in.

Hope you enjoy!!!!

Dirty Dancing,Flashdance,White Nights,Perfect,Saturday Night Fever,Blue Skies,Pulp Fiction,High Fidelity,Clerks 2,American Pie,Billy Elliot,Footloose,True Lies,Grease,Honey,Phantom of the Opera,Step up,Step up 2,Moonwalker,West Side Story,Moulin Rouge,Mary Poppins,7 Brides for 7 Brothers,Rocky Horror Picture Show,Strictly Ballroom,Happy Feet,Singing in the Rain,Fame,Fame2009,Save the Last Dance,Mamma Mia,Mask of Zorro,Coyote Ugly,Wild Hogs,Get Smart,Airplane, A Knights Tale,High School Musical and Austin Powers.

Sundance: Gaspar Noe On Enter the Void, Avatar, and Magic Mushrooms


Avatar: James Cameron straight tripping?

Avatar: James Cameron straight tripping?Photo: 20th Century Fox

Even here in Park City, it’s hard to escape Avatar’s long shadow. And it’s not just because everybody’s talking about the sci-fi epic’s record-breaking box office. Comparisons to James Cameron’s film came swiftly among both critics and moviegoers after the premiere of French director Gaspar Noe’s stunning Enter the Void, a borderline experimental techno epic about a junkie whose spirit floats above the streets of nighttime Tokyo after he’s killed during a drug bust. Sort of an art-film counterpart to Cameron’s film, Void is a fever dream that blends elements of 2001, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and dozens of other films, books, and videogames to craft a journey into an alternate reality, one that seems to have emerged from the deepest recesses of one passionately twisted auteur’s mind. (Though, unlike Avatar, it’s also got acres and acres of explicit sex and nudity.) And for all his arthouse cred, Noe doesn’t seem bothered by the comparisons: He freely cops to loving Avatar, and the fact that he and Cameron share a Stanley Kubrick obsession.

He’s also convinced they have something else in common: “I’m sure Cameron did some mushrooms,” Noe told us during a chat here. “Those scenes in the forest with the glowing plants — if you’ve ever done mushrooms any time in your life, you know those are exactly the kind of visions you have. I’m sure he must have done some ‘mental research’ before he made that movie.” Cameron, of course, has denied ever having done drugs (except inadvertently, when someone infamously spiked the catering for Titanic). Noe shrugs: “Michel Gondry also does very trippy images, and I know for a fact that he’s clean as water. So maybe it’s true.”

For his part, Noe has been fairly open about how drug use played a part in the conception of Enter the Void, which the director has been working on for over a decade. (Along the way, to test out some of his techniques, he made the super-controversial Irreversible, which told a rape-revenge story in reverse, opening with a man being bludgeoned to death on-camera and then progressing backwards to the 10-minute Monica Bellucci rape scene which triggered the act.) “One day, in my 20s, I was with friends, and had done too many mushrooms,” he recalls. “I turned on the TV as I was coming down, and it was showing Lady in the Lake, the Robert Montgomery film noir that’s filmed entirely through the character’s eyes. I wasn’t so much hallucinating at that point, but I thought it would be great to make a movie like this and add all the experiences I had today on mushrooms — telepathic perception, strange colors around people, the sense of floating.”

So, will Enter the Void, which has been picked up by IFC Films and is set to be released later this year, now generate armies of imitators, as Avatar surely will? Noe isn’t so sure. “This is mainly a big budget underground movie, and it could only have been made in Europe. If it wasn’t me, then maybe it would be Lars von Trier or somebody making it. But I don’t know how many people will try to do what we did. It was pretty exhausting.”

LA County Bans Plastic Bags

BREAKING: LA County Bans Plastic Bags

With a 3-1 vote in favor of the measure, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a sweeping ban on plastic grocery bags in unincorporated areas of the county.

The ban will affect nearly 1.1 million residents countywide and has been called one of the nation's most aggressive environmental measures to date.

The official measure reads: "No store shall provide to any customer a plastic carryout bag." Plastic bags that are used to hold fruit, vegetables or raw meat in order to prevent contamination with other grocery items will be exempt from the ban.

Grocers that continue to offer plastic bags will be required to charge customers 10 cents per bag, according to the ordinance. The revenue will be retained by the stores to purchase the paper bags and educate customers about the law (LA Times).

In late August, heavy and costly lobbying by plastic bag manufacturers prevented the California state Senate from passing a state-wide plastic bag ban, despite the support of the state Assembly and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, the only official to vote against the ban, cautioned that small businesses could suffer financially because of the ban. Antonovich also worries that low-income people could be forced to begin buying bags to pick up pet waste or carry their lunch.

It's still possible for the measure to be legally challenged.

Similar plastic bag bans passed in San Francisco and Malibu are less strict because they don't involve a surcharge. Environmental advocates of banning plastic bags say these measures provide no incentive for consumers to switch to reusable cloth bags, the most eco-friendly option.

A Beautiful Boat, Designed for a Hedonist


Art of Kinetik produces luxury wooden yachts and gives them possibly the most fitting names ever. The latest addition to their lineup is the Hedonist. With a solid mahogany hull, this 63-foot yacht is designed to be seamless and pure in the sense that no screws or plastic are visible at any point. Art of Kinetiks employs an in-house team of designers, naval architects, engineers and craftsmen to bring about their fully customizable mobile works of art.

Can’t seem to scrape together enough cash to get your own Hedonist? Well, at least we all have Thunder in Paradise reruns…


First photos from Broadway's $60 Million 'Spider Man' arrive

In 1962, the Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee came up with a story about a teenage geek named Peter Parker who gets bitten by a radioactive spider at a science exhibit and discovers that he has acquired superhuman strength, extrasensory perception, and the ability to crawl up walls—not to mention a flair for costume design. As drawn by Steve Ditko, a cultural icon named Spider-Man was born, and since then he has swung from the comic-book page to the cineplex screen and into our dream life, fighting crime on the streets of New York and protecting mankind from villains bent on global domination. Now the world’s most famous webslinger is facing his scariest adversaries yet—New York theater critics and audiences—as Julie Taymor’s long-delayed rock musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, with songs by U2’s Bono and the Edge, finally drops in on Broadway in January.

On a fall afternoon shortly before the start of previews, the many thousand moving parts of the $60 million production—already infamous as the most expensive of all time—are still syncing up inside the newly renamed Foxwoods Theatre (no gambling jokes, please) on Forty-second Street. In one rehearsal room, the Edge is listening to vocal arrangements. In another, the choreographer Daniel Ezralow, a Momix founder and frequent Taymor collaborator, is working with a group of arachno–chorus girls, who, requiring eight stiletto heels each, could be described as unusually leggy. Onstage, Spider-Man (Reeve Carney) and the Green Goblin (Patrick Page) duke it out on the roof of set designer George Tsypin’s pop-up Roy Lichtenstein–meets–Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Chrysler Building as Mary Jane Watson (Jennifer Damiano), trussed in a harness courtesy of the aerial-rigging designer Jaque Paquin, dangles fetchingly from a stone gargoyle.

In the middle of it all, wearing a headset microphone, sits Taymor, back on Broadway following her 1997 triumph with The Lion King. Slim and snub-nosed, the 58-year-old director still exudes the passion and precocity of the bohemian enfant terrible who burst on the scene in the early eighties with visually stunning pieces rooted in the rituals of Asian theater—masks, puppets, dance—and the power of mythology. And though she hasn’t exactly been letting the savanna grass grow under her feet since The Lion King (her acclaimed Metropolitan Opera production of The Magic Flute and her new film adaptation of The Tempest open this month), it is that show, a marriage of avant-garde stage wizardry and Disney schmaltz, that remains her signal achievement. Instead of trying to reproduce the movie, Taymor took the bold step of transforming it into a purely theatrical experience, creating magic by exposing all her tricks—those giraffes were clearly actors on stilts—and inviting audiences to take an imaginative leap.

It’s not difficult to see why Taymor, with her penchant for folk tales and fascination with the cycles of life, would be attracted to the epic tale of an ordinary boy who must cross the thresholds of death and rebirth to claim the mantle of hero. “Spider-Man is a genuine American myth with a dark, primal power,” Taymor says. “But it’s also got this great superhero, and—hey!—he can fly through the theater at 40 miles an hour. It’s got villains, it’s got skyscrapers, it’s colorful, it’s Manhattan. I knew it would be a challenge, but I saw the inherent theatricality in it, and I couldn’t resist.”

Taymor and her cowriter, Glen Berger, have taken the basic contours of the familiar story and added elements of their own, including a geek chorus that comments on the action and a new supervillain drawn from Greek mythology. And Taymor will be using all the weapons in her theatrical arsenal, from the low-tech (shadow puppets depict the death of Peter’s uncle Ben) to the high- (giant LED screens project mutant ne’er-do-wells wreaking havoc on world capitals). “To me, where theater has it all over film is that it’s in the moment, it’s tactile, you feel it,” she says. “You’re completely immersed in it—right here and right now.”

To help create that immersive experience, Taymor turned to her frequent collaborator the brilliant Russian designer George Tsypin, who has a gift for haunting dreamscapes. He removed the orchestra pit and the proscenium, bringing the audience and the action together. (When Spider-Man makes his first entrance, he swings from the back of the set to the foot of the stage, landing mere inches from the innocent bystanders in the first row.) In one sequence, the fisticuffs between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin atop the Chrysler Building lead to Spidey’s jumping off the ledge—and suddenly the scenery shifts to a forced perspective that makes us feel as if we are staring down the side of a skyscraper into the street. Next thing we know, Spider-Man and the Goblin are whizzing through the air over our heads, locked in mortal combat, landing on a platform attached to the first balcony. “The people in the cheap seats are going to get quite a show,” says Taymor. If everything works, the audience should feel the vertiginous thrill of having landed in the pages of an expressionist comic book sprung to life. With a cast of 41 and no fewer than 37 scene changes, Taymor is clearly working hard to keep all the balls in the air. “I know it’s too much, but is that bad?” she asks. “Seriously, if you don’t want to do something ambitious that’s never been seen before, why do you bother?”

Taymor designed most of the masks herself, but for costumes, she turned to Eiko Ishioka, a 1988 Tony nominee for M. Butterfly, who is known for her bold, graphic style and eye for the hallucinatory. “Julie wanted me to add elements of crazy fantasy to create a world that was dangerous, risky,” Ishioka says. “Something that makes audiences go, ‘Wow!’ ” Her eye-popping evildoers—the spiny Green Goblin, the Tin Man–meets–Lizzie Borden Swiss Miss, the blood-red Carnage—recall her luxuriantly nightmarish creations for Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. As for Spidey’s signature skintight suit, Ishioka’s version evokes the aerodynamic uniforms she designed for the 2002 Canadian Olympic speed skaters. With a revamped spider symbol, mottled arachnid markings, and muscle-emphasizing, comic book–style shadings, the costume is part of an overall strategy, Ishioka says, to “bring the 2-D world into 3-D.”

Now donning the Green Goblin’s wings—the originally announced Mary Jane Watson and Green Goblin, Evan Rachel Wood and Alan Cumming, bowed out last spring when the show’s producer ran out of money—is Patrick Page, an excellent actor with a knack for playing chartreuse-skinned villains, most recently in Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Page relishes portraying bad guys, he says, “especially when they’re not only insane but genetically modified.” As Peter’s girlfriend, Mary Jane, Jennifer Damiano brings the girl-next-door sex appeal, emotional vulnerability, and powerhouse singing voice that earned her a Tony nomination last year for her performance in Next to Normal. At nineteen, Damiano is well on her way to achieving what for her character, an aspiring actress straight out of high school, remains only a fantasy. “The other day, Julie and Glen were talking about changing Mary Jane’s dream of winning a Tony to winning an Oscar because that’s what kids these days dream about,” she says. “And I was like, ‘Well, not all kids. . . .’ ”

Various names were bandied about for the title role, including Taymor’s Across the Universe star Jim Sturgess, but the director wound up going with a little-known rock-’n’-roller named Reeve Carney after she saw him perform with his band. “He looks like a prince,” says Taymor, who cast him as just that in The Tempest, “but he’s gawky and skinny, like an indie artist.” Carney, whose stunts are performed by a team of Spideys, says he strongly identifies with the role: “I’m a gentle, thoughtful person offstage—at least I try to be. But onstage, I turn into a bit of an animal. I guess that’s the Spider-Man in me. I feel more invincible onstage than anywhere else, though if you think about it you’re really more vulnerable up there.”

That duality is something that U2’s Bono and the Edge understand. “Most kids who end up in bands are not necessarily the cool jocks,” says the Edge, who points out that Peter’s central dilemma—how to be a superhero without destroying his personal life—would resonate with most rock stars. These particular rock stars, whose full-throttle songs (“With or Without You” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” for instance) pulse with unabashed yearning, are the first to write a score directly for Broadway (Elton John doesn’t count). They were motivated in part because, despite their band’s astronomical success—22 Grammys, 155 million records sold—as artists, they still haven’t found what they’re looking for. “When we started out, we’d do shows where we were really shite or really great, but we had no control over which was which,” Bono says. “With time, we’ve gotten very good, and it makes me nervous. Because the difference between very good and great is huge. Getting to great requires putting yourself out of your depth.” The score that he and the Edge have written has the intensity and lyricism of their best work, and while some of the songs will sound familiar, one can also hear the influence of pop, world music, and, “dare I even say it, show tunes,” says Bono, adding, “It’s a rock score, but in the way that Sgt. Pepper is a rock album.”

It remains to be seen which of Bono and the Edge’s two power ballads from the show will serve as the headline for the reviews: "Rise bove" or "Boy falls from the sky." My Spidey sense tells me that Taymor and Co. might just pull it off. After all, from his debut in Marvel’s Amazing Fantasy #15 to his ongoing cinematic exploits (a big-screen “reboot” was recently announced, starring Andrew Garfield), Spider-Man occupies a special place in the pop-culture pantheon, partly because whether you’re a genius director, a Broadway neophyte, a pair of Irish rock stars, or a kid reading comic books under the covers by flashlight, he’s the kind of hero to whom we can all relate. As his creator, Stan Lee, tells me, “It doesn’t matter what your color or national origin—once the mask goes on, it could be you inside that Spider-Man costume.”

iPhone Google Voice App: Download Now at Last


Screen shot 2010-11-16 at 2.46.09 PM
The Beatles on iTunes weren't the only big update of the day for Apple's online music store. The App Store is getting a little something we've all been waiting for called Google Voice.

Some of you may remember the long history that came with getting a Google Voice App on the iPhone. It's not quite as long as getting the Fab Four on the iTunes Store, but the result may be more exciting to some iPhone owners.

IPhone Screenshot 1

We're all huge fans of Google Voice, and have praised it a few times before.

IPhone Screenshot 4

Nice YouTube plug there, Google.

The App has been redesigned, and now combines free SMS texting and the phone functionality within the same application. Which can be a bit nicer than jumping back and forth as you would with the iPhone's applications.

IPhone Screenshot 2

We love the inbox's design.

It combines your Google Voice inbox (which holds your voicemail messages and even transcribes them into text).

The app has four tabs: the aforementioned Inbox, Dialer, Contacts and Settings. Because the dialer combines calling and texting within one menu, its easy to dial out. However, you will only see the phone number you are texting rather than the name of contact.

Push notifications will alert you when you get a message. It all works pretty well so far.

Google Voice can be downloaded for free on the App Store: Here.

41 Jiggling ‘Jessica’ Animated Gifs (Jessica Simpson, Jessica Biel & Jessica Alba)

by Neal - Johns Hopkin


Ha! You said Jif instead of Gif, didn’t ya! Jif’s a tasty peanut butter, brosephina. What are you, a choosy mom? ‘Cuz only choosy moms choose Jif. Speaking of choosy moms, Jessica Alba chooses to never accept a role that requires nudity, yet pics of her nude preggers body leaked on the internet this week. They were great but they were missing… movement. Luckily, COED has assembled the following gallery of jiggling Jessicas featuring the expectant Alba along with Jessica “Needs To Dump JT” Biel and Jessica Simpson. Anyone have a craving for Jello?

Russia In One Photo

How much random hilarity can you handle?

Russia In One Photo

Quite possibly the best Gran Turismo 5 trailer you've ever seen

An amazing trailer for Polyphony Digital's upcoming game, GT5 by KopparbergDave

KopparbergDave has created a Gran Turismo 5 Rebirth Trailer, what most of us might call an absolute ace of a trailer. The trailer features audio from "The Scream Of Science" BBC F1 intro combined with footage from GT5 and the song "Rebirth" by the band Hadouken!

Gran Turismo 5 is finally releasing November 24, 2010 exclusively on the PS3. Checkout the awesome trailer below:

Why Power Naps at Work Are Catching On

Some companies supply nap mats and eye masks; others designate rooms for a midday snooze

By Angela Haupt

Falling asleep on the job may be evolving into office protocol—not grounds for termination. A growing number of companies are recognizing the health benefits of a quick snooze, including increased alertness, enhanced brainpower, and fewer sick days. While naps aren't necessary for those who get the recommended eight hours of shut-eye at night, they may be key for those who skimp on sleep. "Most people don't get enough sleep," says Nancy Collop, president-elect of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "And for those people, a nap will clearly help. The most important factor is duration, and it's well-accepted that short naps are good."

Some companies are offering designated nap rooms or even setting up tents or lofted beds, but at Workman Publishing in New York, employees usually sleep underneath their desks or behind room-divider screens. "You can close your eyes for 10 or 15 minutes and wake up feeling completely refreshed," says Susan Bolotin, Workman's editor in chief, which has been nap-friendly since 2007. "We've seen very positive effects. I keep a nap mat in my office, and I'm still known to lie down, put my sleep mask on, and see what happens." Bolotin has distributed eye masks to her team, and sometimes lends her office floor to those without a private workspace who are in need of a nap. "We have one guy who works here who likes to nap, and you'll walk by and he'll be lying down on a mat like a kid in nursery school," she says. Other companies, including British Airways, Nike, Pizza Hut, and Google, offer reclining chairs and "renewal rooms."

Most employers who allow napping say they do so in the name of their staffers' well-being, which research suggests is a smart idea. People who take daily 30-minute naps are 37 percent less likely to die of heart disease than those who don't nap, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2007. Naps can also boost the immune system—theoretically leading to fewer sick days—and propel employees into their most alert, energetic, and creative states, say nap advocates. Plus, a well-rested employee is a cheery employee, Collop says: "If you're sleep deprived, you're going to be moody. And if you have to interact in meetings, or if you're a marketing person and have to convince someone to buy your product, that's going to create a problem."

At JAWA, a software developing company in Scottsdale, Ariz., employees can nap on a cot in a Zen-like room featuring soothing earth tones. Or they can opt for a beach-themed room and snooze in a futuristic "energy pod"—a helmet-shaped chair that only exposes their legs, which are elevated above the heart. The contraption shuts out external distractions and offers a sense of total darkness and privacy, and it vibrates when it's time to wake up.

The nap rooms are popular among the company's nearly 200 employees, and are the brainchild of Brad Owen, director of content development at JAWA. "When I have to get something done and I'm here a little late, I can either take a 15-minute nap and get it done within an hour—or I can just sit and slog through it, and it will take longer and the quality will suffer," he says. "We definitely see people using [the nap rooms] when they're tired, instead of slamming another energy drink and trying to power through." Employees usually nap during their breaks, Owen says, so they don't have to compensate by staying late: "It's pretty much on your honor, and we haven't had much abuse."

Some companies are even outsourcing their napping. Time Warner, Hearst, and Yahoo!, for example, employ Manhattan-based YeloSpa, which offers power naps in private rooms complete with customized aromatherapy, music or nature sounds, and lighting. A 20-minute nap costs $15, and a 40-minute nap is $28. Most of those companies allow employees to visit YeloSpa during their lunch breaks and have negotiated discounted rates. YeloSpa has seen an uptick in nap popularity: Business is up 25 percent from last year and 2009 brought a 10 percent increase over 2008. "We hear from a lot of people who say, 'I don't know what I'd do without you—I don't know how I'd make it through the day without a nap,'" says Michael Hazel, YeloSpa's director of operations. "For some people, it's almost like a euphoria. They wake up and it's a fresh start."

A fresh start, however, is not always the result. Typically, 20 to 30 minutes is best for a midday snooze, since that allows time for only a light sleep—meaning there's a greater chance of quickly snapping back into alertness. Longer naps equate to deeper sleep, making waking up a challenge and inviting grogginess that could linger for hours. Some experts warn of sleep inertia, a hangover-like effect that makes shrugging off sleepy feelings practically impossible. But there's a caveat: For those who have been up all night and are severely sleep deprived, a longer nap—at least 90 minutes—is necessary to catch up, Collop says.

For now, workplace naps remain the exception, rather than the rule. If you want to bring the trend to your non-napping workplace, draft a proposal that views the arrangement through the employer's eyes, says Sara Mednick, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California-San Diego and author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life. Instead of emphasizing personal reasons, like "I want to nap at work because I have insomnia," stress the benefits the company could reap. Explain that napping reduces absenteeism—research suggests employees often miss work because of fatigue—and increases productivity and employee retention. Band together with coworkers and suggest a six-week to three-month trial.

"People are starting to see how beneficial napping is—and how easy and affordable," Hazel says. "The most important thing is let everything go, take care of yourself, and surround yourself in a cocoon."

[10 Ways to Get Better Sleep (and Maybe Cure Your Insomnia)]

Hot toys for the holidays: Squinkies, Monster High, Barbie Video Girl, Hot Wheels and more

Retailers hope toys will help boost other sales. This year, trends include 'mini collectibles,' bigger dolls, high-tech gadgets for young children, movie tie-ins and activities for the whole family.

By Andrea Chang

Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles Times

For parents, finding the right holiday toy isn't all fun and games.

After a robotic hamster became the breakout hit last Christmas, the race is on to snag this year's hot toy. But what is it?

No front runner has emerged yet, but parents and kids have been buzzing about squishy pencil toppers, a Barbie equipped with a real video camera and toy musical instruments that can be played by lightly touching the paper surface.

"Part of what makes a toy the must-have toy is the scarcity in finding it," said Sean McGowan, a toy analyst at Needham & Co. "There's social currency attached to being the parent who can deliver it and the kid who gets it."

Toys may be a bright spot during what industry watchers are predicting will be another tough holiday season for consumer spending. Compared with other retail categories such as luxury and electronics, toys weren't hit as hard during the economic downturn for one major reason: Parents will cut back everywhere else before they deprive their children of that Buzz Lightyear action figure or the latest Bratz doll. Plus, toys are relatively cheap.

For those who haven't started shopping, prepare yourselves for bigger toy displays, more pop-up shops and better discounts as retailers boldly move into their most important time of the year. Many toys are priced around the "sweet spot" of $30.

Discount giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has expanded its toy assortment and inventory and added "Rollback Alley" to most stores, an aisle that features deals on toys. Toys R Us Inc. will operate 600 temporary holiday shops and 10 FAO Schwarz pop-up stores nationwide.

Target Corp. is featuring 10% more discounts and items in its annual holiday toy catalog. And Sears, which last year brought back in-store toy sections to 20 of its department stores, is opening 79 more this year.

Even though the economy has forced her family to cut expenses, stay-at-home mom Dianna Lynn, 40, said toys would still be at the top of her shopping list this Christmas.

"You still want them to have something to open and something to get excited about," Lynn said while browsing a Toys R Us Express store in Rolling Hills Estates recently. "Santa doesn't know about the recession."

Squinkies, Zoobles and Sing-a-ma-jigs, oh my

Because price will again be the most important factor for many shoppers, toy manufacturers have focused on making products that can fit into small budgets. Experts are predicting a strong year for "mini collectibles" — toys that are inexpensive but feature a full lineup of characters with different looks, sounds and personalities.

The collectibles category has performed extremely well in the tough economic climate, with Zhu Zhu Pets, an assortment of robotic hamsters, and Bakugan Battle Brawlers, a line of spherical, spring-loaded miniature toys, flying off shelves.

This year's newcomers are led by Squinkies, soft and squishy figures that can be worn as jewelry, used as pencil toppers or displayed in play sets; Zoobles, plastic spherical characters that pop open when placed in their "happitats" to reveal creatures inside; Sing-a-ma-jigs, plush creatures that sing, harmonize and chatter with one another; and Hot Wheels R/C Stealth Rides, mini-vehicles that fold flat inside cellphone-size cases that double as remote controls.

For parents, they are an economical choice, said Lydia Ho, a stay-at-home mom from Rolling Hills Estates. Her 8-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, particularly enjoys Silly Bandz, colorful rubber bands molded in different shapes; a pack costs just a few dollars.

"It's easy — it's not an investment if they lose it or it breaks," said Ho, 43.

Toy experts say collectibles appeal to kids, who like to accumulate different characters and trade them with friends. Owning the most items can be a status symbol, such as with the Beanie Babies phenomenon in the 1990s.

Barbie gets more (and bigger) rivals in the doll aisle

In recent years, the fashion doll category has become highly competitive thanks to a growing number of plastic figures with diverse images and personalities, whether cute, sporty, scholarly, glamorous or edgy.

This holiday season, new players such as Mattel Inc.'s Monster High — a line of characters, such as Frankie Stein and Draculaura, who are the offspring of famous monsters — and the relaunch of the saucy Bratz dolls by rival MGA Entertainment Inc. are heating up the closely watched doll battle.

Fashion dolls are always popular among girls, who like to emulate their favorites and dress them up in cool outfits and accessories, retail experts said. A trend within the category this year is the rising popularity of larger, 18-inch dolls (Barbie is 11.5 inches tall), which girls find more relatable, they said.

At a Toys R Us Express to redeem a birthday gift card, 8-year-old Elena Wingard passed by the smaller dolls, instead opting for a Dream Dazzlers styling head.

The large doll came with an array of hair accessories, as well as makeup, which Elena said she was excited to apply to the doll's face. Her other favorite dolls are American Girl, another brand that features larger-size characters.

"It seems like it's my friend," she said of larger dolls. "It feels more real to me for some reason because it looks like a real person."

The frontrunners among the large-scale dolls come from local toy companies: Disney Princess & Me dolls are made by Malibu-based Jakks Pacific Inc. and cost $49.99. BFC, Ink dolls are a product of MGA, based in Van Nuys, and cost $29.99.

High-tech goes to kindergarten

The economy hasn't been kind to the youth electronics sector, with U.S. sales falling 29% year-over-year for the 12-month period ending in September, according to market research firm NPD Group.

But toy makers are betting big on the high-tech category for the holidays, rolling out a wide selection of electronic toys that have been generating buzz for months.

This year's top picks include Mattel's $49.99 Barbie Video Girl, which features a working video camera embedded in the doll's necklace and a color LCD video screen on her back; Paper Jamz, a series of thin toy guitars and drums that can be played by simply touching the paper surface; and Dance Star Mickey, a plush Mickey Mouse from Fisher-Price that walks, talks and does dances (including the moonwalk).

Manufacturers have also added more technology to the learning tools category, developing several toys that look remarkably like adults' iPads and Kindles.

Hand-held learning gadgets such as VTech's V.Reader, Fisher-Price's iXL Learning System and LeapFrog's Leapster Explorer Learning Experience use technology to help kids read, play games and learn other tasks.

"Kids today are Skyping, they're on the Internet, they're going on YouTube," said Neil Friedman, president of Mattel Brands. "And what we're doing is we're allowing them to expand their imaginations and utilize their toys to even go further."

Not surprisingly, the prices in this category are a bit higher, with Dance Star Mickey retailing at $69.99 and the iXL at $79.99.

Familiar faces go from the big screen to the toy chest

Just as Hollywood filmmakers have seen success in adapting comic book characters into major movie franchises, the toy industry has benefited from crafting toys tied to an existing brand.

It's already been a big year for movie-related toys with the release of the blockbusters "Toy Story 3" and "Iron Man 2": Boys flocked to toy stores to pick up action figures, vehicles and games. Those entertainment properties are expected to continue to be big sellers during the holidays.

For girls, the Disney Princess line is expected to sell well. The release this month of Disney's animated movie "Tangled," based on the story of Rapunzel, has already brought a host of products including dolls, a hair braider and a fairytale tower.

Kids like toy products linked to popular movies and television shows because they feel more familiar with the characters, said Margaret Whitfield, a toy analyst at Sterne Agee.

Families search for stay-at-home fun to save money

The recession brought about the trend of "cocooning," where families tended to forgo dining out and taking expensive vacations in favor of staying home.

That led to a boost in classic family activities such as board games, arts and crafts, building sets and outdoor toys, which are expected to be popular again this year.

After the holidays last year, Denise Vazquez, 41, and her family pooled together their Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Wii video game console "so we could all play as a family," she said.

This year, she'll be looking for more Wii games and other family-friendly activities that won't break the bank, she said. The Torrance resident, who works as an accounts representative at a bank, plans to buy a lot of toys at Kmart and Sears so she can use the stores' layaway programs.

"With a large family, you have to remind yourself to budget," she said. "We don't want to deprive the kids, but we have to be more conscious."

Retailers counting on toy sales to boost holiday business

With U.S. retail sales totaling $21.5 billion last year, toys are big business — especially during the final months of the year.

For major chains, the aggressive stance on toys this year is part of a larger strategy to drive traffic to other store sections, said Sherif Mityas, a partner in the retail practice of management consulting firm A.T. Kearney.

Retail watchers are predicting only a modest increase in sales for the holidays, so merchants need any edge they can get as they try to woo tough customers.

"Retailers have conditioned the consumer to really wait and buy on deals," Mityas said. "So if they can draw consumers in by giving deals on toys, then they're hoping they can sell other products in the store at potentially more full price."

Merchants, too, admitted that toys are a smart bet.

"It's a tough economy and we know our customers are struggling," said Laura Phillips, senior vice president of toys and seasonal merchandising at Wal-Mart. "But we do know that the kids are probably going to get what they want on their wish lists."

Florida Used Truck Dealership Offers Free AK-47 with Every Truck Sold

AK-47 Truck Dealership

A central Florida used car dealership, Nation's Trucks, is currently running the best Veterans' Day promotion that planet Earth, and Ted Nugent, has ever seen. From the holiday (which was last Thursday) straight through the end of the month, any customer who buys one of their reliable, used trucks gets a sweet gift. No, it's not set of those ironic balls you hang from the hitch. It isn't even a signed copy of the "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" DVD -- although, in this instance, that would be a very close second. Instead, each new truck owner gets a little toy known as a fucking AK-47 assault rifle. No better way to drum up some business than to make every central Florida redneck, with a twinkle in his eye, an army of one.

The promotion, as you probably guessed, is fuckin' killing it. Nation's Trucks general sales manager has said that since the hand cannon promotion started last week, the dealership has more than doubled their sales. This just goes to show you how fucking dumb some people are when the smallest incentive presents itself. The gun, while really really awesome, retails for only $400! And, civilians can buy one. I know this because the dealership is just sending them to a gun shop to get their free gun. So either these people all just needed non-certified used trucks or they are fucking idiots.

This incentive package, as you probably also could have guessed, has not gone without complaint, either. I mean, anytime you decide to hand out guns to the general public, there is bound to be both whiners and casualties. So far we only have whiners, but I'm hopeful for more. The sales manager, however, fires back at those opposing this idea by saying, "My buyer is absolutely a gun owner, no question." Well, chief, it's kind of impossible for them not to be, now isn't it?

Chicago Using GPS-Collared Coyotes to Control Rodents?

by Jaymi Heimbuch

coyote in chicago photo
Photo via video from WGN-TV

Most of the time when a city has a rodent problem, they call in human exterminators. But Chicago seems to be testing out something slightly more... natural. After spotting a coyote running down State Street in Chicago, residents became aware of a project the city is testing out that includes allowing GPS-fitted coyotes to run free in the city specifically for them to gobble up problematic pests like rats, mice and rabbits. However, Chicago isn't letting coyotes run all over in order to keep the rat populations down. Rather, there is a much cooler project underway. Video of the wily coyote after the jump.

According to Chicago Breaking News, "Brad Block, a supervisor for the Chicago Commission on Animal Care and Control, said the animal has the run of the Loop to help deal with rats and mice. He said no one has called today to complain.

'He's not a threat...He's not going to pick up your children,' Block said. 'His job is to deal with all of the nuisance problems, like mice, rats and rabbits.'

Block said he believes the coyote is one of those fitted with a GPS device to monitor its whereabouts. He said the coyote is pretty timid and stays away from people."

Gizmodo jumps to another conclusion, stating, "Chicago police said they hadn't heard anything about any coyotes--but now the Chicago Commission on Animal Care and Control is saying that it's probably a coyote that was let loose in purpose. To kill rats and stuff."

Rather than let loose on purpose -- which these urban coyotes are not -- the GPS-collared coyotes are part of a project to learn about how the animals fare in urban settings. So, this coyote is likely one from the Urban Coyote Ecology and Management project, which captures coyotes that make their way into urban areas, fits them with radio collars, and re-releases them in order to study them more closely.

It seems smart at first, though seeing a coyote running down the middle of a road highlights a few problems -- how many of these coyotes become roadkill, or eat up someone's house cat while out prowling for pests? Another issue is brought up in the Chicago Breaking News article: "Earlier this year, another coyote was found in a park near the Chicago River and would return there to scavenge for food, he said. That animal had to be removed because it had become accustomed to people and their handouts. It was eventually taken to a wildlife center."

No one really knows what effect city life has on coyotes -- the project says it best themselves:

Our limited understanding of how coyotes succeed in urban landscapes hampers management of this animal. Even knowledge of their basic ecology is incomplete. This is important because diets, social behavior, movement patterns and survival may change with urbanization. Nevertheless, as coyotes become increasingly abundant in the cities, so does the need for basic information to develop management strategies. In areas where coyotes have existed with people for some time, such as the southwestern United States, conflicts with coyotes threaten the health and well-being of people and pets. Are extreme conflicts the inevitable result of the relatively recent emergence of coyotes in Midwestern and eastern U.S. cities? What are the full ramifications for people, pets, and other wildlife when this remarkable canid suddenly becomes a neighbor?

That's the purpose of the experiment -- to find out how coyotes really fare as urban landscapes take over their natural habitat. Since 2008, the project has captured and collared 250 coyotes. Gathering up information by following the animals will help unveil questions such as how big an impact cities have on coyotes, how it might change their behaviors or food sources, and whether or not they're to be the next raccoon, pigeon, skunk or opossum.

As far as a coyote being released on purpose to eat up rodents...well, that's probably more a tactic to keep city residents calm about their furry neighbors. Instead, the animals-as-pest-control is likely more of a happy side effect of letting the coyotes do their thing in order to find out more about them.