Friday, April 29, 2011

Article: Will Tablets Spawn New Use Cases?

Will Tablets Spawn New Use Cases?

Will Tablets Spawn New Use Cases?

By Dr. Phil Hendrix Apr. 15, 2011, 10:30am PT

Five years ago, which seems like a lifetime in mobile, as part of a survey for a mobile operator we at Institute for Mobile Markets Research (IMMR) asked consumers to rank applications for which they were likely to use smart phones. Among the options, “program your DVR” was ranked near the bottom of a long list of then nascent applications. When our teenage son recently got a new iPad, imagine my surprise, then, when he discovered on the first day that he could use the iPad to program the DVR in our den. While initially impressed, we were less thrilled when from another part of the house he changed the channels on the TV we were watching.

Anticipating how new technologies will be used, especially new form factors such as tablets, is difficult. As the tablet market grows beyond early adopters, tracking actual and expected uses over time will be important. Data from the recent IMMR tablet study with a national sample (n = 1,014) show how individuals expect to use tablets, which in turn influences the various tablet hardware models and features they are apt to purchase.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Article: Eye-Fi launching new 8GB wireless SD card today, kicking out Direct Mode for iOS and Android next week

Eye-Fi launching new 8GB wireless SD card today, kicking out Direct Mode for iOS and Android next week

Eye-Fi launching new 8GB wireless SD card today, kicking out Direct Mode for iOS and Android next week

By Sean Hollister posted Apr 12th 2011 3:00AM

Article: Judges Who Are Hungry, Fatigued More Likely to Deny Parole

Judges Who Are Hungry, Fatigued More Likely to Deny Parole

Judges Who Are Hungry, Fatigued More Likely to Deny Parole

  • April 12, 20115:00 am PDT

“Hangry,” a portmanteau of “hungry” and “angry,” is defined by the Urban Dictionary as being “when you are so hungry that your lack of food causes you to become angry, frustrated or both.” Anyone who’s missed lunch during a busy day can probably relate—you’re irritable, tired, and scatterbrained, and the last thing you should be doing is making really important decisions. Unfortunately, according to new science, it turns out some judges are working while hangry—otherwise known as having low blood sugar—and people’s lives are being changed irrevocably because of it.

Columbia Business School associate professor Jonathan Levav recently combed through more than 1,100 parole hearings for inmates from four Israeli prisons. Eight judges presided over the hearings in a 10-month time period.

A parole judge’s day consisted of three sections split up by one morning snack break and one break for lunch. The judges could decide when to take their breaks, but they couldn’t decide in what order they’d hear cases, which was determined arbitrarily according to when a prisoner’s lawyer arrived.

Levav discovered that at the beginning of the day, judges paroled prisoners about 65 percent of the time, a number that then gradually dropped to almost zero until a break. After the food break, the judges immediately began paroling prisoners about 65 percent of the time again.

Amazingly, says Levav, the severity of the crime and time already served didn’t sufficiently correlate to the likelihood of parole. Instead, he hypothesizes that tired judges are simply choosing the easiest option: Denying parole.

“The work shows the consequences of mental fatigue on really important decisions even among excellent decision-makers,” Levav told Nature magazine. “It is really troubling and quite jarring—it looks like the law isn’t exactly the law.”

In other words, if you plan on leading a life of crime, it couldn’t hurt to carry a few Snickers bars around, just in case.

Article: New Study Finds Solar Panels Are "Contagious"

New Study Finds Solar Panels Are "Contagious"

New Study Finds Solar Panels Are “Contagious”

  • April 11, 20114:00 pm PDT

imgimgimgimgsolar, pv, solar contagious, solar adoption, photovoltaics, behavior,

Article: That AP Class You Took Might Have Been a Fraud

That AP Class You Took Might Have Been a Fraud

That AP Class You Took Might Have Been a Fraud

  • April 27, 20117:30 am PDT


Monday, April 25, 2011

DIY: how to make a digital film cassette - Photofacts

DIY: how to make a digital film cassette | Apr 23rd 2011 11:42 PM

Last week we wrote about a digital film cassette you can buy from an Etsy user. In the comments Vincent posted a link to a DIY tutorial to make your own. Inspired by the idea I bought myself a compact USB stick and decided to try it myself. Here you can find my own step-by-step tutorial on how to make your own USB film cassette!

The main reason for trying it myself was the offered capacity of the USB devices. 2 or 4 gigabyte is hardly enough nowadays. Why not make it a 16 gigabyte USB drive? USB Sticks are cheap, you can get a compact Sandisk USB stick for less than 20 Euros (or dollars). I opted for a 16 gigabyte Sandisk Cruzer Blade.

An important aspect to look at when buying a USB stick for this purpose is of course its physical size. It has to fit in a film cassette and therefore it has to be small. The Sandisk Cruzer Blade is just that; very small. I could even have been a bit longer, but it worked out just fine.

I found some old films lying around at home. Among them was an old Ilford black and white film. As the film cassette is something you'll be looking at and showing to others I decided to use this one; it has the best looks.

How To

Below you'll find the steps I did to create my own digital USB film cassette. To be honest, I did ruin two cassettes before I was happy with the end result. So don't start out with your best looking film cassette, but practice first on some other cassettes.

What you need
- Film cassette
- Compact USB stick (like the Sandisk Cruzer Blade)
- Corkscrew or bottle opener
- A pair of pliers
- A pair of scissors
- black tape

Step 1; remove the bottom
The first step is to remove the bottom of the cassette. The bottom is a metal plate that is clamped to the cassette. You can remove it by using the point of the corkscrew to gently pull the edges of the bottom plate. Pull several times on different locations to remove it without damaging it.

As soon as you've removed the bottom you can press on the top part that is sticking out. This way you're pushing all of the contents of the film cassette out. You'll be left with an empty shell. Keep the other parts too, you'll need them later.

Step 2; widen the hole
This is the most tricky part of the process. The hole that is left on the top of the cassette isn't big enough to fit an USB connector through it. You'll have to widen it, but be careful not to damage the rest of the top plate.

I've used a pair of pliers to do this. Make sure that it doesn't make a gap that is too big. Ideally it would be as thick as the USB connector is. Put the pair of pliers in the hole and gently create a gap without damaging the rest. It's wise to make a small gap on both sides so the USB drive will end up nicely in the middle.

Step 3; tape up the USB drive
The Sandisk USB drive I've used is black with red details. When you finish up the digital cassette, you'll notice the red parts when you look into the hole at the top of the cassette. Although not necessary, I'd recommend to do something about this.

A simple solution is to use black tape to hide the red parts with. When you use black, you won't notice the USB drive that embed into the cassette. If you already have an USB drive that has a dark color, you can skip this step.

Step 4; putting it back
Insert the USB drive into the gap you've made by entering it through the open bottom end. Make sure there is enough of the USB connection part sticking out of the film cassette. You'll want to be able to use the drive also.

Remove the film from the plastic reel. You can use the film to make sure the USB drive will stay in its place. Wrap the film tightly around your finger and then put it back into the canister. If you want you can leave the start of the film out, it will be just like an unused film.

Step 5; putting the bottom back
When you've got everything back into the cassette, you can close it up. To finish it off, you can fill up the empty bit below the USB drive with the end of the reel.

Using a pair of scissors you can cut up the reel. Put it into the cassette and lock it with the metal bottom. It might take some work to get the bottom back on perfectly.

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Wanted: A Practical Laptop Pedestal

Wanted: A Practical Laptop Pedestal

by BY Chris Danne,
April 20th 2011

If the sight of anything flat-packed makes your skin crawl, then you've definitely been the victim of at least one heavier-than-it-looks Ikea bookshelf. But fear not, genteel reader: the A-stand arrives looking like a model car (Ages 4+, we'd say) not a masochistic Sunday afternoon. Made from standard-sized PVC piping and joints, the A-Stand is rugged, practical, and light: perfect for those rough-and-tumble office rats who care secretly about ergonomics. It's so simple, in fact, it'll make you wonder why it took some Danish guy with a PhD to design it. And why it's $70. But hush--it's European. Comes in black, white, and (our favorite) yellow.

Available now from for DKK 400 ($70 USD).

Want more WANTED?

Follow FastCompany on Twitter @fastcompany or the author @chrisdannen.

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Use Plasti Dip to Fix Stripped Headphone Wires [Clever Uses]

Use Plasti Dip to Fix Stripped Headphone Wires

by Alan Henry,
April 24th 2011

There's no reason to say goodbye to a good pair of headphones just because the wires are starting to separate from the headphone casing. With a dash of Plasti Dip, a small paintbrush, and a little time, you can seal up your headphone cables like new.

Good headphones don't have to go in the trash just because the headphone cables have started to detach from the headphone body. You also don't have to resort to the old "wrap it up with electrical tape" trick, which may shield the cables but it doesn't actually solve the problem.

Over at Instructables, all it takes to save a good pair of headphones is a can of Plasti Dip, and a little time, and you can re-seal stripped headphone wires with a firm seal that won't break again anytime soon.

Just pour the Plasti Dip into a plastic cup or Tupperware container, and either submerge the part of your headphone wires that's stripped, or use a small paintbrush to brush the liquid plastic around the area where the cable has started to pull away from the headphone assembly and reveal the wire beneath. Smooth it out with a toothpick, and let dry. Re-apply as many coats you think you need.

After a few coats, you should have a thick plastic seal that looks and feels the way your headphones did when they were new. If your headphones are cheaper than the can of Plasti Dip, it may not be worth it, but if you have a particularly nice pair or a pair that you really like, this could be the way to save them if you'd rather repair them. Photo by StumpChunkman.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

No, iPhone location tracking isn't harmless and here's why • The Register

No, iPhone location tracking isn't harmless and here's why

by Dan Goodin,
April 22nd 2011 12:51 AM

Analysis It didn't take long for the blogosphere to pooh pooh research presented on Wednesday that detailed a file in Apple iPhones and iPads unknown to the vast majority of its users that stored a long list of their time-stamped locations, sometimes with alarming detail.

On Thursday, a forensics expert who sells software to law enforcement agencies gave a first-hand account why scrutiny of the location-tracking database is crucial. We'll get to that in a moment. But first, let's take a sampling of the rampant naysaying.

The most common criticism was that the contents of the SQLite file, which is stored on the phone and on any computer backups, were wildly imprecise. Blogger and web developer Will Clarke, for instance, used the researchers' freely available software to map the coordinates gathered by his own iPhone during a recent round-trip bike tour he took from Philadelphia to New Jersey. When he compared the results to the actual route, he found that “almost all the points were way off.”

In an interview with The Reg, he said some of the points on the resulting map were as much as 3,000 meters, or almost two miles, away from his true location.

“The data that is exposed basically reveals which city you were in at a given time,” he concluded in a post that called the research “sensational.” “Nothing more specific than that. It can't tell what house you live in, it can't tell what route you jog on, nothing like that.”

He went on to conclude: “Apple is not storing the device's location, it's storing the location of the towers that the device is communicating with.”

Software analyst David “Lefty” Schlesinger found similar inaccuracies when he used the database contents of his iPhone to plot a train ride he took in July from Amsterdam to Den Haag, about 60 kilometers away. He also found that the iPhone file showed he was in Santa Cruz, California, on Christmas Day and traveled as much as 80 miles, when in fact he stayed in the state's Central Valley, some 130 miles away, the entire day.

Like several other bloggers, he also noted huge inconsistencies in the time intervals that locations were logged. Sometimes iPhones and iPads went days without updating the database, and on one occasion went almost two weeks.

The critics make a valid point that the data stored in the consolidated.db file hardly contains a historical record of a user's real-time comings and goings, or a user's every move, as incorrectly suggested in initial coverage from The Register and many other news sites. Researchers Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan readily acknowledge that they have yet to figure out what triggers iDevices to log location details, but it's not unusual for hours or even weeks to occasionally pass between entries.

They said they have noted one or two grossly inaccurate locations logged in the database. One region that seems to regularly pop up in files stored on multiple phones is an area just outside of Las Vegas. Allan said the database extracted from his iPhone and the iPhones of several people he knows logged that Nevada city even though none of the owners were anywhere near it on the date indicated in the corresponding timestamp.

Las Vegas also incorrectly showed up on the iPhones of Clarke and a co-worker of his, suggesting the iOS code that logs locations may be buggy.

“We both have the exact same data point in Vegas, and neither of us have been,” he said.

Warden and Allan said their reverse engineering exercise made it impossible to learn the precise way the logging works, but they insist the conclusion of their research is still correct: The contents of the consolidated.db file stored on every iDevice and on any computer containing a backup of its data contains a “scary amount of detail on our movements.”

“By inspecting it, I can tell what part of downtown San Francisco I'm in, I can see that I'm in a particular neighborhood,” Warden said.

Added Allan: “It's a bit above block level, but it can certainly tell that I'm in north east Manhattan, or south east Manhattan.”

They said the precise latitude and longitude plotted on a map is accurate to about 500 meters in areas where there are many cellphone nodes and as much as 4 kilometers with fewer nodes.

“It really does seem to be dependent on how good your cell coverage is,” Allan said. “If you're in a big city like downtown San Francisco, the positioning is going to be much better. If you're in the middle of London, the positioning is going to be much better. If you're in a rural or semi-rural area, your positions are going to be much rougher.”

They also refuted Clarke's assertion that the latitude and longitude coordinates logged in the database referred to the position of cell towers rather than the Apple devices themselves. Some of the extracted databases they examined plotted literally thousands of unique coordinates in a small part of a single city. It's almost impossible that there could be that many corresponding nodes in such a confined area, they said.

What's more, the geographic locations of cell towers is usually kept secret by the carriers who own them, and there's no clear way an iPhone would be able to detect its longitude and latitude anyway.

“Our current stance is that this is the position of the device,” Allan said. “There has to be now or very soon a big public debate about location data and privacy. This (research) might be something that helps kick that debate off.”

Next page: Cops already tapping consolidated.db predecessor

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VMware disrupts with open source PaaS play

VMware disrupts with open source PaaS play

by Robert Scoble View,
April 13th 2011

Yesterday I attended VMware’s Cloud Foundry announcements. More on those announcements over at Techmeme. If you’re a developer it’ll be hard to miss what VMware’s doing here. It’s very significant and means a lot to a group of companies, from Amazon, Google, Microsoft on one side and Rackspace and Salesforce on another. We’re all trying to figure out what it means for us, because they now are hosting apps (new competition for Rackspace, which is where I work!)

I’m excited by what VMware’s doing. Why? Because it’s open source. Listen to VMware co-president Tod Nielsen, who tells me what it means.

See Video:

Yes, we’re seeing new competiton, but we expected that when we released our cloud stack to open source (we knew we were empowering our competitors with our own code. How scary!) So, how will Rackspace compete? On service. See, most companies don’t have geeks who know what node.js is. They’ll need a partner to help them get their businesses online and up to date. The hosting and app platforms are quickly turning into commodities so service is one of the areas that will really matter.

Thanks to VMware for inviting me over yesterday, quite interesting announcements!

The rest of this article is reprinted with permission from Rackspace’s Building43:

This week, VMware introduced a major new PaaS called Cloud Foundry. The project is available as open source software, and it provides a platform for building, deploying and running cloud apps.

“The value proposition for Cloud Foundry is it’s the first real open PaaS, or platform as a service,” explains Tod Nielsen, Co-President of the Application Platform Group at VMware. “And by open we mean we’re going to support multiple frameworks—be it Ruby, Java, Node.js—we’re going to support a whole set of services as well as any cloud. By any cloud, we’re actually going to offer to host a service ourselves, we’re going to work with folks like Rackspace and allow you to offer Cloud Foundry as a service that you’ll provide, and there’ll be a behind the firewall version that enterprises can run in their private cloud. Then we have something we call the Micro Cloud, which instantiates Cloud Foundry onto your lap top so developers can write code themselves, and then they can push to whichever cloud option they choose.”

Because the project is open source, it does not restrict developer choices of frameworks, application infrastructure services and deployment clouds. “The challenge with the cloud today…” says Nielsen, “is it feels like the Hotel California—you get into one cloud and then you get trapped and you can’t get out. If the industry is really going to let this paradigm take it to the next level, it’s got to be open. It’s got to provide the flexibility and freedom for developers and corporations to deploy where they want and when they want and move things around as necessary.”

Cloud Foundry aims to allow developers to remove the cost and complexity of configuring infrastructure and runtime environments for their applications and focus on the application logic.

“One of the things that developers complain about today,” explains Nielsen, “is if they’re in a corporation, to actually get an application deployed requires all kinds of work to provision a server, provision a database, provision middleware, make sure it’s all set up, coordinate with the operations team and write IT tickets. We had one developer say, ‘it’s like I spend all my time writing IT tickets’. The value proposition for Cloud Foundry is we want to help you write code, not tickets.”

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Let’s move tweeting off Twitter

Let’s move tweeting off Twitter | Apr 19th 2011

Blogging, emailing and messaging aren’t owned by anybody.  Tweeting is owned by Twitter. That’s a problem.

In all fairness, this probably wasn’t the plan when Twitter’s founders started the service. But that’s where they (and we) are now. Twitter has become de facto infrastructure, and that’s bad, because Twitter is failing.

Getting 20,500,000 Google Image search results for “twitter fail” paints a picture that should be convincing enough. (See Danny Sullivan‘s comment below for a correct caveat about this metric.) Twitter’s own search results for “hourly usage limit”+wtf wraps the case. I posted my own frustrations with this the other day. After Eric Leone recommended that I debug things by going to and turning off anything suspicious, I found the only sure way to trouble-shoot was to turn everything off (there were about twenty other sites/services listed with dependencies on Twitter), and then turn each one back on again, one at a time, to see which one (or ones) were causing the problem. So I turned them all off; and then Twitter made the whole list disappear, so I couldn’t go back and turn any of them on again.

Meanwhile I still get the “hourly usage limit” message, and/or worse:

So Twitter has become borderline-useless for me. Same goes for all the stuff that depended on Twitter that I turned off.

In that same thread Evan Prodromou graciously offered to help set up my own Status.Net server. I’m going for it, soon as I get back from my week here in Santa Barbara.

Meanwhile, I’m also raising a cheer for whatever Dave is doing toward “building a microblog platform without a company in the middle”.

Tweeting without Twitter. I like the sound of that.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Our planet Earth on 21 April, 2011 - Ottawa edition


Our planet Earth on 21 April, 2011 via Living Earth HD

With Schools Turning to the Web for K-12 Education, Quality is a Concern

With Schools Turning to the Web for K-12 Education, Quality is a Concern

by Terrence O'Brien,
April 8th 2011

Online courses have become an accepted fact of college life. But more and more school districts are turning to Web-based learning for lower grade levels, especially as a way for struggling high school students to make up courses they've failed or missed. The online classes aren't only for those who have fallen behind, though. Due to budget constraints, some schools are using them to offer advanced placement classes and expand elective offerings. For example, Reza Namin, the superintendent of schools in Westbrook, Maine, told the New York Times that, while she couldn't justify paying a Chinese language instructor in the face of a $6.5 million budget deficit, she was able to continue offering the course by turning to the online, non-profit Virtual High School Global Consortium.

The increasing reliance on digital education programs has drawn criticism from teachers and unions who claim the shift towards online learning is purely budgetary and an effort to pay fewer teachers' salaries. The argument could gain particular traction in Idaho, where a recent bill raided a fund used to pay educators to purchase laptops for every student in the state. The U.S. Department of Education has also expressed skepticism, saying there is little "scientific evidence of the effectiveness" of online classes for K-12 students.

Even some proponents of bringing online classes to high schools are leery of employing them for makeup courses, their most popular use. Schools, particularly those in high-poverty areas, are turning to the Web to increase graduation rates and avoid sanctions. But critics claim standards for these classes, often called "click-click credits," are not comparable to those in a real classroom, and students are simply shuttled through to boost graduation rates. Plagiarism is a particularly troublesome issue, as students often Google answers and copy from Wikipedia.

These concerns, however, have not stopped school districts from jumping on the bandwagon. New York City, Chicago, Memphis, Miami and plenty of others have all invested heavily in online education at both the state and local level. Ultimately, online classes will play a role in K-12 education, and it's all but unavoidable. The question is how policy-makers will manage to balance the needs of students, teachers' jobs and budgetary constraints. While online courses may be cheaper than paying additional full-time teachers, that money is wasted if students fail to receive a decent education. Pushing students out the door using "click-click credits" only adds a burden to colleges, who must invest more heavily in remedial courses after flooding the job market with unskilled labor.

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Teachers, students shouldn't be Facebook friends: report

Teachers, students shouldn't be Facebook friends: report | Apr 11th 2011 11:42 AM

Beginning of Story Content

Ontario teachers should not be Facebook friends with students or follow them on Twitter, says a report put out by a top regulatory body.

The recommendation comes in an advisory report released Monday by the Ontario College of Teachers outlining social media guidelines to its 230,000 members.

"We're not suggesting [teachers] shouldn't use Facebook, but we are suggesting that the private profile that students have and exchanges between teacher and students are not appropriate," said Michael Salvatori, registrar and CEO of the college.

The report specifically advises teachers not to accept or initiate Facebook friend requests with students and advises them against following students on Twitter.

Salvatori said electronic communication and social media can offer exciting teaching experiences but there are serious risks of misunderstandings or abuse.

Salvatori said the college is advising teachers to instead use official school board Facebook pages to interact with students as opposed to personal pages. He also suggests teachers use their board emails to correspond with students, and to inform parents if they plan on using social media to connect with students.

The report is just the third advisory the college has issued. It comes as teachers grapple with how to interact and educate students online, said Salvatori.

"The frontiers for learning are being extended through digital communication and we want teachers to engage in that," he said. "But we want them to be able to do it while at the same time maintaining that same professional identity and reputation they do in face-to-face interactions."

Some of the report's other recommendations:

  • Teachers shouldn't exchange private texts, phone numbers or personal photos with students.
  • Teachers should regularly monitor privacy settings on social media accounts.
  • Teachers should avoid online criticisms of students, colleagues or employers.

End of Story Content

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Google invests $168m in world's largest solar power tower plant | Environme

Google invests $168m in world's largest solar power tower plant | Apr 15th 2011

Google's product portfolio has now expanded from search engine power to solar power.

The company has invested $168 million in a Mojave Desert facility that will become the world's largest solar power tower plant. The site is located on 3,600 acres of land in the Mojave Desert in southeastern California.

According to gizmag, "the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) will boast 173,000 heliostats that will concentrate the sun's rays onto a solar tower standing approximately 450 feet (137 m) tall."

Construction on this plant started in October 2010. When finished in 2013, the facility is expected to generate 392 MW of solar energy.

Solar power tower development, while less advanced than the more common trough systems, may offer higher efficiency and better energy storage capabilities. Parabolic trough systems consist of parabolic mirrors that concentrate sunlight onto a Dewar tube running the length of the mirror through which a heat transfer fluid runs that is then used to heat steam in a standard turbine.

Solar power tower systems such as the ISEGS on the other hand focus a large area of sunlight into a single solar receiver on top of a tower to produce steam at high pressure and temperatures of up to 550 ° C (over 1,000° F) to drive a standard turbine and generator. The ISEGS also uses a dry-cooling technology that reduces water consumption by 90 percent and uses 95 percent less water than competing solar thermal technologies. Water is also recirculated during energy before being reused to clean the plant's mirrors.

According to BrightSource Energy, the plant developer, this will be the first large-scale solar power tower plant built in the U.S. in nearly two decades and will single-handedly almost double the amount of commercial solar thermal electricity produced in the U.S. today and nearly equal the amount of total solar installed in the U.S. in 2009 alone.

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System

• A 370-megawatt nominal (392 megawatt gross) solar complex using mirrors to focus the power of the sun on solar receivers atop power towers.
• The electricity generated by all three plants is enough to serve more than 140,000 homes in California during the peak hours of the day.
• The complex will reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by more than 400,000 tons per year.
• Located in Ivanpah, approximately 50 miles northwest of Needles, California (about five miles from the California-Nevada border) on federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
• The complex is comprised of three separate plants to be built in phases between 2010 and 2013, and will use BrightSource Energy's LPT 550 technology.

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How to know when it’s time to downsize your car

How to know when it’s time to downsize your car | Apr 15th 2011 8:30 AM

With gasoline prices stretching toward $4 a gallon and beyond, many Americans are thinking about trading in big cars for something a little more fuel-efficient. In a recent poll conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, more than twice as many consumers said they’d choose a small car as their next vehicle, as would choose a small, midsize or large SUV; a minivan; or a pickup.

But there’s a lot to consider before you decide to trade in your old gas guzzler:

  • How much utility are you willing to sacrifice in the quest for mpg? You might save thousands of dollars a year trading your Suburban for a Subaru, but if you can’t fit everybody in to go on vacation, you’ll likely be miserable and want to trade back as soon as gas prices go back down.

  • How much gas will you really save? Will the new car really get the mpg you want? We’ve found in our testing that real-world overall mpg (combining city and highway mileage) is often considerably less than the EPA highway mileage figure that manufacturers advertise.

  • Most importantly, will the money you save on gas make up for the increased depreciation on buying a new car? In our previous analysis, we’ve found that downsizing to a new car rarely pays off, unless you’ve owned your car for several years and were planning on buying a new car anyway.

  • To really understand the financial impact of trading a car for a smaller model requires understanding the factors that go into cost of ownership more broadly.

    Consumer Reports calculates owner costs for every vehicle on the market. The factors that go into our owner cost estimates include:

    Depreciation (calculated from CR's Auto Price Service data).

    Fuel costs (based on 12,000 miles a year, Consumer Reports real-world overall fuel-economy test results, and our estimate of the national average gasoline price of $3.60 a gallon).

    Interest on financing (national average rates from 2005 and 2008, applied to 60-month terms).

    Insurance costs (derived from quotes and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety data).

    Maintenance and repair (based on survey responses from 675,000 Consumer Reports and subscribers).

    Sales tax (based on the national average)

    Operating expenses, such as fuel, insurance, maintenance, and repair costs slap you in the face every time you write a check. But the other expenditures, known as carrying costs, are more subtle. They slowly erode the value of the car-and your bank account- over time.

    By far the largest cost of owning a car is depreciation, the chief carrying cost. Depreciation accounts for almost half the cost of owning a car over the first five years of ownership, with the biggest hit coming in the first few years. That’s why trading in your car early smacks you a double whammy on depreciation. First, you’ve already paid the biggest chunk of depreciation on your old car. Then, you’ll pay the biggest chunk on your new car, as well.

    Fuel costs come in a distant second in the bite they take out of your wallet. But even at $4 a gallon, unless you buy a car with dramatically better fuel economy than your old one, the savings over a typical ownership period can be slim. (See our annual fuel savings by mpg chart for examples.)

    Our survey respondents said the median fuel economy they got in their current car is 23 mpg. And our tests show that to save even $500 a year over a 23 mpg car, your choices would be limited to hybrids, diesels, and a handful of small cars that get more than 29 mpg overall.

    And that’s the other downside of downsizing. Most small cars that get especially good fuel economy sacrifice space for families and versatility for occasional hauling needs.

    In general, trading a vehicle that gets very low mileage for one that does somewhat better will yield greater savings than trading a car that gets decent mileage for a first-class fuel miser. That’s because miles per gallon is not a linear measurement. In annual consumption, the difference between going from a 14 mpg SUV to a 19 mpg SUV will save you more fuel-and money-than going from a 23 mpg car to a 29 mpg car.

    So, there’s a lot to consider if you’re thinking about downsizing your car. To help, we’ll look at examples of downsizing that do save you money, some that don’t, and provide a list of vehicles that offer the most utility for the money. Through the series, we’ll provide some extreme examples of downsizing, provide the numbers to show how long you should wait before downsizing, and explore whether it makes sense to trade for a higher mpg used car to save on depreciation.

    So come along for the ride and we’ll save you some bread. If you have your own downsizing story, please share it with us in the comments below. We look forward to the trip.

    Downsizing: The 12 most useful cars per mpg
    Survey shows car downsizing is in, but not for everyone

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    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    RV parks offer EV owners respite from the road (and their range anxiety, to

    RV parks offer EV owners respite from the road (and their range anxiety, too)

    by Michael Gorman,
    April 10th 2011 2:37 AM

    EVs are pretty great for getting around major metropolitan areas, but many still feel some range anxiety when it comes time to leave the city limits. True, purpose-built charging stations are few and far between at the moment, but there's another charging option for those who enjoy going green and crave the open road: campgrounds. Turns out the 50-amp, 240-volt RV hookups found in such places can do double duty as juice dispensers for the depleted batteries in your Volt, Leaf, or Tesla. All electric powered roadwarriors need is an adapter to plug in, a few bucks to pay for current, and a few hours of free time. It's not as fast as fueling up the old fashioned way, but RV parks provide plenty of perks (swimming pools, lakes, and seniors who love poker, for example) not found at your average filling station. So, who's up for an eco-friendly road trip?

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    Tablet Usage Cannibalizes on TV, According to Google Survey

    Tablet Usage Cannibalizes on TV, According to Google Survey

    by Gianluigi Cuccureddu,
    April 11th 2011

    A new survey from Google Mobile looked to find out just how popular tablets were up against more traditional forms of computing and entertainment. The iPad is disrupting the TV experience too.


    77% of those surveyed said their PC use dropped after they got their dream tablet, while 43% of that 77% said that their tablet has replaced their desktop and laptop computers as the device they use the most. For the television portion, over a third of those polled said they use their tablet more than they watch TV.

    Additionally, 28% of those polled in the survey said the humble tablet was their “primary computer” and a staggering 84% said they used their tablet as a game-playing device.

    Additional findings:

    • With tablets, "mobile device" seems to mean one that can be carried from the kitchen to the den to the bedroom; 82 percent of participants said they use their slates at home. Only 11 percent said they use them on the go, while the at-work category was chosen by just 7 percent. Also, people seem to be using their tablets more at night (62 percent) and during the week (69 percent). Well more than half of the participants--68 percent--said they spend at least an hour a day communing with their slates (38 percent said more than two hours).

    • A tablet was the primary computer for 28 percent of survey participants.

    • When asked to "select all the ways you use your tablet," 84 percent of respondents ticked the "playing games" option. That was followed by searching for information (78 percent), e-mailing (74 percent), reading news (61 percent), social-networking (56 percent), checking out music and videos (51 percent), e-booking (46 percent), and shopping online (42 percent). The "other" category was ticked by 19 percent of those who participated.

    • In the "print is dead" department, 59 percent of respondents said they use their tablets more than they read conventional, paper-based books. And in the "tablets killed the radio star" category, 52 percent said they surf their slate more often than they turn their dial.

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    Chicago school bans homemade lunches, the latest in national food fight - Y

    Chicago school bans homemade lunches, the latest in national food fight

    by Liz Goodwin,
    April 11th 2011 1:55 PM

    Students who attend Chicago's Little Village Academy public school get nothing but nutritional tough love during their lunch period each day. The students can either eat the cafeteria food--or go hungry. Only students with allergies are allowed to bring a homemade lunch to school, the Chicago Tribune reports.

    "Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school," principal Elsa CarmonaƂ told the paper of the years-old policy. "It's about ... the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It's milk versus a Coke."

    But students said they would rather bring their own lunch to school in the time-honored tradition of the brown paper bag. "They're afraid that we'll all bring in greasy food instead of healthy food and it won't be as good as what they give us at school," student Yesenia Gutierrez told the paper. "It's really lame."

    The story has attracted hundreds of comments so far. One commenter, who says her children attend a different Chicago public school, writes, "I can accept if they want to ban soda, but to tell me I can't send a lunch with my child. ARE YOU KIDDING ME????"

    For parents whose kids do not qualify for free or reduced price school lunches, the $2.25 daily cafeteria price can also tally more than a homemade lunch. "We don't spend anywhere close to that on my son's daily intake of a sandwich (lovingly cut into the shape of a Star Wars ship), Goldfish crackers and milk," Northwestern education policy professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach told the paper in an email. She told The Lookout parents at her child's public school would be upset if they tried to ban homemade lunches.

    "I think that lots of parents at least at my child's school do think that what they pack is more nutritious [than school lunches]," she said.  A Chicago public school teacher started a blog to protest the city's school lunches, and last year the schools tightened their nutrition standards for cafeteria-served school lunches. Every lunch must contain whole grains, only reduced-fat salad dressings and mayonnaise are offered as condiments, and the meals must feature a different vegetable each day. Meal providers also must reduce sodium content by 5 percent annually. About 86 percent of the district's students qualify for free or reduced price school lunches because their families live close to the poverty line.

    Change in Chicago's school cafeterias feeds into a larger effort to combat the country's childhood obesity epidemic. About a third of America's kids are overweight or obese, and since children consume at least 30 percent of their calories while in school, making lunches healthier is seen as one way to counter that problem. Poorer kids are also more likely to be obese or overweight than middle class kids, and to consume a bigger proportion of their calories while at school. Forty-four percent of American kids living below the poverty line are obese or overweight, according to a 2010 study published in Health Affairs.

    While we haven't been able to track down another school that bans homemade lunches outright, many smaller food battles have been playing out in cafeterias across the country. As principals try to counter obesity in their schools, healthy intentions can come across as overreach, occasionally sparking parent and student anger.

    Alabama parents protested a school's rule that barred students from bringing any drinks from home, as ice water was provided at lunch. East Syracuse, New York schools have outlawed cupcakes and other desserts. And schools around the country have kicked out chocolate milk and soda vending machines. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin even showed up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, with dozens of cookies to express her disdain for a debate in the state about recommending teachers limit the number of times per month the sugary treats are eaten in classroom birthday celebrations.

    Tucson, Arizona's Children's Success Academy allows home-packed lunches--but only if nothing in them contains white flour, refined sugar, or other "processed" foods, the Arizona Republic reported in a story last year. The school has no cafeteria, so some parents told the paper they struggled to find foods to pack that meet the restrictions. Many schools ban fast food or other take-out meals.

    Soon, cafeteria offerings across the country will all be healthier, whether students like it or not. Last year's Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, calls for higher nutritional standards to serve the 32 million kids who eat lunch every day at school (most of whom qualify for free or reduced price lunches through a federal government program). For the first time, the USDA will set calorie limits for school lunches, and will recommend they contain more vegetables and whole grains, and less salt, USA Today reports. French fries should be replaced by vegetables and fruit, the guidelines say.

    The bill also calls for stricter food safety checks on cafeteria food.

    (A student's lunch in Gleed, Washington: AP)

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    Monday, April 18, 2011

    Taylor, still 'hungry' at 63, hits Carnegie Hall

    Taylor, still 'hungry' at 63, hits Carnegie Hall

    by Sms this Page and Email this Page,
    April 11th 2011

    NEW YORK-James Taylor has filled huge arenas, won five Grammys, been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and influenced generations of musicians. His 2010 Troubadour Reunion Tour with Carole King was a major commercial success. Yet every single time he gives a concert, he worries people won't come. "That's always the question," says the 63-year-old singer, songwriter and folk rock icon. "Are people gonna show up? Will they buy tickets?" But there's a silver lining to the worry: "It's kept me hungry," he says. "It's kept me grateful." Now in his fifth decade of performing, Taylor, whose appearance with Zac Brown was a highlight of...

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    Why libraries trump the internet - Holy Kaw!

    Holy Kaw! All the topics that interest us

    by Kate Rinsema,

    Why libraries trump the internet

    This sign was photographed by Joe Sabia at the public library in Milford, Connecticut and was written by Mark Y. Herring of Winthrop University. Any teacher who has spent weeks reviewing how to identify reliable, appropriate sources just to find themselves reading through hundreds of pages of crap thanks to last minute internet searches will likely be nodding vigorously enough to induce whiplash in a few seconds. You’ve been forewarned.

    Full story at Boing Boing.

    Yes, there is information in books.

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    In Buffalo, urban homesteaders save historic property for $1 - SmartPlanet

    In Buffalo, urban homesteaders save historic property for $1

    by Tyler Falk,
    April 15th 2011

    What can cities do with all their vacant properties? The city of Buffalo is trying to sell theirs for a buck.

    The Urban Homesteading Program sells vacant property to homesteaders under the conditions that they will begin making immediate improvements and eventually bring the property up to code. Once renovations have been made the homesteader also agrees to live in the property.

    WKWB, in Buffalo, reports on one of the most recent sales, the Lyth Cottage, built in 1886:

    Newton paid the city a buck for the house and pledged to bring the historic building up to code and live in it for at least five years. This is all part of the “Buffalo Homestead Program” that helps to save distressed, tax foreclosed homes from demolition in the Hamlin Park Historic District on the city’s East Side.

    “Lots of people have been pushing Buffalo to where they want it to be so I’m doing nothing new but I’m glad to be a part of it,” Newton said.

    Tim Tielman with the Campaign for Greater Buffalo said it would help grow the area.

    “What they wanted to do is look at the history here, capture it, use it as a basis for economic development. This is a very successful example,” Tielman said.

    It’s definitely a win-win for both the city and the homesteader. The buyer gets a deal on the property and the city not only gets a vacant property off its hands, but it improves the neighborhood, retrofits a historic property, and brings stability to the neighborhood with the buyer agreeing to live there.

    Watch the video report from WKBW:

    See Video:

    [Via Planetizen]

    Subscribe to this discussion via RSS

    •   1


      04/15/11 | Report as spam

      RE: In Buffalo, urban homesteaders save historic property for $1

      "up to code" = need to have LOTS of money and time to accomplish it.

      Reworking even a 20 year old building to meet MODERN standards is a challenge.

      It would be worse if they lived in a Hurricane / Tornado / Earthquake zone - the cost would easily double for an old building over what they expect right now to spend.

    •   2


      04/15/11 | Report as spam

      RE: In Buffalo, urban homesteaders save historic property for $1

      Yeah he got the property cheaply, but he'll spend it's true worth or more in restoring it. XD

    •   3


      04/15/11 | Report as spam

      RE: In Buffalo, urban homesteaders save historic property for $1

      Very good thing for the city, neighborhood and home buyer. Similar plan here, San Jose, CA, but the houses all went to SJSU teachers, a charity group and perhaps 2 to private individuals. In closing I say, "Right on Buffalo."

    •   4


      04/15/11 | Report as spam

      It will be interesting to see how this works in the long run.

      I am interested to see how "stable" these neighborhoods remain.

      Restoring houses of this nature is mainly a labor of love; there is
      little to no economic justification for the expense it takes to bring
      such housing up to contemporary code or even livability. You
      have to be someone who appreciates the architecture and
      limitations that living in such a home demands. There are only so
      many people with the desire and disposable resources to enter
      into such a venture.

      Several years ago, there was a debate in my area about the
      number of old homes that were being town down to be replaced
      with modern ones. The "preserve everything" crowd lamented
      that this was happening, and wished regulation that would have
      made doing so difficult, if not economically impossible.

      The reality was that there is only so much of a demand for such
      homes, since the number of people willing to go to the trouble
      and expense of restoring such homes was quite limited. The
      surplus of these homes would simply continue to deteriorate,
      along with the neighborhoods they were in.

    •   5


      04/15/11 | Report as spam

      RE: In Buffalo, urban homesteaders save historic property for $1

      I would imagine they are saying code for a remodel permit, not
      the equivalent new construction code. If this is true and the shell
      of the home is structurally sound, I don't see how remodeling it,
      not luxuriously but reasonably and cost consciously, would be
      any more expensive than a new construction.

      If you are getting the property for $1, you're basically getting a
      newly remodeled home with lots of character for the cost of a new
      suburban breadbox. These neighborhoods with historic houses
      usually become sought after and expensive after rehabilitation. It
      happens all the time down here in Texas, and people usually pay
      a lot more for the unremodeled property than $1.

    •   6


      04/15/11 | Report as spam

      RE: In Buffalo, urban homesteaders save historic property for $1

      As a resident of Buffalo, I get a laugh out of this story. This is not going to work for more than a handful of houses, which by themselves will not be able to raise the value of their neighborhoods. There are simply far too many houses in need of massive overhauls, outright demolition, or just do not hold even the potential value for what it will cost. In many cases, the person who buys and restores one of these homes will lose out even more because the neighborhoods will prevent it from ever reaching close to the value the repairs should have achieved.

      One friend of mine owns a house in a surprisingly still very nice neighborhood only ten or so blocks from where I live. It is a huge house more than double the size of mine similar nice homes around it, but time had done it's job and repairs were needed. A new roof was just put on before they bought it (for close to $100,000 if memory serves correct). Unfortunately, shortly after they bought it, it reached the wonderful age of being 'historic' and the headaches with the city and Historical Society began.

      The society pulled all the permits that had been acquired for work (for fixing the front pillars, a huge cracked concrete porch, etc.). Part of the repairs involved putting on railings around the porch because code and the insurance required it for porches of that height. The society claimed that the home did not originally have any such railings (since they were not required in that era) and that the owners could NOT put them in - either leave it broken or restore it to original. As a result, the costs of repairs went up - since it was now "historic" - and they could not get home insurance without paying excessive fees due to the blatant safety hazards.

      This happened with many other things that needed to be repaired on the home, the society simply wouldn't let them fix it unless it was to the original state of the home - which did not match the current city and insurance requirements and cost substantially more. Had they bought the house a little sooner, the house would not have reached the age and status that allowed for such delays.

      The point? It may sound like a good deal to pick up a property for a low price and repair it, but the city and other groups create nothing but costly and time consuming bureaucratic hurdles for the new owners and the neighborhoods are already a challenge by themselves. It will only take a couple of people becoming entrenched before others stop even considering the idea.

    •   7


      04/15/11 | Report as spam

      Try asking someone who's actually done it.

      I don't see how remodeling it, not luxuriously but reasonably and
      cost consciously, would be any more expensive than a new

      It frequently costs as much, if not more to do so. And in the end,
      you're still left with an antique house with all of its quaint quirks.
      Again, it's more a labor of love instead of a practical endeavour.

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    Friday, April 15, 2011

    FACEBOOK LAWSUIT: Paul Ceglia Files New Evidence In Claim He Owns 50% Of Th

    The Guy Who Says He Owns 50% Of Facebook Just Filed A Boatload Of New Evidence -- And It's Breathtaking

    by Henry Blodget,
    April 12th 2011 12:16 AM


    He's the fellow in upstate New York who sued last July, claiming that, way back in 2003, Zuckerberg had agreed to give him a 50% ownership in the project that became Facebook.

    That claim seemed preposterous at the time, not least because Ceglia had waited 7 years to file it.

    And there was also the fact that Ceglia was a convicted felon, having been charged with criminal fraud in connection with a wood-pellet company he operated.

    In the weeks following the filing of the lawsuit, Ceglia produced what Ceglia said was a copy of the contract he and Mark Zuckerberg had signed covering two projects on which the two were working together--a Ceglia project called "StreetFax" and a Zuckerberg project called "the face book." He also produced a canceled check for $1,000. He also explained why he waited 7 years to file the claim.

    The purported contract (we analyzed it here) gave Ceglia a 50% ownership in "the face book" project in exchange for funding its initial development, as well as an additional 1% ownership of the project per day for every day that the project remained uncompleted past a certain launch date.

    When the lawsuit and the purported contract came to light, Facebook dismissed the whole thing as a fabrication.

    Specifically, Facebook said the StreetFax part of the contract was real but that the rest had been doctored to include mention of "the face book."

    And given the time that had passed, Ceglia's fraud conviction, and the lack of a payment trail for payments made to fund the development of "the face book" (as opposed to StreetFax), this indeed seemed the most logical explanation.

    But now Paul Ceglia has refiled his lawsuit. With a much larger law firm. And a lot more evidence.

    And the new evidence is startling.


    Ceglia has produced more than a dozen of what he says are emails between him and Mark Zuckerberg from July 2003 to July 2004, the year in which Facebook was created.

    In these purported emails, which we have included below, Zuckerberg and Ceglia discuss "the face book" project in detail. They discuss how Ceglia will fund the project. They discuss how Ceglia has funded the project (proof of payment). They discuss how Zuckerberg has met some upperclassmen--the Winklevosses, presumably--who are pursuing a similar project, and how Zuckerberg is "stalling" them. They discuss how Zuckerberg has failed to complete the "face book" project on time. They discuss the launch of the face book, which Ceglia agrees looks great.

    The emails then include Zuckerberg telling Ceglia that the Facebook site is not doing well. They include Zuckerberg telling Ceglia that the site has seen so little success that Zuckerberg is thinking of shutting it down. And, in the summer of 2004, they include Zuckerberg offering to send Ceglia his $2,000 of funding back--right at the time Zuckerberg had moved to California to continue to develop, incorporate, and raise money for Facebook.

    Ceglia contends that most of what Zuckerberg told him after the launch of the site were lies. (Facebook, as we all now know, went gangbusters right from the beginning).  And Ceglia contends that, in the summer of 2004, Zuckerberg "misappropriated" the assets of their general partnership and conveyed them to the corporation that became Facebook, Inc.

    Lastly, Ceglia contends that, in accordance with the original agreement, he was entitled to an equal share of Zuckerberg's ownership in the corporation.


    We've talked to Facebook about the new evidence, which we'll run through in detail in the following pages. Facebook says the new emails, like the contract, are fake.  In a statement to us, Facebook lambasted Ceglia as a "scam artist" and a "convicted felon." 

    We asked Facebook how it is certain the emails are fake.  (After all, how would Facebook know for sure?)

    Facebook would not elaborate except to say that it is "confident in [its] assessment."

    Facebook almost certainly has a forensic analysis of Mark Zuckerberg's hard drives and email boxes from this period, because these drives would have been the same ones analyzed in the Winklevoss lawsuit. Perhaps the drives show different versions of the emails in question--or no emails at all.

    But it's not clear that even a forensic analysis would contain records of emails that had been deleted at the time--and given the way his partnership with Ceglia appears to have ended, Mark Zuckerberg might well have deleted them. In which case, Facebook's confidence about the emails being "fake" would have to be based solely on Mark Zuckerberg's recollection.


    Paul Ceglia's new law firm is a bit more powerful than the small-town upstate New York lawyer who was representing him last summer. The firm is DLA Piper, which is a major international law firm that primarily represents technology companies. 

    We have spoken to DLA Piper about the new evidence and amended lawsuit.

    DLA Piper took on Ceglia's case very recently, after performing "weeks" of due diligence to persuade itself that Ceglia's claims were valid.

    As part of its due diligence process, DLA Piper says, it performed an electronic analysis of the contract Ceglia provided. The firm says this analysis made it confident the contract has not been doctored.

    DLA Piper says the lawsuit is well within the statute of limitations in New York, which is 6 years from the breach of contract. DLA regards the "breach of contract" as Mark Zuckerberg's incorporating Facebook in July 2004 and conveying the assets of the Ceglia-Zuckerberg partnership into the new corporation without telling Ceglia. The lawsuit, meanwhile, was filed in early summer 2010.


    And what do we think, having looked at this new batch of evidence?

    We think that, if the emails and contract Ceglia produced are indeed fake, the fraud should be easy to expose (so easy, in fact, that we imagine DLA Piper's investigators would already have exposed it--which leads us to question whether the emails and contract really are fake). We also think that, if the emails are fake, Paul Ceglia will be going to jail for a long, long time--a consequence that we assume was not lost on him. It's one thing to allegedly defraud a few local customers by selling them wood pellets that you then don't deliver. It's another to try to defraud a major corporation out of hundreds of millions of dollars (or more).

    Meanwhile, we think that if the Ceglia emails and contract are NOT demonstrably fake, Facebook will soon be paying Paul Ceglia several hundred million dollars--if not billions--in a settlement.

    We think Paul Ceglia still has some major questions to answer, the most notable of which is why he waited so long to file his claim. (Last summer, Ceglia explained that he forgot about the contract, which is not particularly persuasive in light of the huge publicity Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg eventually received. Ceglia also said he only stumbled across the contract, ironically, when he was going through his files in connection with the fraud charges for his wood-pellet company).

    Based on other emails, instant messages, and behavior of Mark Zuckerberg in the fall and winter of his sophomore year at Harvard, we also think that the duplicitous Zuckerberg behavior that Ceglia describes is plausible.

    Lastly, we note that Ceglia's emails do not make Ceglia sound like a prince among men, either. So if Ceglia fabricated all of these emails, he was smart enough to add verisimilitude to his tale by making himself look like a bit of a jerk.

    In short, to us at least, the emails don't read "fake."

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