A Take on the TouchPad: Worth Keeping, if You Can Find It

When HP announced its most recent quarterly financial results, the company had some shocking news: it would no longer offer its recently released tablet, the Touchpad. HP followed up this unexpected announcement with a closeout sale, with prices at many retailers initially slashed to a mere $99 — one fifth of the price of the popular iPad 2 or Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Those promotions spurred such demand for the device that it can now be very hard to find.

Of course, many buyers were no doubt opportunists looking to resell at a higher price. If you happen to come across one, though, it may be worth buying and keeping.

The Touchpad’s dimensions are very close to those of the original iPad. Unlike the wide screens on many Android tablets, the dimensions of Touchpad’s 9.7-inch screen are more like those of a photo. In fact, the Touchpad’s controls and jacks — including volume, power, and the microUSB charging and transfer port — are arranged so similarly to those of the iPad that some cases designed for the original iPad may fit the HP device very well.

(The Touchpad is significantly thicker than the iPad 2 and lacks the iPad 2’s rear-facing camera. That said, it does have a front-facing camera for video chat, as well as tightly integrated support for the popular Skype service.)

But a big part of the story is webOS, the Touchpad’s operating system, which made its debut with the Palm Pre and became part of HP when the company purchased Palm about a year ago. The larger screen really allows webOS to perform well — particularly its innovative system of managing different on-screen cards that can be grouped to keep parts of related tasks together. For example, if you’re a singer using a Touchpad rehearse music, you can have several sheets open at once, alongside a media player screen the plays music tracks, so you can hear how a song should sound as you read the music.

Another Touchpad benefit is Just Type, which lets you search a wide range of Web sites and information on the tablet just by tapping an area of the screen and starting to type. The Touchpad also boasts great sound, courtesy of its stereo speakers and Beats Audio interface for headphones. That should come in handy when watching TV shows and movies, a key way consumers use tablets according to the Broadband Video survey by NPD Connected Intelligence.

Unfortunately, while the Touchpad has solid Web and email apps, only a few hundred third-party applications take advantage of the product today, and the system can get bogged down and present messages about having too many cards open. Like Palm before it, HP has had limited success in wooing developers attracted to the high volumes of the iPad and the promise of sleek Android-based competitors.

Making matters worse, HP compounded its problems before the Touchpad’s release by changing a key method for developing webOS applications. Now many apps created for older devices simply won’t run on the Touchpad, and it may take some time for even wiling developers to come up to speed with the new system. HP says it will continue to encourage developers to create webOS programs, but it will be an even steeper uphill climb than it has in the past, since there is now so much doubt hanging over the webOS operating system.


Traffic Jam: What Causes Gridlock

Everyday life enters a different phase after Labor Day, the unofficial start of autumn in the United States. As students and employees return from vacation, and vehicles fully flood roadways once again, drivers face an increased risk of what may be the worst hassle a commuter can encounter: traffic gridlock.


Gridlock occurs when vehicles cannot pass through an intersection — even if they have a green light and the right of way. Vehicles that were unable to make it completely through the traffic signal before the light turned red now block the “box” — the area of the intersection where both roads overlap — causing delays and unnerving blares from car horns.


Greg Mitchell, a manufacturer’s representative from the Bronx who has driven in New York City for 20 years, has experienced gridlock many times when driving between sales calls in Manhattan.


“It’s frustrating when you’re at an intersection and you see vehicles in the intersection that shouldn’t be,” Mitchell said. “On the other hand, I don’t want to be the guy sitting in the middle of an intersection when the light changes to red and the cross-traffic is sitting there, aimed at my driver’s side door, honking their horns. That’s not a fun feeling either.”

Striving to figure out how to prevent this urban nuisance, traffic-physics researcher Boris Kerner of the Daimler Automotive Group in Germany has developed an explanation for how gridlock occurs. A preprint of his new model can be viewed at the website arXiv. Surprisingly, his new model suggests gridlock can occur even when traffic flow is relatively light. The culprit? Someone in the line of traffic near a light signal slows down, triggering a chain of events that can reduce the speed of all traffic behind it, build up successively longer lines of vehicles with every green-yellow-red cycle, and eventually lead to gridlock.

Continuing a physics approach that originates from the early 1960s, Kerner and his colleagues developed a mathematical description that treats vehicles in traffic like objects in natural systems, such as a network of electrical signals traveling in the brain, or complex molecules in a thick liquid bouncing against each other as they are being sucked up through a straw. In all these cases, the objects can together make abrupt “phase transitions” from one state to another — from a smooth liquid to a molasses-like one, from normal electrical activity to epilepsy, and from free-moving vehicle traffic to a jam. Unlike ice resting in a freezer, these systems are all dynamic, and far from equilibrium. Introduce a disturbance above a critical level, and like a roll of the dice, this can sometimes — randomly — cause the system to change its phase abruptly and dramatically.

In traditional models, traffic has been treated as having only two distinct phases — either the cars are moving freely, or they are congested. However, in the mid-1990s, Kerner introduced a three-phase model. There is a “free flow” phase, plus two different phases of congestion — an all-out “jam,” and a state of “synchronized flow” in which vehicles are locked into a reduced speed, such as when vehicles in three lanes slow down together after merging into two lanes.


The Politics of September 11th: From Agreement to Discord

Ten years ago, in the days, weeks, and months after Sept. 11, 2001, the country and government came together. Democrats and Republicans worked together to ease a scared nation, but also out of fear that not doing so would get them labeled unpatriotic. Bipartisan approval for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan reigned. You rarely heard the word “deficit,” and money was poured into not only those wars, but to build the Department of Homeland Security.


Now, the government is bitterly divided. What happened?


Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, took to the Senate floor Thursday to call for a return to the bipartisanship and cooperation after Sept. 11.


“What we were able to achieve then in terms of common purpose and effective collective action provides us with a model for action that we in Washington must strive to emulate and even if just in part, even if just sporadically to re-create,” Schumer said.


On issues like the $20 billion aid package to New York, the controversial Patriot Act, or approval for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, both sides of the aisle gave a green light.

“To his credit, President Bush did not for one second think about the electoral map or political implication of supporting New York. He asked what we needed and he came through,” Schumer said. “If, God forbid, another 9/11-like attack were to happen tomorrow, would our national political system respond with the same unity, non-recrimination, common purpose and effective policy action in the way that it did just ten years ago? Or are our politics now so petty, fanatically ideological, polarized and partisan that we would instead descend into blame and brinkmanship, and direct our fire inward, and fail to muster the collective will to act in the interests of the American people?”

From the Age of Terrorism to the Age of Austerity and Division

In what she calls a “backhanded compliment to bipartisanship,” Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute says the American public has given high marks to both George W. Bush and Barack Obama on the topic of terrorism.

“What’s absolutely clear is in a time so critical of Washington, the public has given high marks to the presidents of both parties — George W. Bush for making the country safe and they gave Barack Obama high marks for keeping the country safe,” Bowman said, who recently authored a study “The War on Terror: Ten Years of Polls on American Attitudes”.

With the economy being the number one issue on Americans’ minds, Bowman says terrorism has receded significantly as an area of concern.

“I think terrorism wouldn’t recede as an issue if they didn’t feel the government made them safe,” Bowman said.

But what about the dynamic between the president and congress?

James Lindsay, senior vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations, worked at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration. He says the attacks of Sept. 11 “triggered a dynamic as old as the American Republic.”

“When the country is under attack and facing a national crisis, power gravitates away from Congress to the president, partly because Americans believe that during times of crisis strong leadership is needed,” Lindsay told ABC News. “Also, during times of crisis it’s politically safe to rally behind the president. They fear any critique of the White House is taken as an unpatriotic act. That rally around the flag gives enormous power to the president and that power persists as long as the crisis persists.”


Freddie and Fannie – Has Everyone Gone Postal?

Between Freddie and Fannie’s latest woes and the United States Postal Service teetering on collapse, it’s been a bad week or so for quasi-governmental agencies.


Late last week the United States Postal Service (USPS) announced that it was facing a shortfall of approximately $5.5 billion in terms of its obligations in the month of September, and that without Congressional action it might have to cease operations entirely during the winter of 2011. In a week that was also marked by hurricanes, earthquakes and gigantic wildfires, how could one miss the irony that while neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night can stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds, a lack of cash certainly can?


[Article: Medication for Middle-Class Mortgage Mania]


Before 1970, the post office was an agency of the United States government, like any other, providing an important and truly national service, while losing a whole bunch of money doing so. It was bleeding then, and hemorrhaging today, because the USPS—though now “quasi-governmental”—is still required to fulfill the established policy of the United States to ensure frequent and efficient mail service at a very low cost to the consumer. In theory, the post office is supposed to be revenue neutral, i.e., neither losing nor making money. It provides service and pays for itself through the sale of stamps and other like products and services.

Ah well. Man plans, God laughs.

Given the dramatic decline in the utilization of conventional postal services—thanks to email, UPS and FedEx, not to mention the new world of social networking—there really is no way for the USPS to break even without radically reinventing itself and ending certain services like Saturday delivery, closing many post offices and raising the price of a first-class stamp to a dollar or so.

In the face of freewheeling competition, huge labor costs and truly astounding pension liabilities any non-quasi-governmental organization (i.e., a real business) would do whatever it had to do to survive. Unfortunately, the USPS can’t curtail services without Congressional approval (universal peace might be easier to achieve these days), and it can’t make use of bankruptcy provisions, because it is “quasi-governmental.” So one way or another the USPS must rely on yet another “bailout,” probably in the form of a large injection of cash from Washington.

It sounds so 2008, doesn’t it?

What happened to Freddie and Fannie last week further illustrates that (among many other things) quasi-governmental organizations just don’t work. On Friday, the federal government, in the form of The Federal Housing Finance Agency, sued 17 large banks claiming that the defendants sold $200 billion worth of fraudulently overpriced mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Paradoxically, many of the defendants who are suffering the wrath of these suits were also beneficiaries of the largesse of the bank bailouts just a few years ago. Apparently, the left hand of the government hasn’t seen its right hand for some time.


Cure Insomnia by Rescheduling Bedtime

You probably have trouble sleeping at least once in a while. Worry, stress, late-night eating or drinking, travel, and illness can all cause transient sleep problems. And as we discussed last week, the seasonal return to Standard Time can throw your sleeping schedule off until your body adjusts. If you occasionally have sleep problems, there are many sleep-promoting strategies that can help you when you’re tossing and turning.


However, if you frequently have difficulty sleeping, or if you rely on medication, you need a more in-depth approach to improving your sleep. Sleeping pills can act as a temporary insomnia remedy for acute sleep problems. If you are in severe pain, or going through a brief period of extreme stress, for example, the right medication can help you get much-needed sleep. However, over time these medications do lose their effectiveness. If you continually rely on sleeping pills, you lose the ability to get yourself to sleep and instead rely on artificially induced drowsiness. You’re better off in the long run strengthening your natural ability to sleep, even if it’s a bit of a challenge to tackle insomnia without medication. Fortunately, there’s a powerful insomnia remedy that’s available to anyone willing to put in a little time, effort, and planning.


7 Surprising Ways that Sleep Affects Your Health (and How to Get More of It)

The most well-documented method for overcoming long-standing insomnia is cognitive-behavioral therapy, a systematic approach to changing your thoughts and behavior around sleep. The cognitive aspect involves learning to stop worrying about sleep. Letting go of worry and anxiety about sleep allows you to relax and fall asleep more easily and sleep more soundly.


The behavioral aspect involves the various “sleep skills” you need to practice to support healthy sleep, such as engaging in a relaxing bedtime routine and reserving your bedroom only for sleep and sex. The most important behavioral part of this approach is sleep scheduling. Strategic sleep scheduling strengthens your body’s sleep system, and creates a positive association between your bed and sleep. You do it by carefully planning when you go to bed, get out of bed, and how much time you spend in bed. The goal is to spend a high percentage of your time in bed actually sleeping. Over time, your mind and body will associate your bed with sleep, and you’ll become increasingly confident of your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.


Surprisingly, good sleepers don’t necessarily sleep more than poor sleepers, they just spend a higher percentage of their time in bed actually sleeping! The ratio of time spent sleeping to time in bed is called sleep efficiency. Good sleepers spend 90 to 95 percent of their time in bed actually sleeping. People with insomnia, on the other hand, may sleep less than 65 percent of the time they are in bed.




Kim Kardashian Tops List of Outrageous Celeb Jewelry

Like well-heeled raccoons, celebrities covet the shiny, the sparkly, the blinged-out. Double-digit carats? Yes, please! Putting precious stones in places they were never meant to be? Let’s do it!


Such is the logic of those stars who seem to buy jewelry based on shock value, not beauty. Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries dropped jaws this week when they revealed that he proposed to her with a $2 million, 20.5 carat diamond dazzler. (Who knew carats ran that high?) He shared his motivation for the purchase with People magazine: “I just knew I wanted it to be big!”


Indeed, with the stars, when it comes to jewels, the size of the statement matters. Find out more about Kardashian’s ring and check out the outrageous adornments of four other stars:


Kim Kardashian’s 20.5 Carat Ring


It’s the ring that could create a paparazzi entourage of its own. Designed by Kardashian’s friend, celebrity jeweler Lorraine Schwartz, the reality TV star’s newest accessory includes a 16.5 carat emerald cut center stone flanked by a pair of 2-carat trapezoids. NBA baller Humphries reportedly dished out $2 million for the diamonds, to Kardashian’s delight. “It’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen,” she told People. “It’s perfect.”


Justin Bieber’s $25,000 Stewie Pendant


Some kids get stuffed animals of their favorite cartoon character. Justin Bieber gets a diamond-and ruby-encrusted pendant. The teen pop sensation reportedly dropped $25,000 on a jeweled rendition of “Family Guy’s” lovable baby curmudgeon Stewie. Beverly Hills jeweler Jason Arasheben told TMZ.com that Bieber designed the piece himself, selecting multi-color rubies and white diamonds to be set in 14-carat gold.

Mariah Carey’s $12,000 Mommy Necklace

Mariah Carey and self-restraint don’t exactly get along. (Exhibit A: That infamous episode of MTV Cribs.) It makes sense, then, that earlier this month, to celebrate her first Mother’s Day, Carey’s husband, Nick Cannon, went over the top. He bought a $12,000, 4-carat diamond and sapphire necklace from Arasheben (the same jeweler Bieber visited) that spells out the names of the couple’s new twins: Moroccan and Monroe. A bit tacky? Maybe. But it’s a way better gift than a bedazzled Cuisinart.

Kanye West’s Diamond Teeth

Unsatisfied with blingy-Jesus pieces and iced-out watches,Kanye West upped the ante for hip-hop’s bauble brigade last year when he had the bottom row of his teeth taken out and replaced with diamonds. (Really. Permanently. One wonders what his dental hygiene routine is like.) While a dentist doubted that West yanked out his chompers altogether to get the precious metals in his mouth, the rapper may have paid upward of $60,000 for his shinier-than-all-get-out smile. Why? He told Vanity Fair, “I just like diamond teeth, and I didn’t feel like having to take them out all the time.”

Elizabeth Taylor’s Taylor-Burton Diamond

Of course, Hollywood drooled for jewels long before the current crop of stars ran the town. The late Elizabeth Taylor‘s lust for gems is the stuff of legend. One of her

most memorable pieces was the Taylor-Burton diamond, a 69.42 carat pear-shaped diamond that Richard Burton purchased at a 1969 auction for more than $1 million. The diamond was originally set in a ring, but even Taylor couldn’t pull off a rock of that size. She had Cartier refashion it as a necklace and wore it to the Academy Awards in 1970.

But as with Burton, this diamond was not to be Taylor’s forever. Following her first divorce from the actor (they married and divorced twice), Taylor put the diamond up for auction, selling it for a reported $5 million.


GOP Challenger Pulls Ahead in Race for Weiner’s Spot

There is grim news today for the White House and the Democratic Party in the special election to fill Anthony Weiner’s vacated congressional seat in New York.


Although Democrats hold a  three to one registration advantage over Republicans in the district, Republican Bob Turner has opened a lead, grabbing 50 percent, compared with  44 percent for Democrat David Weprin, among likely voters, according to a new Siena Research Institute poll.


Weprin stood at 48 percent and Turner 42 percent  in a Siena poll taken one month ago.


The election is next Tuesday.


A Turner victory would be an ominous sign for Democrats and President Obama’s re-election campaign, as the district, which  spans  Brooklyn and Queens, is filled with the kind of white, middle-class, usually reliable Democratic voters that the president  needs in his corner to get re-elected.


But the poll found voters in the district are down on the president, and the direction of the country.


Forty-three percent have a favorable opinion of Obama, while 54 percent have an unfavorable opinion, according to the poll.  Nineteen percent believe the U.S. is on the  right track, ” while 74 percent say the country is on the wrong track. Both sets of numbers are largely unchanged from a month ago.


What has changed is the voters’ views of the candidates: Weprin’s unfavorable ratings shot up, to 41 percent, from 24 percent a month ago. And by a 43-32 percent margin, likely voters say Turner is running the more positive campaign


“It’s a perfect storm for Turner and the Republicans,” said Steven Greenberg, a spokesman for the Siena Research Institute.


Sensing the seat could be slipping away, the national Democratic Party has begun pouring money into the race – including a $500,000 infusion this week from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Even if Weprin can pull out a victory, it is still an enormous expenditure in an election Democrats once believed was a lock.


With the possibility of a monumental upset now within reach, the Republican National Committee answered with an email appeal this afternoon seeking donations, saying the money was needed because “the Obama Democrats just put $500,000 into the race to defeat Bob Turner and keep this seat in their liberal hands.”


“We have a strong conservative candidate in Bob Turner who has the opportunity to win a congressional seat in the heart of New York City,” party Chairman Reince Priebus wrote in the email. “He is facing a career politician who will vote in lockstep with Nancy Pelosi in support of Barack Obama’s failed economic policies.”


Weprin has fallen behind, despite his longstanding political ties in the district. He’s a state assemblyman and the son of a former state assembly speaker.


Turner has never held elected office before, although he ran a surprisingly close race in 2010 against Weiner, who later gave up the seat in a scandal over lewd photos of himself he’d Twittered. Turner, 70, is a retired television executive whose claim to fame – or, perhaps, infamy – – is that he helped to create Jerry Springer’s bawdy television show in the 1990s.


Although Turner has opened a lead, Greenberg cautioned that the race would go down to the wire.


“While Turner leads and has momentum on his side, this is still a heavily Democratic district and in a low turnout special election, the campaigns’ get-out-the-vote operations are going to be key. There’s still a lot of campaigning yet to happen,” Greenberg said.


“Will the late infusion of national money and advertising change voters’ minds or move voters who hadn’t been planning on voting to come out and cast a ballot? These are all questions that will not be answered until Tuesday at 9 p.m..”


The Siena poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.