"God Bless the Dream, the Dreamer and the Result." 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Here Comes the New Kindle (Probably)

Tech bloggers reading their tea leaves say e-book fans can expect the new version of the Kindle on Feb. 9. Though maker Amazon has made no announcement, the company has scheduled a major press conference that day with chief Jeff Bezos. And, notes Brad Stone of the New York Times, the Kindle details page on Amazon.com now notes that the electronic reader will ship in four to six weeks.

Apparently, the new version will look essentially the same, but it will have improved bells and whistles along the lines of zooming in or looking up words, and page refresh times will improve. It also will be harder to accidentally click on the page back or page forward functions, a major complaint of the original version, notes Alex Pham of the Los Angeles Times

Monday, January 26, 2009

Schools Cutting Cursive as Computers Prevail

Cursive may become a thing of the past as schools pressed for time focus their attention on science and reading, the Indianapolis Star reports. Cursive is still widely taught, but the emphasis has shifted from writing beautifully to writing efficiently as wider use of computers has also edged out cursive’s traditional role.

"When I was in junior high and high school,” says one Indianapolis teacher, “our final copies of work had to be handwritten in cursive. Now it's typed." The declining use of cursive in the world outside of school adds to the difficulty of teaching it, Jones says: “they can't read it, because they don't see it anywhere."

How Obama Can Rebuild the Arts

Despite the economic crisis, Barack Obama’s ascension to the White House is triggering a wave of optimism in the art community, David A. Ross writes in the Art Newspaper. He prescribes 10 “first steps” the president can take to re-establish serious support for arts in the United States:

Rebuild the Arts America program to allow American artists to serve as cultural ambassadors and image rehabilitators around the world.
Simplify, expedite, and depoliticize visas for visiting foreign artists.
Develop an emergency bailout fund for cultural institutions in dire need of help during the credit crisis.
Evaluate the operating expenses of our museums and libraries; then fund the Institute of Museum and Library Services to ensure that core costs of art institutions can be met.
Revive, rebuild, and depoliticize the National Endowment for the Arts/Humanities, including a funding increase from $290 million to $750 million.
Increase investment in art and music education for all school pupils.
Create a Secretary for Art and Culture Cabinet-level position, or at least an administrative mechanism showing presidential support for American culture.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sleepwalker Stirs Yuks Off-Broadway

Fighting off an imaginary Brad Pitt and leaping from a second-story window confirmed it: Mike Birbiglia was ready to turn his sleepwalking stories into a one-man show, Newsweek reports. Launched off-Broadway in November, the comedic Sleepwalk With Me is drawing raves from reviewers and sleep researchers alike. "Mike is really de-stigmatizing this disorder," one neurologist said.

At least 5% of adults suffer from REM Behavior Disorder, which is likely under-diagnosed because people are too embarrassed to see a doctor. At least it's no longer considered a sign of madness, although some experts say it has psychological roots. Birbiglia agrees it's not all yuks: "It's terrifying if you think about it," he said. "Your brain is like, 'We're going to shut down for a while,' and your body is like, 'We're going skiing!'"

Virtual Desktops Brings Work Close to Home

The line between work and home keeps getting blurrier. Citrix and Intel are teaming to create a system that will make it easier for people to access work files from their personal laptops or home computers, the Miami Herald reports. The files wouldn't be on the personal computer's hard drive, but users could get to them via the company's "virtual desktop."

Such technology exists already, but the difference here is that the new product, called a Xen hypervisor, will be built into the personal computer. The development takes care of security concerns and reduces IT issues, the companies say. Eventually, people may be able to tap into work programs with devices such as Smartphones. “It's flexibility that you never really had before," says one industry analyst. “My computer is always going to follow me whereever I go in the world.''

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Office Politics Move From Cubicle to Starbucks

Once coffee shops were places to relax, but these days, they’re places for telecommuting workers to plug in, and they’ve taken on all the irritating trappings of an actual office, the Boston Globe reports. Laptop-toting patrons fight tooth-and-nail for power outlets and table space, using the passive-aggressive tactics once confined to the cubicle. “It’s like being at work,” said one software salesman. “You always have to have your antenna up.”

“You do the hover,” said one programmer, describing a method of getting a seat through aggressive loitering. And if someone else nabs the seat you’re hovering over? “It could start a fistfight.” And hovering over the chaos, not unlike actual bosses, are the baristas. “There’s a war,” observes one writer, “between people who work at Starbucks for a living and the people who work at Starbucks for a living they’re earning someplace else.”

Friday, January 23, 2009

Ledger, Rourke Nab Oscar Nods

Exactly a year after his death, Heath Ledger has been nominated for an Academy Award, AP reports. Ledger's Supporting Actor nod was the only nom for The Dark Knight, while The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Slumdog Millionaire rose to the top with 13 and 10 nominations respectively. Other nominees:

Best Picture: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Director: David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon; Gus Van Sant, Milk; Stephen Daldry, The Reader; Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Actor: Richard Jenkins, The Visitor; Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon; Sean Penn, Milk; Brad Pitt; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Best Actress: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married; Angelina Jolie, Changeling; Melissa Leo, Frozen River; Meryl Streep, Doubt; Kate Winslet, The Reader
Best Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin, Milk; Robert Downey Jr, Tropic Thunder; Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt; Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight; Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road
Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, Doubt; Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona; Viola Davis, Doubt; Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler

New Virus' Worst Punch May Be Yet to Come

The devious worm that has infected up to 9 million personal computers worldwide may be just the first stage of a malicious attack, the New York Times reports. The so-called Conficker or Downadup virus, which exploits a Microsoft Windows vulnerability, pulls infected computers into systems called botnets that can be controlled by the worm's creator. Security experts expect the "botnet herder" to send out programming instructions in the next few weeks for some yet-unknown illegal activity.

“If you’re looking for a digital Pearl Harbor, we now have the Japanese ships steaming toward us on the horizon,” said the head of one security consulting firm. The motive is anyone's guess. The virus could attempt something relatively harmless, such as forcing PCs to redirect spam, or it could try to steal personal information. “I don’t know why people aren’t more afraid of these programs,” said a computer scientist at Georgia Tech.

Loophole Boosts Execs' Pensions

A change in federal disclosure requirements has revealed that some companies are inflating the value of retirement plans for—guess who?—top executives. By converting pensions, which generally pay out in installments over a retired employee’s lifetime, to a lump-sum payment, CEOs can increase the value by 10% to 40%, netting millions of extra dollars even as average workers’ 401(k)s plummet alongside the markets, the Wall Street Journal reports.

“It’s a sneaky way to give executives larger pay,” says one Senate pension expert. For instance, one Hartford Insurance exec whose pension is valued at $27 million could boost his lump-sum payout to $37 million. Companies run pensions through a complicated formula by which they can legally manipulate certain variables, producing outsize payouts. The inflation serves to compensate for increased taxes associated with lump-sum offerings, they say.

Apple's Mac Turns 25

Apple’s Macintosh, the seminal device that helped usher in the age of personal computing as we know it today, turns 25 this week, the San Jose Mercury News reports. The original Macintosh combined a svelte form—by 1980s standards—with an accessible graphical interface, eschewing complex text commands for a visual operating system anyone could pick up and use.

Macs now hold 8% of the US market—no easy task in a world still dominated by Microsoft. "Apple redefined the computer beyond crunching ones and zeros. It made a technology lifestyle a reality," explains one analyst. "We had a feeling this new style of computer would be the way of the world," said Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rawwk! Polly Want a Red Card?

A rare parrot had to be thrown out of a British football match when he began imitating the referee’s whistle, the Daily Mail reports. The parrot’s call was so realistic it actually stopped play dead 10 minutes into the second half, and continued disrupting the game thereafter. The cheeky bird also shouted “pretty boy” at some of the players.

“I’ve sent a few people off in my time,” said the ref, “but I’ve never sent a parrot off before.” At first the referee thought the noises were being made by the bird’s owner. “When I confronted her she said, ‘It’s not me, it’s my parrot.’ I got a hell of a shock.” The woman left peacefully, but vowed that the bird would be back. “He loves his football,” she said.

Lab Is Top US Dog, 18 Years and Counting

The Obamas’ pup could change things, but for now the playful Labrador retriever remains America’s most popular purebred, the American Kennel Club calculates. It's the Lab’s 18th consecutive year as king; the Yorkshire terrier and German shepherd are second and third, Reuters reports. Bulldogs moved up two spots, to No. 8, with their popularity up 69% in the past decade.

Arts Need a New Deal, Too

Fifty years after FDR’s Public Works Art Project paid and promoted American talent, President Obama has people dreaming of a new deal for arts, cultural anthropologist Patricia Williams Lessane writes in Ebony. While division spawned the Harlem Renaissance, Lessane is hopeful an arts resurgence would be “born out of inter-racial solidarity,” and offers suggestions on how a New Deal Arts Project might work.

Her vision: establish a cabinet of artists and educators to develop a template for funding arts at the local level, and mount nationwide competitions for undiscovered geniuses. “Given the new flavor that Mr. and Mrs. Obama share with their inner circle of culturally aware friends,” Lessane writes, “a recalibration should be well on its way.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Meet Obama's 'Beast'

The latest limousine to join the presidential fleet is essentially a tank with a Cadillac exterior, Wired reports. The armored vehicle—code-named “Stagecoach” but dubbed “The Beast” due to its makeup—is the world’s most sophisticated car. The Secret Service and General Motors refuse to divulge specs for Caddy One, which is shuttling President Obama between inaugural appointments today.

“The vehicle’s security enhancements cannot be discussed, [but its] security and coded communications systems make it the most technologically advanced protection vehicle,” a security official said. Observers estimate the diesel-powered car weighs 7 -8 tons, sits on a medium-duty truck chassis, and has military-grade body armor outfitted with ballistic glass windows, a Kevlar floor mat, and a sealed-air system.

Obama Headlines Worldwide

The world was watching as Barack Obama took the oath of office. A sampling of headlines from around the globe:

National Post (Canada): The Ascension of Obama
Guardian (UK): Magical Spell That Will Open a New Obama Era
La Repubblica (Italy): America Celebrates Obama's Oath
Der Tagesspiegel (Germany): The World Looks on Obama
Primera Hora (Puerto Rico): Obama to the Rescue
Jamaica Observer (Jamaica): World Hopes on Obama
Au Fait (Morocco): Day 'O'
New Zealand Herald (New Zealand): Great Expectations
Jornal Do Brasil (Brazil): Obama: Reform Starts With the Economy
The Telegraph (India): Sleeves Rolled Up, Obama Acts Out Gandhi Ideal
Turkish Daily News (Turkey): America 10 Score and 33 Years Later
The Namibian (Namibia): A Monumental Moment

Monday, January 19, 2009

Colicchio Saves Cookbook Writer From Choking

He runs multiple restaurants, hosts one of TV’s top cooking shows, and, it turns out, he could just save your life. Tom Colicchio saved Joan Nathan’s life last night, writes witness Ezra Klein on the Internet Food Association. Nathan, a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author, was holding a Washington benefit when she began choking on a chunk of chicken. Luckily Colicchio was nearby and knew the Heimlich maneuver.

“I just happened to be nearby,” the Top Chef host said. But Nathan was beside herself with gratitude. “He’s so strong” she gushed.

Steelers Down Ravens, 23-14, for AFC Crown

Pittsburgh used its dominating defense to beat the Baltimore Ravens, 23-14, in tonight's AFC championship game and return to the Super Bowl, the AP reports. Santonio Holmes scored on an electrifying 65-yard catch-and-run in the first half, and hard-hitting safety Troy Polamalu returned an interception 40 yards for a clinching TD with 4:24 remaining for the Steelers (14-4).

Jeff Reed kicked three field goals for the Steelers, who will be seeking their sixth Super Bowl title. "They did it tonight the way we've done it all year," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. "We've got a very humble group, a very selfless group." A Pittsburgh victory would make the 36-year-old Tomlin the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl.

Cards Edge Eagles for NFC Title

That's not a mirage rising out of the desert, folks: It's the Arizona Cardinals soaring to their first Super Bowl. The once-dysfunctional team capitalized on Larry Fitzgerald's three first-half touchdown receptions today, then coolly marched downfield to Kurt Warner's 8-yard scoring pass to rookie Tim Hightower with 2:53 left. They beat the Philadelphia Eagles 32-25 today for the NFC championship, the AP reports.

Donovan McNabb was superb in leading Philadelphia's second-half rally, but he misfired from midfield four times in the final moments. Arizona (12-7) will face the AFC champion in 2 weeks in Tampa for the NFL title. Baltimore played at Pittsburgh later in the day for the AFC crown.

Lance Makes Comeback Down Under

Lance Armstrong made a cautious return to professional cycle racing today, finishing 64th among 133 riders in a 30-mile criterium in downtown Adelaide, Australia. More than 138,000 people watched Armstrong return from three years of retirement and begin a campaign to win his eighth Tour de France. He stayed well back in a tight field, following instructions to avoid any chance of crashing. Armstrong will compete in the six-day Tour Down Under, which starts Tuesday.

"That was fun," the 37-year-old Armstong said. "It felt good. I've been training a lot for this comeback and this race. It's good the first day is over and now I can get into the racing."

Rourke Finds Comeback Light at End of Dark Tunnel

After the collapse of his career—admittedly his own fault—Mickey Rourke has found his way back up the Hollywood ladder with his recent Golden Globe for The Wrestler. Despite many promising turns during the 1980s, CNN reports, self-destructive behavior and problems with authority—which Rourke attributes to childhood abuse—culminated in his ditching acting for professional boxing (and taking some literal hits along the way).

Rourke’s acclaimed performance in The Wrestler was not without its costs, however. The role of Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a wrestler past his prime, bears some resemblance to the actor's own ups and downs. "I knew [director Darren Aronofsky would] want me to revisit some very dark painful places,” said Rourke. But this time, he says, he’s here to stay.

Rapper, 6, Touts Obama to Peeps

Though the historical context of Barack Obama's victory may be lost on "Lil Yani," the president-elect has made the 6-year-old very proud—enough to produce a rap tribute that's fast becoming an online hit, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Like the other upbeat raps from the charismatic Californian, Yani's presidential ode Obama Made Me Proud was written by his great grandma. The pair were inspired after volunteering for the president-elect's campaign.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sonos Zaps Tunes to All Rooms

A Sonos Music System has revolutionized the musical life of producer/director Barry Sonnenfeld. "It may be one of the electronic devices I can't do without," he writes in Esquire. What a Sonos can do:

It streams music wirelessly throughout the house, sending different tunes to different stereos in different rooms. Yes, you read that right.
Through Sonos, each stereo can access music on your computer, MP3 player, online music subscription, or Internet radio station.
You can operate the system on your Apple iPhone or iPod Touch.
Type the name of a radio host into the controller and you'll hook up to that show on the next available radio station.
"You can't imagine how many of my friends are amazed," Sonnenfeld writes.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Obama poster lands street artist in Smithsonian

Artist Shepard Fairey stands with his artwork titled, 'Barack Obama,' a mixed media collage, during its unveiling at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009. Fairey's large-scale, mixed-media stenciled collage was the central portrait image for the Obama campaign and was previously distributed as a limited-edition print and as a free download.

US Choice: Put Money in Startups or Big Three

Small upstart Tesla wants to build on the success of its bold electric sports car—the pricey Roadster—by building a tamer sedan for the masses. But to do so, it needs a big infusion of cash from the Obama administration, which is looking to boost clean energy. The situation, notes Devid Welch in BusinessWeek, poses a tricky question for Obama: Are taxpayer dollars best spent on “small startups or big but troubled players inlcuding General Motors and Ford?"

Tesla says it needs $450 million from the Energy Department to put its $50,000 sedan on the road by 2011. To qualify, it must raise millions in matching funds and prove the car is viable. With the Chevy Volt hot on its heels, policymakers will have to decide whether Tesla can survive in a cutthroat market. "Big parts makers typically won't even look at a car that doesn't sell in the tens of thousands," says Welch. So even if Tesla gets aid, the rest of the industry may be leery.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Hudson Hero Is Glider Pilot, Safety Guru, Air Force Vet

The US Airways pilot who saved the lives of his passengers and crew in yesterday’s crash landing was perfectly suited to the job: he’s a certified glider pilot and runs a safety company, the New York Post reports. After an apparent bird strike disabled the plane’s engines, the aircraft essentially became a glider, which Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenburger III guided into the Hudson River.

Sullenberger, who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1973, has worked to improve FAA safety rules and advised NASA. His company applies his methods to other industries. Having flown for 4 decades, “he's about performing that airplane to the exact precision to which it is made,” said his wife. Even in light of Sullenberger’s background, yesterday’s landing was “nothing short of incredible,” said another US Airways pilot.

Eyes, Brain Make Cards' Fitzgerald Quite the Catch

More than height, speed, or jumping ability, highly developed eyesight and an extraordinary internal computer make Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald a top-tier NFL receiver, a scientist tells the Wall Street Journal. Fitzgerald’s optometrist grandfather put him through drills to improve his “visual dominance,” enabling him to take a snapshot of the ball in flight despite distractions; Fitzgerald’s “predictive control” helps him meet the ball at the perfect spot for a catch.

The result? In some photos, Fitzgerald can be seen catching with his eyes closed. Fitzgerald, whose Cardinals host Philadelphia on Sunday for a chance to go to the Super Bowl, calls it “second nature.” Says his coach, “I don’t know how he makes those catches, but there’s no doubt Larry has an ability to catch a ball that is special.”

YouTube Comes to TV— Through PlayStation 3, Wii

YouTube has come to the boob tube—clips from the video website can be watched on a conventional TV using either Sony or Nintendo’s current video-game consoles, PC World reports. Using the web browser built into the PlayStation 3 or Wii consoles, viewers can access a streamlined version of YouTube via www.youtube.com/tv (only available through a console browser).

YouTube seems to be embracing the Netflix strategy of expanding its services beyond the traditional web. Microsoft gamers will note that the Xbox 360 console is conspicuously absent from the YouTube TV deal—but may console themselves with their exclusive (for gaming systems) access to Netflix’s online service.

Inauguration Announcer Been at Mic Since Ike

Charlie Brotman, the octogenarian MC stationed closest to the presidential reviewing stand during Tuesday’s Inaugural Parade, has had a front-row seat to history since 1957, when he was chosen to announce President Eisenhower’s, USA Today reports. Brotman expects Barack Obama’s inauguration will be the most spectacular ever. “All of the country wants a piece of this,” he said.

“The president’s overall personality is reflected in the kind of parade,” Brotman notes—Eisenhower’s was a sober, military-style procession, and Presidents Kennedy and Reagan brought Hollywood glamor. Brotman’s planning a trivia game to distract Tuesday’s audience from the cold. “It’s as though these people are coming over to my house,” he said. “I want them to have a nice time and a good memory.”

NY Crash Is Sign That Bird Strikes Are Soaring

Yesterday’s US Airways crash is just the most high-profile illustration of the growing problem of bird strikes, Time reports. Such run-ins quadrupled from 1,759 in 1990 to 7,666 in 2007. The problem, ironically, may be improving technology: Most jets now have two engines rather than four, leaving them with fewer backups in a strike—and they’re quieter, giving birds less warning.

Air traffic and bird populations have also grown, and habitat destruction has made migratory patterns less predictable. Some airports are planting vegetation distasteful to birds, hiring teams to scare them off, releasing birds of prey to scare off gulls and geese, and even bringing in hunters to kill off some populations.

Circuit City to Liquidate US Stores

Circuit City will liquidate all 567 of its US stores after failing to find a buyer or a refinancing deal, the AP reports. The nation's second-biggest electronics retailer employs more than 30,000 people. Calls to the Richmond, Va.-based company and its designated liquidators were not immediately returned. Circuit City filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November and received court permission to liquidate if it couldn't be sold.

Boost's $50 Prepaid Cell Plan Could Trigger Price War

A new prepaid calling plan from Sprint’s Boost may spark a price war in the wireless market, USA Today reports. Boost will offer unlimited calling, texting and web browsing for a flat $50 a month fee. The plan may prove so attractive to cash-strapped wireless customers Boost could start taking customers away from the bigger telecoms—maybe even parent company Sprint.

The pricing plan marks “a new low in the wireless market,” notes an industry analyst. Boost, however, has limitations that could prevent it from competing with the big boys—web browsing is much slower on the old IDEN Nextel network than Sprint’s new 3G, and it does not offer GPS service.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Recession Jolts French Couture, and Psyche

For France, recession isn’t just an economic event, it’s a cultural revolution, the New York Times reports. The country is at once panicking—the layoff of 200 Chanel temporary workers was a major event—and rejoicing. Many are thrilled to see France’s obsession with high-end living come crashing down. “This whole crisis is like a big spring housecleaning,” posits designer Karl Lagerfeld, “both moral and physical.”

“Bling is over,” adds Lagerfeld, noting an era of “new modesty.” One prestige jewelry maker has suggested the luxury business slash prices, but some French intellectuals want something more extreme: a return to France’s traditional, balanced, conservative way of life. Luxury goods “represent waste, the superficial, the inequality of wealth,” said one sociologist. “They have no need to exist.”

Both Pilots Did 'Superb' Job With Little Training

So how much training do pilots get on how to land on the water? Almost none, writes pilot Patrick Smith, who shelves his regular Salon column this week to offer insights on the Hudson crash-landing. Among them:

Pilots can read up on how to perform these so-called "ditchings," but they don't come up much in simulators because they're so rare.
They were two pilots on board, and both deserve credit for a "suberb" job. "They were able to maintain control and, it seems, hit the water at as slow a speed as possible. Had they hit too hard and broken apart, we'd be looking for bodies."
Luck helped: If this were at night, in bad weather, or in even a slightly different location, it could have been catastrophic.
Smith won't be "terribly surprised" if a birdstrike did, in fact, cause this. They're common and usually harmless. "We were due, perhaps."
This should only reaffirm how safe flying is. Two full years since the last commercial fatality, and seven since the last large-scale crash. Both records.
Passengers, stop zoning out during those pre-flight safety drills.

Firms Choose Pay Cuts Over Layoffs

Employers increasingly are opting to cut salaries rather than staff as they tighten budgets, a plan that helps keep them ready to respond to an economic rebound but could hurt morale, reports the Los Angeles Times. Companies also are looking to trim operating costs by eliminating bonuses, requiring employees to take unpaid leave, and slashing other benefits.

FedEx last week trimmed salaries 5% for 36,000 workers, truckers at YRC Worldwide accepted a 10% cut, and non-union workers at media giant Gannett are being told to take an unpaid week of vacation in the first quarter. "Companies would rather cut jobs than cut pay," said a consultant. "If a company is cutting wages, that's a sure sign of recession."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bummer Economy? Move Home!

A bleak job market and skyrocketing rents have college grads—even working adults—boomeranging back to their childhood homes, something that's fast losing its social stigma, the Boston Globe reports. About half of adults ages 18 and 24 live with their parents.

One woman, who didn't leave the nest till she got married at 34, wanted her kids to "experience the real world." But when loan payments came due, they moved back in. She charges her 23-year-old daughter $300 for rent, food, and amenities, which some experts say is a good idea. Utility bills have ballooned, privacy is nonexistent, and the kids have lost some independence, but she's still happy to have them home.

Drivers Learning to Love Older Cars

Thanks to the ongoing recession, drivers accustomed to trading in their vehicles often are warming to the idea of a longer covenant with their cars, the Wall Street Journal reports. While the concept might puzzle the less well-heeled, “the 3-year ownership mentality has crumbled,” one insider said. And that means—gasp!—checking oil and tire pressure and spending more on maintenance.

“There are so many little things that can go wrong,” one driver said of the vagaries of long-term ownership, like surprise $250 headlight repairs and other mundane, yet expensive, fixes. Still, the cost of keeping an older car, even with maintenance, is often cheaper than new car payments. Still, “I really miss having the latest gadgets,” said one reluctant old-car owner.

Chinese Web Surfers Embrace Facebook Clone

Since its March introduction, Facekoo has drawn 350,000 users and is one of the fastest-expanding social-networking sites in China, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. And, says its Hong Kong-born, Berkeley-educated founder, that’s because it fills a void left by Western sites whose mere translations to Chinese miss all kinds of cultural differences. “You have to respect the local user,” Calvin Pak says.

While “face” is one of the first English words Chinese learn to spell, and “koo” means “cool,” the Facebook sound-alike was designed in its language and function to match the Chinese approach to the web. Facekoo offers a virtual world in which young people can interact playfully and choose imaginary careers. “It’s a tool for people to hang out with friends, in a silly way, with no pressure,” explained Pak.

Shelters Hold Pet Free-for-All Jan. 24

Pet shelters across the nation are urging Americans to get on the Obama bandwagon and adopt a pet; as an added incentive, they're dropping regular fee for the first 10 adoptions at each of 300 participating shelters Jan. 24, USA Today reports. Fees for the 3,000 pets will be picked up by Hill's Pet Nutrition, which organized the event.

Shelter workers note that dropping fees doesn't mean they're bypassing screening to make sure pets don't end up in the hands of people who won't or can't take care of them. The number of pets in shelters—usually about 8 million a year—is rising as animals are victims of home foreclosures and tight budgets.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lose Sleep, Catch a Cold

Mom was right: get a good night's sleep. Researchers have discovered a direct link between lack of sleep and vulnerability to disease, Reuters reports. Study volunteers who slept less than seven hours a night for just two weeks were three times more likely to come down with cold symptoms after being exposed to a virus.

"This is the first evidence that even relatively minor sleep disturbances can influence the body's reaction to cold viruses," said a research scientist. It's "yet another reason why people should make time in their schedules to get a complete night of rest."

CEO Axings Up

Americans are losing their jobs at the fastest rate in many years and chief executives are far from immune, reports the Wall Street Journal. Six publicly held firms have chucked their CEOs in the last 8 days alone. Many others—including big names like GM's Rick Wagoner, Vikram Pandit of Citigroup, Steve Odland of Office Depot, and Ken Lewis of Bank of America—may soon be getting pink slips as their firms struggle with poor results and slumping share prices.

CEO turnover "doubles in bad times," said one analyst who examined years of data, and the exec job losses multiply as new bosses ditch the old chief's lieutenants to bring in their own team. A fresh figurehead tends to worsen rather than reverse share price declines, Journal figures show, a trend experts blame on new bosses having to make tough decisions before they have fully grasped the business.

Monday, January 12, 2009

China Upstart's Electric Car Plugs Into West

BYD, a Chinese company known mostly as a cell-phone battery manufacturer, plans to enter the Western auto market with an electric car that could short-circuit entries from Detroit’s Big Three and others, the Wall Street Journal reports. BYD hopes the relative engineering simplicity of an all-electric design will grant a leveled playing field against giants like General Motors and Toyota.

BYD’s model, called the F3DM, is powered entirely by battery and can be charged with a wall outlet. BYD’s ample supply of cheap labor and research will enable it to price the car at around $22,000—almost half of what GM will ask for its electric Volt. Concerns remain, however, regarding battery safety.

In Tough Times, America Relearns Thrift

Staring down a recession, Americans are turning tail and running to their nearest shoe repair shop, reports the Christian Science Monitor, in a look at the reversal of the United States' "throwaway" society. Thrift stores and repair shops are doing brisk business while their retail counterparts languish, or even close their doors. Nearly three-quarters of secondhand stores in the US report an uptick in sales compared with last year.

Items once thought disposable, like shoes and computers, are making their way to repair shops. And used appears to be the new black. While environmental do-gooders and the poor haven’t forgotten thrift, the rest of consumer society will find the practice awkward. “Unfortunately, part of this is probably a lost art,” one frugality expert said. “It can be a tough sell, unless you have to do it—which is what's happened.”

Sunday, January 11, 2009

First woman to lead inaugural national prayer service

Rev. Sharon Watkins will deliver the sermon at the traditional National Prayer Service on January 21 — a day after Barack Obama is sworn in as president, the Presidential Inaugural Committee announced Sunday.

Watkins — the general minister and president of the 700,000-member Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) — will be the first woman to deliver the sermon at the traditional inaugural event, which takes place at the National Cathedral in northwest Washington, D.C.

"I am truly honored to speak at this historic occasion. … I hope that my message will call us to believe in something bigger than ourselves and remind us to reach out to all of our neighbors to build communities of possibility," she said in a press release.

The National Prayer Service, according to the inaugural committee, is a a tradition dating back to the nation's first president. The service includes prayers and hymns delivered by various religious leaders.

Ledger Snags Golden Globe for Dark Knight

Heath Ledger has won the supporting-actor Golden Globe nearly a year after his death, earning the prize for his diabolical turn as the Joker in the Batman blockbuster The Dark Knight, the AP reports. The robot romance WALL-E won for best animated film today, while Kate Winslet won the supporting-actress Golden Globe for The Reader, in which she plays a former Nazi concentration camp guard in a romantic fling with a teenager.

Sally Hawkins earned the best-actress prize in a musical or comedy as an eternal optimist in Happy-Go-Lucky. Hawkins, a relatively unknown British actress and newcomer to Hollywood's awards scenes, was visibly nervous accepting her prize. "I'll try and get through as much as my voice and nerves and knees will let me," said Hawkins. Bruce Springsteen received the best song prize for the title track to The Wrestler.

Bail Out America's Brains

Building roads and bridges will give our economy a short-term boost—but we need to look farther into America’s future on the global stage, writes Thomas Friedman in the New York Times. That means investing to make sure the next Microsofts and Googles are home-grown. How? For a start, let’s cut teachers’ taxes, raise their salaries, and offer people $5,000 to head back to school.

“Even before the current financial crisis, we were already in a deep competitive hole—a long period in which too many people were making money from money, or money from flipping houses or hamburgers,” Friedman writes. We need people cashing in by “making new stuff,” becoming the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. “Perhaps more bridges can bail us out of a depression, but only more Bills and Steves can bail us into prosperity.

Jobs to Ditch Before the Recession Does It for You

Want to keep your job this year? Steer clear of these professions, which a new study says will be hard-hit by the recession, Australia's News Network reports:

Car salesperson
Real estate agent
Investment banker
Prawn fisherman
If you’re hoping to stay employed, consider one of the following career paths:

Child care worker
Nursing home staffer
Community health care provider

Saturday, January 10, 2009

US on 'Collision Course' With Health Care Costs

No matter what reforms are hammered out in America's upcoming health care debates, costs are going to keep rising—and that’s a sign of success, David Brown writes in the Washington Post. Medical treatments are improving for dozens of ailments, and so far Americans are willing to pay. But "we are on a collision course between our wish to live longer, healthier lives, and our capacity to pay for that wish," writes Brown.

Throughout history, humans have worked mostly to pay for food, but that era is over in countries like the US, where the average person spends less than 10% of income on eating—and 16% on health care. “Health care is the new food,” Brown writes. "We'll cut corners" to pay for it, he says. "We'll complain. And then we'll find other corners to cut and reluctantly pay still more."

America's 20 Smartest Small Towns

America's brainiest small towns boast high property values and high culture. Forbes lists the nation's smartest:

Bethesda, Md.: Nearby Georgetown and the National Institute of Health draw brainy folk to Bethesda, which has a rate of advanced degrees five times higher than the nation's.
Wellesley, Mass.: Home to two private colleges and some of the state's top high schools, Wellesley is just 13 miles from brainy Boston.
Palo Alto, Calif.: Palo Alto's scholarly folk, drawn by Stanford University, maintain a median income here of $119,000.
McLean, Va.: Many officials and politicians are drawn here from nearby intellectual powerhouse cities Washington, DC, and Bethesda, Md.
Los Altos, Calif.: Pulls in some of Stanford's tenure-track faculty and probably has even higher property values than Palo Alto.

Obama Vows to Create Private Sector Jobs

Barack Obama today tried to curtail criticism that his stimulus will grossly expand the public workforce, the Washington Post reports. Some 90% of the jobs that the plan intends to create will be in the private sector, many of them in the green-energy industry, he promised in his weekly radio address. “And they’ll be the kind of jobs that won’t just put people to work in the short term,” he added, “but position our economy to lead the world in the long term.”

The address coincided with a report from his economic team, which estimated that a $775 billion stimulus would boost economic growth by 3.7% by the end of next year, creating or saving up to 4.1 million jobs. But that would still leave the unemployment rate at about 7%, the report says, a tiny improvement from the 7.2% the Labor Department reported yesterday.

Digital Polaroid Doesn't Have Same Charm

Polaroid may be out of the film business, but it's trying to reclaim its place in the market of instant photos. With the goal of winning back the hearts of nostalgic point-and-shooters, Polaroid has unveiled the diminutive PoGo, combining a standard digital camera with an onboard, ink-free printer. But FastCompany’s Cliff Kuang says the $200 PoGo falls short of recapturing the original Polaroid magic.

"Instant printing is here to stay, but I doubt the Pogo camera will catch on for a simple reason: The original Polaroids were alluring because you never knew what you were going to get when the picture finally appeared. And if there's anything that the digital camera has eliminated, it's unpredictability," writes Kuang. "That was the biggest draw of a Polaroid; with digital pictures, there's no anxious curiosity pushing you towards the extra step of printing."