Saturday, February 28, 2009

$25 Billion to Promote Electric Cars Is Untouched

Published: February 26, 2009

WASHINGTON — The future of the American auto industry is getting off to a slow start.

The Energy Department has $25 billion to make loans to hasten the arrival of the next generation of automotive technology — electric-powered cars. But no money has been allocated so far, even though the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan program, established in 2007, has received applications from 75 companies, including start-ups as well as the three Detroit automakers.

With General Motors and Chrysler making repeat visits to Washington to ask for bailout money to stave off insolvency, some members of Congress are starting to ask why the Energy Department money is not flowing yet. The loans also are intended to help fulfill President Obama’s campaign promise of putting one million electric cars on American roads by 2015.

“Politicians are breaking down the door asking why the money isn’t being sent out,” said Michael Carr, counsel to the Senate Energy Committee, which oversees the Energy Department.

It is a question that Lachlan W. Seward, director of the program, says he hears a lot these days. “We’re moving with a sense of urgency,” said Mr. Seward, who also oversaw the Chrysler Loan Guarantee Board from 1981 to 1984. “But at the same time we are trying to do this in a responsible way that reflects prudent credit policy and taxpayer protections.”

Energy Department staff members said they were still sifting through loan applications, dozens of which arrived on the filing deadline of Dec. 31. On top of that, another $2 billion is coming to the department from the $787 billion stimulus package. That money will be used to develop the advanced battery technology needed to power electric cars, batteries more durable, safer and cheaper than anything available today.

Until now, the program has gotten caught in the shifting priorities of two administrations. The program was not funded until September 2008. Then, the Bush administration considered using the Energy Department fund to help bail out G.M. and Chrysler, an idea that was later rejected. After that, President Obama had to name a new cabinet. As soon as Steven Chu took office as energy secretary, some members of Congress started applying pressure on the fund.

Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, wrote Secretary Chu on Jan. 23, two days after he was sworn in, to say the agency is “under an obligation to issue the loans as soon as possible.”

Senators Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, who have led a bipartisan effort to increase fuel-mileage standards, followed with a letter calling for an “aggressive timeline” in issuing loans.

In response, Dr. Chu announced last week that the first loans would be made by late April or early May, adding that the program’s paperwork would be simplified and more staff would be hired.

There are complicating factors. Money can be given only to companies and projects that are deemed “financially viable.” G.M. and Chrysler, which have applied for a combined $13 billion from the Energy Department, must wait until the end of March for the Obama administration to decide whether the companies’ restructuring plans would make them viable.

The program’s small staff — around a dozen part- and full-time employees — must also sort through complicated proposals, up to 1,000 pages long. Many of the applicants have lined up members of Congress to pressure the department. Meanwhile, smaller companies say they fear the bulk of the money will be directed to the Detroit automakers.

Still, with credit markets tight, the program represents a rare source of financing to develop electric-vehicle technology.

“No one else out there will take on this risk,” said Mr. Seward. “It reminds me of the time at the dawn of the auto age when you had hundreds of companies making hundreds of kinds of cars and then they all coalesced. We are back in that era of invention again.”

The Energy Department has whittled the initial 75 loan applications, which seek a total $38 billion, down to 25 for a second round of reviews. General Motors is requesting $8.3 billion, earmarking a portion for the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid. Ford Motor is asking for $5 billion for a variety of electric car retooling programs and Chrysler, a unit of Cerberus Capital Management, is asking for around $5 billion. Even Nissan said it has submitted an application for one of its American plants that meet the program’s criteria.

Other applications are coming from battery developers. A123 Systems has asked for $1.8 billion to build a next-generation battery plant in Detroit, and Ener1, a maker of lithium-ion batteries, is asking for $480 million.

“Failure is not an option,” said Charles Gassenheimer, chief executive of Ener1. “We are confident we would build batteries without government help. But government help is necessary to launching the business in a mass way in the United States.”

Japan, Korea and China are currently the leaders in producing the batteries used in cellphones, computers and other portable electronics.

Advanced Mechanical Products, a Cincinnati company that converts Saturn Sky sports cars into electric vehicles, has asked for a $20 million loan. Stephen Burns, the company’s chief executive, even dropped off his application by driving one of the all-electric cars to the agency and giving members of Congress a ride.

“Getting the money would be a big step for us,” said Mr. Burns. “We can function without it. But with it, we’d be on steroids.”

Courtesy of The New York Times

Stripper Putting Herself Through Life

An ambitious Meyer says exotic dancing is just a "for right now until death sort of thing."

JUPITER, FL—Nina Meyer, a young, strong-willed exotic dancer at the Klassy Dolls Gentleman's Club, informed patrons Monday that she only plans to perform nude for as long as it takes to get through the remainder of her existence on earth.

"Look, I'm not gonna be a stripper forever," Meyer said while administering one more in an endless series of lapdances. "You better believe I'll be out of here the minute I either die or become so old that no man will pay to see me naked."

"I've got dreams a lot bigger than this dump," Meyer continued. "I'm only doing this because there's no way I'll ever come close to achieving those dreams."

Meyer, 24, accepted her current position three months ago to "pick up a little extra cash" for food, clothing, and shelter. She told reporters that stripping allows her the freedom to barely chip away at her enormous debt while still being able to save absolutely nothing for the future.

"The hours are flexible, and the money's pretty good for a girl trying to pay for the basic necessities required to continue breathing," Meyer said. "Trust me, I know better than anyone how demeaning this job can be, but I also know it's just a means to an end."

"Specifically, the end of my fleeting youth and my ability to trust anyone ever again," Meyer added.

Though Meyer has to contend with constant harassment from her disgusting boss, and borderline sexual assault from drunken or obsessed patrons, she remains certain that, due to the nature of mortality, she'll eventually be able to put her stripping days behind her.

"Can you imagine how gross it would be to tell someone that you're a 40-year-old stripper?" Meyer said. "There's no way I'll let that happen to me. That's why I plan to start lying as I get older and say that I'm a waitress or a nurse or something."

In addition to putting herself through a bleak and hopeless existence by cheapening herself nightly, Meyer is also supporting her abusive, unemployed boyfriend, 34-year-old James Keller.

Meyer claimed that much of her money, as well as all of her remaining faith in humanity, will go to Keller just until he gets back on his feet and runs off with another stripper, most likely one of Meyer's close friends.

"I'm just helping Jimmy out until he gets me pregnant and takes off to go live with his mom in Oklahoma," Meyer said. "After we get over that hump, it'll just be me and his bastard kid, who will destroy both any chance I ever had of dating a decent guy, as well as our only source of income: my taut, lean body."

Those who frequent Klassy Dolls have reportedly offered their support for Meyer's life plan. Bo Lewiston, 42, a twice-divorced auto-body shop owner who frequently breaks the nightclub's rules by forcing his hands into Meyer's G-string, said he has no doubt that the beautiful 24-year-old will attain the minimal subsistence-oriented goals she has laid out for herself.

"Nina is a wonderful gal with a great head on her shoulders," Lewiston said while leering dangerously at Meyer. "Hell, if she tries hard enough and develops a meth habit, she could fatally overdose and be out of Klassy Dolls in just a few months."

Courtesy of the ONION

Take Note: Doodling Can Help Memory

By HealthDay - Fri Feb 27, 8:48 PM PST

- FRIDAY, Feb. 27 (HealthDay News) -- You might look like you're not paying attention when you doodle, but science says otherwise.

Researchers in the United Kingdom found that test subjects who doodled while listening to a recorded message had a 29 percent better recall of the message's details than those who didn't doodle. The findings were published in Applied Cognitive Psychology.

"If someone is doing a boring task, like listening to a dull telephone conversation, they may start to daydream," study researcher Professor Jackie Andrade, of the School of Psychology at the University of Plymouth, said in a news release issued by the journal's publisher. "Daydreaming distracts them from the task, resulting in poorer performance. A simple task, like doodling, may be sufficient to stop daydreaming without affecting performance on the main task."

For the experiment, a two-and-a-half minute listing of several people's names and places was played for test subjects, who were charged with writing down only the names of the people said to be attending a party. During the recording, half the participants were asked to simultaneously shade in shapes on a piece of paper without attention to neatness. Participants were not told they were taking part in a memory test.

When the recording ended, all were asked for the eight names of those attending the party as well as eight place names mentioned in the audio. Those asked to doodle wrote down, on average, 7.5 names and places, while those who didn't doodle listed only 5.8.

"In psychology, tests of memory or attention will often use a second task to selectively block a particular mental process," Andrade said. "If that process is important for the main cognitive task, then performance will be impaired. My research shows that beneficial effects of secondary tasks, such as doodling, on concentration may offset the effects of selective blockade."

In everyday life, Andrade said, doodling "may be something we do because it helps to keep us on track with a boring task, rather than being an unnecessary distraction that we should try to resist doing."

More information

The AARP has more about memory.

Courtesy of Yahoo! Health

Friday, February 27, 2009


Courtesy of Giles Bowkett

Inside the Tamms super-max prison

Situated amid rolling hills and farms in the southern tip of Illinois, Tamms Correctional Center, the state's only "super-max" prison, was built during the get-tough-on-crime wave that swept the nation in the 1990s. It was designed to house the state's most dangerous inmates.

Conditions are harsh—and meant to be. For at least 23 hours a day, prisoners sit in solitary confinement in 7-by-12-foot cells. There is no mess hall—meals are shoved through a chuckhole in cell doors. Contact with the outside world is sharply restricted. For a rare visit from relatives or friends, inmates are strip-searched, chained to a concrete stool and separated from visitors by a thick glass wall. There are no jobs and limited educational opportunities.

For the first time in years, the Illinois Department of Corrections opened up this closed world to a Tribune reporter and photographer, allowing them a glimpse at life for its 245 inmates. Read the story about their visit.

Tamms supermax

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
Tamms inmate Joseph Dole, serving a life sentence for murder, sits in his cell and talks with a reporter through dime-size holes in the metal cell door. Some critics compare the conditions inside the super maximum-security prison in Tamms, Ill., to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Corrections officials say the prison is necessary to house the worst of the worst and contend that it has reduced assaults against inmates and staff at the state's other prisons.

Returning to his cell

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
Two Tamms correctional officers remove inmate Damien Terry's shackles before placing him back in his cell. Inmate movement is severely limited at Tamms. Prisoners are always handcuffed and shackled and escorted by guards whenever they're moved to other areas of the prison.

Tamms cells

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
Tamms inmate Damien Terry (bottom left) looks out from his cell in J-Pod. A typical pod consists of six wings with 10 cells in each wing. Unlike other state prisons, inmates at Tamms are housed one per cell.

Tamms prison

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
The names of some of the inmates housed in J-Pod at the Tamms super-max prison are written on an erasable board near the entrance. Opened in 1998, the prison has only operated at about 50 percent capacity. Correctional officials say this shows they are very selective about who they send to the prison. Critics say the prison was overbuilt and is too costly.

Secure passage

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
Yolande Johnson, the acting warden at Tamms, waits for a security door to close behind her before the next one can be opened. Every person must pass through 12 locked doors before they reach the inmate pods.

The line

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
Correctional officers make their rounds in a wing at the Tamms super-max prison. Unlike many other prisons, the corridors are largely empty at Tamms because inmates are locked in their cells at least 23 hours a day. The yellow line is the path prisoners must follow to get to and from their cells as they travel to the outdoor walled-in exercise room behind the blue door. Inmates are not allowed to stop and talk to other inmates when they are outside their cells.

Concrete yard

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
Inmates are allowed to exercise alone up to one hour a day in the concrete exercise yard within the prison. Prisoners are not permitted any exercise equipment other than a handball, which they must purchase themselves. A metal roof only partially covers the yard, allowing in rain, snow and sunlight.

Escape proof

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
Yolande Johnson, the acting warden, talks with John Spires, a seriously mentally ill inmate who is housed in a special Tamms treatment unit called J-Pod. Spires, a convicted child rapist who is serving a 240-year sentence, is placed inside a locked escape-proof cell the size of a phone booth to watch television as a reward for good behavior.

Glass cage

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
Tamms inmate John Spires watches a television sitcom from a glass cage the size of a phone booth. Spires wears a green jumpsuit to identify him as an escape risk.

Secure escort

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
Inmate John Spires, handcuffed and shackled, is escorted back to his cell in J-Pod after being allowed to watch television in another secured area.

Seeing the dentist

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
An inmate, his legs in shackles and his hands in cuffs, is treated by a dentist in the health-care unit of the Tamms super-max prison. Guards, not visible, stand nearby.

Costly prison

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
Tamms correctional officers wait for an inmate to finish with the dentist so they can return him to his cell. Extra security at the prison makes it one of the costliest to operate in the state. The average cost is about $64,000 per inmate, almost triple the state average.

Cuffed for transport

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
Lt. Robert DuBois, a correctional officer at Tamms, "cuffs up" an inmate at J-Pod, the prison's mental health unit, before allowing the inmate out of the glass cage.

Exercise cages

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
Sergio Molina, executive assistant to the state prison director, stands in front of locked cages where inmates in the J-Pod unit are allowed to exercise alone for up to an hour a day. Inside each cage is one pull-up bar.

Gang influence

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
Deputy Cmdr. Michael Atchison peers into a cell while visiting the Tamms super-max prison. Atchison, an investigations and intelligence officer, says some of the gang leaders held at Tamms continue trying to exert influence on gang members at other state prisons and on the outside.

Regular rounds

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
As a door closes behind them, correctional officers walk through a pod as they make their rounds. Officers are required to look inside every cell every 30 minutes. There are currently 245 inmates at Tamms super-max prison.

Tyrone Dorn

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
Inmate Tyrone Dorn, who was convicted of carjacking, was sent to Tamms five years ago after a series of prison assaults at another prison. Dorn has not had a family visit or phone call during his time at Tamms. A devout Muslim, Dorn passes the time reading the Quran and playing chess.

Food prep

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
A correctional officer prepares food to be delivered to inmates in their cells. Unlike other state prisons, Tamms does not have a mess hall for inmates.

Food service

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
A correctional officer carries food to inmates in their cells. The meals are delivered through a chuckhole in the inmate's cell door. As a security precaution, all plates and utensils are turned back in after each meal. Some inmates, who say the food is bad, complain that they have lost weight.

Special delivery

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
A correctional officer delivers food to an inmate in a special cell. The metal cell door is covered with a glass panel to prevent an inmate from throwing food and feces at the officer. Food is passed through a metal box affixed to the door.

High security

(Tribune photo by John Smierciak / February 13, 2009)
The fence surrounding the prison is lined with concertina wire. The prison is so secure on the inside that there is no need for guard towers on the perimeter. There has never been a successful escape.

Courtesy of

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Intense gaming prompts new skin disorder

Keeping too tight a grip on game consoles and furiously pushing the buttons can cause a newly identified skin disorder marked by painful lumps on the palms, Swiss scientists say.

Called "PlayStation palmar hidradentitis" by the scientists, the skin disorder can cause painful lesions on the palms, similar to patches found on the soles of children's feet after taking part in heavy physical activity.

"The tight and continuous grasping of the hand-grips, together with repeated pushing of the buttons, produce minor but continuous trauma to the (palm) surfaces," Vincent Piguet and colleagues at University Hospitals and Medical School of Geneva reported in the British Journal of Dermatology.

A spokesman for Sony Corp, which makes the PlayStation, noted the study involved one person and said the company had sold hundreds of millions of the consoles since the product was introduced in 1995.

"As with any leisure pursuit there are possible consequences of not following common sense, health advice and guidelines, as can be found within our instruction manuals," David Wilson said.

"We would not wish to belittle this research, and we will study the findings with interest, but this is the first time we have ever heard of a complaint of this nature."

Excessive gaming is already seen as a public health issue, sparking addictive behaviour that can lead to a range of psychological problems, the researchers said.

Other researchers have identified acute tendinitis from playing too much of Nintendo Co Ltd's Wii, and now a disorder related to the PlayStation can be added to the list, the team said.

Painful lesions

Their study described the case of a 12-year-old girl who attended the Geneva hospital with intensely painful lesions on her hands, which she had developed four weeks earlier.

She had no other lesions anywhere else on her body.

After questioning, the doctors discovered that several days prior to the appearance of the lesions the girl had started to play a game on her PlayStation for several hours each day.

The researchers suspected that grasping the console's hand-grips, together with repeated pushing of the buttons, produced minor but prolonged injury to the palm of the girl's hands, which can be made worse by sweating during a tense game.

The doctors recommended the girl stop playing and she recovered fully after 10 days, the researchers said.

"If you're worried about soreness on your hands when playing a games console, it might be sensible to give your hands a break from time to time, and don't play excessively if your hands are prone to sweating," Nina Goad of the British Association of Dermatologists said in a statement.

- Reuters

Courtesy of ABC News

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

30 workers suspended for Irish joke

LEICESTER, England, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- British telecommunications operator BT Group has drawn criticism after 30 employees were suspended for forwarding a joke that mocked Irish people.

The company said workers at a Leicester, England, call center were suspended after "a complaint was made about a joke which could be offensive to some people," the Daily Mail reported Monday.

Some call center employees said the company's investigation of the incident was a waste of money and a charade to allow the company to fire employees due to the recession without consequences.

"Either BT have no sense of humor whatsoever or the bosses are deliberately trying to get shot of people without having to pay any redundancy money," one worker said. "The joke was sent around the office as a bit of fun. Everyone is worried about their jobs but we all try and cheer each other up."

The joke involved the jumping deaths of three Irishmen: The first leaps with a bird called a budgie, calling the act "budgie-jumping," while the second kills a parrot in an attempt at "parrot-shooting" and the third jumps with a chicken in his hands -- "hen-gliding."

Among the defenders of the suspended employees was the Leicester Irish Society, which said Irish people "are famous for their sense of humor but it appears BT have lost theirs."

"Suspending staff over a little joke is stupid and it would be funny if it wasn't so serious for the people whose jobs are on the line," the group said.

© 2009 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Courtesy of UPI

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Experimental philosophy of others' intentions

Today's ABC Radio National All in the Mind has a fascinating discussion on how we attribute intentions to other people which covers some surprising and counter-intuitive examples of how our understanding of other people's desires are biased by the situation.

There's a great example depicted in this YouTube video which I highly recommend, but essentially the example is this:

A vice president of a large company goes to the CEO and says "We have a new business plan. It will make huge amounts of money for the company, but it will also harm the environment".

The CEO says "I know the plan will harm the environment, but I don't care about that, I'm just interested in making as much money as we possibly can. So let's put the plan into action".

The company starts the plan, and the environment is harmed.

The question is, did the CEO harm the environment intentionally? As it turns out, most people say yes to this question.

Now have a think about this similar scenario.

A vice president of a large company goes to the CEO and says "We have a new business plan. It will make huge amounts of money for the company, but it will also help the environment".

The CEO says "I know the plan will help the environment, but I don't care about that, I'm just interested in making as much money as we possibly can. So let's put the plan into action".

The company starts the plan, and the environment is helped.

The question is the same - did the CEO intentionally help the environment in this case.

Curiously, most people say no. Despite the CEO making the same decision in both cases.

The programme is full of many more fascinating examples of how our judgement of intention is affected by the outcome rather than the decision the person makes.

However, I wonder whether our judgements are clouded by the notion of responsibility rather than purely intention, where we place much greater social weight on responsibility for damaging actions, than beneficial ones.

This area is largely being explored by the new area of 'experimental philosophy' that aims to empirically test our assumptions about traditionally philosophical issues.

Link to AITM on 'The philosophy of good intentions'.


Courtesy of Mind Hacks

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Miley Cyrus has her Twitter account hacked

Miley Cyrus doesn’t care about her fans? If you were following the teen sensation on Twitter Monday you would have gotten that picture.

“I’m not a fucking role model. I hate little kids, I only do Hannah Montanna for da $$$$$$$$$” and “Me and Mandy had sex n Hannah Montanna wigs,” were some of the tweets appearing on Miley’s account.

According to reports, the alleged hack was picked up quickly and the account suspended before more damage could be done.

It could have been worse; the hackers may have started mocking Asians, and maybe some wouldn’t have spotted the intrusion.

Courtesy of The Inquisitr