Saturday, December 31, 2011

Is the Obama Boomlet Over? (Powerlineblog)

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Video: Heilemann: Santorum has momentum, needs Perry?s money

To succeed at your New Year's diet, keep mum

A slew of psychology studies, some dating as far back as the 1920s, suggest that if you want to stick to your New Year?s diet ? or whatever your big 2012 goal may be ? you might want to shut up about it, already.


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Financial dispute delays 9/11 museum opening (Reuters)

NEW YORK (Reuters) ? The National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York will not be ready in time for its planned 2012 opening on the 11th anniversary of the attacks, due to a financial dispute between agencies involved in its construction, officials said on Friday.

Arguing over money are the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is overseeing construction at the World Trade Center site in downtown Manhattan, and the National September 11 Memorial Foundation, which designed the museum and raised money for its construction.

The Port Authority says the foundation owes it about $300 million for construction costs, while the foundation says the Port Authority owes it about $146 million because of construction delays.

"There's no chance of it opening on time," Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who chairs the foundation, said on Thursday of the museum. "Work has basically stopped."

More than a million people have visited the National September 11 Memorial, built in the footprints of the twin towers, since it opened on September 12, 2011, the foundation said this week.

The museum is being constructed adjacent to the memorial, much of it set deep below the ground in the cavernous foundations of the towers that were destroyed by hijacked jets on September 11, 2001. It is intended to chart the events leading up to the attacks and their aftermath.

"I think that (the) most important thing about this museum is getting it right," said Joseph Daniels, the foundation's president.

Both sides said on Friday they were working to find a solution, but a revised opening date has not been announced.

"We are working with the city to resolve the issue," Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Cynthia Johnston)


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2011 in Review: U.S. troops kill Osama bin Laden

Editor's note: The Dec. 30 edition of the Frisco Enterprise contains the top 10 stories of 2011. These stories represent the most notorious moments in the city, state and the nation.

A sense of relief and jubilation rings throughout the area; coupled with a sense of caution.

The death of Osama bin Laden, killed by United States Navy SEALs in his Pakistani mansion hideout, has Americans celebrating in virtually every city in North Texas and throughout the country.

The reminders of the death and destruction of 9/11 came rushing forth Sunday night when President Barack Obama told the world that a military operation weeks in the making ended when bin Laden was shot in the head by U.S. forces.

Residents and visitors of New York City celebrated throughout the night at the site of the World Trade Center, destroyed when bin Laden's attack on the United States took place almost 10 years ago. The dancing, laughing and crying for joy soon spread throughout the country.

Reaction ranged from jubilation for many, to tones of caution as Americans were warned that a retaliatory strike could be in the planning stages. That warning did little to quell the excitement felt as Americans finally believed that justice had been served to the mass murderer whose plan resulted in the death of thousands.

Obama announced on television the death of bin Laden, bringing an end to a manhunt that began in earnest Sept. 11, 2001.

"Over the last 10 years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals, we've made great strides [to find bin Laden]. We've disrupted terrorist attacks and strengthened our homeland defense. In Afghanistan, we removed the Taliban government, which had given bin Laden and al-Qaida safe haven and support. And around the globe, we worked with our friends and allies to capture or kill scores of al-Qaida terrorists, including several who were a part of the 9/11 plot."

A member of the local Muslim community expressed happiness that the terror leader had been killed.

"Bin Laden was never a Muslim leader," said Dr. Jari Khan, secretary of public affairs and media of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Dallas Chapter. "He was a mass murderer, a man who killed in the name of Islam. We are happy that he has met his end and now together we can work for a peaceful society. Our prayers continue to go out to the families of the 9/11 tragedy. Terrorism in all areas must be ended."

Rep. Sam Johnson aimed his praise at the military.

"Way to go troops," he said. "Thank you for your tireless courage and deep resolve. We are proud of you. God bless you and I salute you.

"Whether it's shooting Somali pirates from a heaving ship at sea to rescue innocent Americans or finding and killing Osama bin Laden, the nation owes a debt of gratitude to the Navy SEALs --and all men and women who wear the uniform. This is a victory for freedom and justice."

The preceding story contains excerpts of the column written by Rick Mann on May 2, the day Osama bin Laden was killed.

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Friday, December 30, 2011

Truly free elections in Russia could solve Putin's problem with protesters

If Putin allowed a truly free vote in March elections, he would likely not win a majority and be forced into a runoff. But he would almost certainly win that second round, fair and square ? and fairness is what Russian protesters demand.

Russia?s leaders are staring at the horns of a dilemma as their previously passive citizens protest the fraudulent conduct of the Dec. 4 parliamentary elections.

Skip to next paragraph

While these protests and the electoral fraud that produced them are serious concerns, the real threat to the regime of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is that he will lose the presidential elections on March 4, or that those elections will be followed by an even larger wave of protest.

Thankfully, there is an easy fix to this problem that the Kremlin appears only now to be considering: Allow free elections in March.

Russian presidents prefer to win presidential elections in the first round of voting, with more than 50 percent of the vote. However, Russia has a two-round voting system for president. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent in the first round, the top two candidates run off in a second round a few weeks later.

Going to a second round has long been seen as too risky by Russian presidents for a number of reasons. First, it reveals their true (and potentially embarrassingly low) level of support. Second, the chances of losing a runoff are higher than for a multi-candidate first round in which the opposition vote is split.

Until now, most analysts have assumed that Russian authorities would falsify the results of the coming presidential elections in much the same way that they did for the Duma, or parliament: by disallowing legitimate opposition candidates from running, banning the opposition from TV, using a wide variety of dirty tricks to discredit opposition figures, and in the final analysis stuffing ballot boxes to insure, for instance, that more than 99 percent of Chechens vote for the government candidate.

Yet, in a surprise concession to protesters, Prime Minister Putin announced this week that the March elections will be held in a transparent fashion and proposed installing video cameras in hundreds of thousands of polling stations.

While displaying a troubling lack of understanding of the differences between the techniques of conducting free elections and police surveillance, his statement represented a step in the right direction. It showed that his government has realized that it will be nearly impossible to falsify the results of the presidential election now that a majority of Russian voters knows what is going on and a determined and well-heeled minority is ready to oppose it.

The level of falsification required for Putin to win in the first round in March ? and the outcry against it ? would be immense. A credible late-November poll from Moscow?s Levada Center showed that only 31 percent of Russian voters would choose Putin for president if the vote were held immediately. That number has most likely continued to drop. At this point, free elections would not only fulfill the demands of the protesters, but also serve the interests of the regime itself.


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Japan-bound Kennesaw native has 'never been more in love' with baseball

by Adam Carrington
The Marietta Daily Journal

Stephen Douglas has yet to fulfill his dream of playing Major League Baseball after six years of competing in the minor leagues.

But the former Kennesaw Mountain High School and East Tennessee State star still says he's living the dream - one that has seen him play for nine teams in seven states since his days as a Mustang.

Now, the dream will bring him east to a 10th team - Far East.

The 26-year-old outfielder recently signed with the Kagawa Olive Guyners of Japan's Shikoku Island League, an independent team based about 400 miles west of Tokyo - by far, the furthest of all the far-off stops he's made since graduating from Kennesaw Mountain.

Many players may begin considering new career paths when they haven't progressed beyond the low Class A?ranks after six years, but not Douglas.

The 26-year-old still has time on his side, knowing many major leaguers don't retire until they're in their late 30s or early 40s, and there are many players his age who are in the same situation.

And the biggest reason Douglas continues to play is that he's still learning the game and improving.

"Some people, when things don't go their way, lose their love for the game," Douglas said. "With age, baseball becomes more interesting. Man, I'm telling you, I've never been more in love with baseball right now, and it's continuing to be a passion. You're still learning."

Douglas learned a lot about himself when he was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 16th round of the 2006 draft, following his junior season with the East Tennessee State. He learned to be himself and play to his strengths, which is hitting for average and driving in runs.

In looking back upon his pro career, one possible theory as to why Douglas hasn't been able to progress very quickly in the professional ranks is the high demand for outfielders who can slug 30 or more home runs a year.

At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, Douglas isn't built to be a power hitter. He wasn't a home run hitter for Kennesaw Mountain, and didn't hit many home runs while he was at East Tennessee State.

Even though Douglas hit .263 in '06 with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, the Indians' short-season Class A affiliate in Niles, Ohio, he only hit .224 with no homers the following year.

Douglas' struggles improving his power numbers may have contributed to the Indians' reasoning behind releasing him in 2007.

"So many people are caught up in power numbers, and that's probably it," said Kennesaw Mountain coach George Hansen, who coached Douglas from 2001-03. "He's a guy who is well-rounded and can do a lot of things well, but not one thing super-well. We're living in a time when people want players to do one thing super-well. Stephen is an old-school type of player born in the wrong time frame."

Douglas did admit that his lack of power got to his head in the past, and he would find himself swinging for the fence. But once he matured and recognized his strengths and weaknesses, his numbers improved drastically in the independent leagues.

After spending 2008 with the Amarillo Dillas of the United League, and '09 with the Traverse City Beach Bums and Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League - where he hit a combined .171 with the two teams - Douglas returned to Amarillo in 2010 and prospered.

He raised his average to .316 in 2010, totaling eight homers, 56 RBIs and 35 stolen bases - all career-highs.

Last year, though he bounced among three teams - the El Paso Diablos, Grand Prairie AirHogs and Lancaster Barnstormers - Douglas continued to succeed, hitting a combined .380 with 39 doubles and 79 RBIs in 103 games.

"You can't try to do too much," Douglas said. "Most of baseball is mental. You have to understand that you can't hit a double at every at-bat. There are always elements working against you. Baseball is a game of failure. You're going to let your team down and yourself down. You just have to take it in stride and stay positive."

One of Douglas' better memories as a pro came this past season, when he went 3-for-5 with three RBIs in the game that sealed the American Association championship for Grand Prairie. Afterwards, he was traded to Lancaster where he maintained a solid .412 average in 17 at-bats.

Douglas' success last season helped him become one of eight American players selected to cross the Pacific Ocean and play on the other side of the globe. As a new member of the Kagawa Olive Guyners, he has an opportunity to gain exposure.

Douglas will head to the Japan in early March, a month before the 2012 season, which lasts from April through September. He also has a growing family as he and his wife, Rebecca, are expecting their first child in February.

Douglas is anticipating a solid season in a new country but knows he may go through some lumps. If he should struggle in a game, he can always remind himself of one of his philosophies - just like a fine wine, baseball gets better with age.


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Wynonna Judd engaged to Highway 101 drummer (AP)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. ? Wynonna Judd is engaged to her boyfriend, the drummer for the country group Highway 101.

Judd, 47, and Cactus Moser, 54, got engaged Dec. 24. They are currently touring together as Wynonna and The Big Noise.

Judd, who is from Ashland, Ky., has sold more than 30 million albums throughout her 28-year career and has won five Grammys. She and mother Naomi have performed as The Judds.

No wedding date has been announced.


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Sexual assault reports up at U.S. military academies: report (Reuters)

(Reuters) ? The U.S. Department of Defense said on Tuesday that there was a rise in reports of sexual assault at the nation's military academies in the most recent school year and announced new policies to help victims.

The "Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at Military Service Academies" found that during the 2010-11 year there were 65 reports of sexual assaults involving cadets and midshipmen, up from 41 in the prior year.

To help address the jump, the academies are implementing two new policies.

Service members who have been victims of sexual assault will now be able to request an expedited transfer from their units. The military will now also retain records of sexual assaults longer -- in some cases as long as 50 years.

"We know that the military academies are similar to college campuses around the country in that sexual harassment and assault are challenges that all faculty, staff and students need to work to prevent," said Major General Mary Kay Hertog, director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.

"However, when it does occur, we owe it to those who have been victimized, and to every cadet and midshipman, to do everything possible to provide needed support and to hold those who commit sexual assault appropriately accountable."

As part of the review process, Department of Defense officials visited the U.S. Military Academy, Naval Academy and Air Force Academy and reviewed academy policies and procedures. They also held focus groups.

Officials found most academy programs fulfilled or in some cases surpassed existing policies and directives, but Hertog said they have also identified areas for improvement.

(Reporting by Karin Matz; Editing by James B. Kelleher and Jerry Norton)


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Thursday, December 29, 2011

College Roundup: Louisville and Indiana Lose for the First Time

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Source: --- Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Georgetown ended Louisville?s 20-game home winning streak, 71-68. Michigan State brought a halt to Indiana?s undefeated run with an 80-65 victory. ...


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LCD makers settle price-fixing case for $553 million (Reuters)

(Reuters) ? Samsung Electronics Co, Sharp Corp and five other makers of liquid crystal displays agreed to pay more than $553 million to settle consumer and state regulatory claims that they conspired to fix prices for LCD panels in televisions, notebook computers and monitors.

The settlement is the latest arising from lawsuits alleging the creation of an international cartel designed to illegally inflate prices and stifle competition in LCD panels between 1999 and 2006, affecting billions of dollars of U.S. commerce.

In December 2006, authorities in Japan, Korea, the European Union and the United States revealed a probe into alleged anti-competitive activity among LCD panel manufacturers. Many companies and executives have since pleaded guilty to criminal antitrust violations and paid more than $890 million in fines.

The latest payout includes $538.6 million to resolve claims by "indirect" purchasers that bought televisions and computers with thin film transistor LCDs, as well as claims by eight states: Arkansas, California, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, New York, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

It also includes payments of more than $14.7 million by five of the companies to settle civil fine and penalty law claims by the states, the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said.

"This price-fixing scheme manipulated the playing field for businesses that abide by the rules, and left consumers to pay artificially higher costs for televisions, computers and other electronics," Schneiderman said in a statement on Tuesday.

The accord calls for Samsung to pay $240 million, Sharp $115.5 million and Taiwan-based Chimei Innolux Corp $110.3 million, settlement papers filed on Friday with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco show.

Hitachi Displays Ltd will pay $39 million, HannStar Display Corp, $25.7 million; Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd, $5.3 million, and Epson Imaging Devices Corp, $2.9 million, the court documents show.

The settling companies also agreed to establish antitrust compliance programs and to help prosecute other defendants.

Court approval is required, and the settling companies continue to dispute the allegations, the court documents show.

The state penalties include $6 million to be paid by Sharp, $5.7 million by Chimei, and smaller amounts by Epson, HannStar and Hitachi, a spokeswoman for Schneierman said.

Other defendants have yet to settle, including Taiwan-based AU Optronics Corp, one of the largest LCD panel manufacturers; South Korea's LG Display Co and Toshiba Corp.

An AU Optronics spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an emailed request for a comment.

The accord follows a settlement this month by eight companies, including Samsung and Sharp, to pay $388 million to settle litigation by direct purchasers of the LCD panels.

The case is In re: TFT-LCD (Flat Panel) Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 07-md-01827.

(Reporting by Karen Freifeld; Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Dave Zimmerman, Tim Dobbyn and Gunna Dickson)


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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

rmbyrne: New post: Most Popular Posts of the Year - #21, iPad Apps for Special Education

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Richard Byrne

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Techrights Recommends An Apple Boycott

walterbyrd writes with a quote from an article at Techrights: "Given the latest actions from Apple we cannot help recommending that people buy nothing from Apple. Boycott the company for being a threat to the IT landscape and also to common sense." More from the article: "...Apple has been working hard to embargo ? not just sue ? the competition. Apple disregards the notion of fair competition..."


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Thanks to Apple?s ?Find My iPad,? California police arrest Christmas present thief

Dec 27, 2011 - 05:30 PM EST ? AAPL: 406.53 (+3.20, +0.79%) | NASDAQ: 2625.20 (+6.56, +0.25%)

?Los Angeles County sheriff?s deputies recovered more than 40 presents belonging to the family after arresting their neighbor Sunday in a separate burglary case,? The Associated Press reports.

?A Westlake Village man reported his iPad stolen by a burglar on Christmas day, then traced the device to a nearby location using a tracking feature, said Los Angeles County sheriff?s Lt. James Royal,? AP reports. ?After investigating, deputies arrested 20-year-old Patrick Krewson and recovered the iPad, then proceeded to search Krewson?s apartment in Vista.?

AP reports, ?There, deputies found two flat screen TVs, a laptop and Christmas gifts stolen from an apartment in the same complex on Thursday, Royal said.?

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Vista. There?s a joke in there somewhere, but we?re still too hungover to figure it out.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader "BlackWolf" for the heads up.]


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Today, Dec. 26 - Football Viewing at The Sett | Monday Night Football: Atlanta vs. New Orleans

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  • Date Today, Dec. 26
  • Time 7:30 p.m.
  • LocationThe Sett, Union South
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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tough choice looms on 9/11 health lawsuits (AP)

NEW YORK ? More than 1,600 people who filed lawsuits claiming that their health was ruined by dust and smoke from the collapsed World Trade Center must decide by Jan. 2 whether to keep fighting in court, or drop the litigation and apply for benefits from a government compensation fund.

For some, the choice is fraught with risk.

Federal lawmakers set aside $2.76 billion last winter for people who developed illnesses after spending time in the ash-choked disaster zone.

But to be considered for a share of the aid, all potential applicants must dismiss any pending lawsuits by the deadline and give up their right to sue forever over 9/11 health problems. Anyone with a lawsuit still pending on Jan. 3 is barred from the program for life.

The government program is attractive because it spares the sick from having to prove that their illness is related to 9/11, and that someone other than the terrorists put them in harm's way. But applicants won't know for months, or even years, how much money they might eventually receive from the program. That means some people may give up their lawsuits and find out later that they only qualify for a modest payment.

Others face a deeper problem. People exposed to trade center dust have blamed it for hundreds of illnesses, but currently the fund only covers a limited number of ailments, including asthma, scarred lungs and other respiratory system problems. That list does not currently include any type of cancer, which scientists have yet to link to trade center toxins.

But the very possibility that cancer could, someday, be covered has led some plaintiffs to drop their lawsuits anyway.

"In a sense, I've weighed my options and rolled the dice believing that the country I helped is not going to let me down," said former New York City police detective John Walcott, who retired after being diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia in 2003.

He decided a few days before Christmas to drop his case, saying he had come to believe he would never get anything out of the legal system.

"The court system was set up for attorneys to make a lot of money," he said. He added that at age 47, he is tired of a court fight that had no end in sight. "I'm done with 9/11. I can't go forward with my life and family and live in peace with this hanging over me."

The special master overseeing the compensation fund, Sheila Birnbaum, acknowledged that the deadline would put some people in a tight spot, especially if they have an illness that isn't currently covered by the fund.

"That is one of the dilemmas," she said.

Birnbaum noted, though, that the law gives her no wiggle room. Anyone who has a lawsuit active on Jan. 3 will be disqualified from consideration, she said, even if their illness is later deemed to be covered.

"It's a hard decision that they have to make," she said.

The lengthy application process for the fund began in October, and Birnbaum said she expected thousands to apply. She could not say how many might do so by the time the fund closes years from now.

Lawyers who represent people with pending cases said they have been going over the pros and cons with their clients for several months, to see which option might suit them better.

"It's a complicated analysis," said attorney Gregory Cannata, whose firm represents about 100 people, including laborers brought in to repair damaged buildings and cleaners who swept tons of dust from office suites.

Cannata said that for the most part, his clients have decided to stick with their lawsuits, in part because of the possibility of a larger payout than they might receive under the government program.

Police officers, firefighters and city contractors who cleared away the 9/11 rubble make up only a small slice of the people facing the dilemma. Most of the more than 5,000 city workers who filed lawsuits claiming that the city had failed to protect them from the dust settled their cases in 2010, before the compensation fund was created.

Walcott was one of a few who rejected the deal, worth more than $700 million. Under the law, people who settled previously will be allowed to apply for government benefits. Any award they receive will be reduced by whatever they got from the legal settlement.

The tough decisions won't end Jan. 2.

In addition to people with legal claims already pending, thousands more New Yorkers have become ill because of exposure to the dust. They will have to decide in the coming years whether to sue someone over their illness or try their luck in the government program.

If too many people apply for aid from the compensation fund ? including people with common illnesses that may, or may not, have anything to do with 9/11 toxins ? the nearly $2.8 billion set aside by Congress may get exhausted quickly. Adding just 1,000 people with cancer to the program could eat up $1 billion, said Noah Kushlefsky, an attorney with the firm Kreindler & Kreindler.

"The real question is, how many more cases are there out there?" Kushlefsky said.

Enough, it seems, to keep both the courts and the 9/11 fund administrators busy for some time yet.


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SPORTSbyBROOKS: Scan of 1915 letter to Times of London: Scottish 'Piper' on WWI Xmas day truce for 'game of football' w/ Germans

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Scan of 1915 letter to Times of London: Scottish 'Piper' on WWI Xmas day truce for 'game of football' w/ Germans SPORTSbyBROOKS

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PFT: Chargers delay decision on Turner's fate

Tom BradyAP

Eighteen games remain in the 2011 NFL season: Bears-Packers tonight, Falcons-Saints tomorrow and 16 games on New Year?s Day. Here?s a rundown of how each team still in contention can have its playoff position affected by the results of those 18 games:

Patriots: Clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs by beating Buffalo or by having both the Ravens and Steelers lose.

Ravens: Clinch the AFC North and a first-round bye with a win or a Steelers loss. Clinch home-field advantage with a win and a Patriots loss.

Steelers: Clinch the AFC North with a win and a Ravens loss. Clinch home-field advantage with a win, a Ravens loss and a Patriots loss.

Texans: Locked into the AFC No. 3 seed. Week 17 is meaningless to Houston, and the Texans may rest many of their key players.

Broncos: Clinch the AFC West and the No. 4 seed by beating the Chiefs, or a Raiders loss.

Raiders: Clinch the AFC West and the No. 4 seed by beating the Chargers and a Broncos loss. If the Broncos win, the Raiders can still get a wild card if they win and the Bengals lose, plus either the Titans lose or the Jets win.

Bengals: Clinch a playoff spot and the No. 6 seed if they win, or if the Jets lose and either the Raiders or Broncos lose.

Jets: Get the No. 6 seed if they win and the Bengals and Titans and either the Raiders or Broncos lose.

Titans: Get the No. 6 seed if they win and the Bengals lose, plus either the Jets win and the Broncos or Raiders lose, or the Jets lose and the Broncos and Raiders both win.

Packers: Clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs if they beat either the Bears tonight or the Lions next week, or if the 49ers lose next week.

49ers: Clinch a first-round bye with a win next week or the Saints losing either on Monday night or next week. The 49ers can still get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if they win and the Packers lose to both the Bears and the Lions.

Saints: Clinch the NFC South if they win either of their two remaining games, and they could even clinch the NFC South if they lose both of their remaining games, if the Falcons lose in Week 17. The Saints can?t get home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, but they can get a first-round bye if they win both their remaining games and the 49ers lose next week.

Cowboys/Giants: Next Sunday night?s game is essentially a playoff game: The Cowboys-Giants winner wins the NFC East and is the No. 4 seed, while the loser?s season is over. If the game ends in a tie, the Giants win the division.

Falcons: The Falcons can clinch a playoff spot tonight by the Packers beating the Bears. They need just one more win or one more Chicago loss to get to the playoffs. They could still win the NFC South, but only if they beat the Saints Monday night and win next week, plus the Saints lose next week.

Lions: Detroit is an NFC wild card. Whether they?re the No. 5 or No. 6 seed depends on the results of their own game with the Packers and the Falcons? remaining games.

Bears: Chicago can still make the playoffs, but only if they win both their remaining games and the Falcons lose both their remaining games.


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Gods; A New Age

Gods; A New Age

This is the IC for the Gods; A New Age. Only accepted RPers are allowed to post here.

Jack, Avatar of Mask. Gela, Avuvian Territory

?Stick with me, and you may live another day,? Jack said ominously as the men stared at the light that penetrated the holes in the thick wooden gate. Twenty men, two men chained together, one wielding a sword, the other a small brass shield; every single one of them a slave for the Gladiatorial Arena of Gela. They would live to entertain the Avuvians as Maskmen would fight Maskmen, orcs, Drows, hell, they?d even make them fight the Ogre Jack had seen chained in the Salve Pits.

Jack quickly checked that his black veil still covered his face and then returned to breathing calmly. The sound of battle beyond the gates were clear as metal struck metal and the sound of grunts and cries of pain was drowned by the thunderous cheers of the spectators. Jack didn?t see it was cruel, he would have done the same if he had gotten the idea, alas he hadn?t.

?Listen up you worthless maggots!? Their master called as he stood up on a box to get a better view over his newly bought salves. ?Even free, no of you would be worth the honor and entertaining the Avuvians beyond these gates. So if you?re going to die, you bloody well make sure that they will walk away from here with a smile on their face.?
He scanned the crowd for anyone to object or speak against him, but they all knew better than to raise their voice against someone who spend silver as easily as he drank water. ?Give up your religion?Your God won?t hear you here. You have one common God now, and that?s me! Worship me like you would worship any other God, for I hold the wish of life and death. That is, if you live through this match at all.?
With that said their master got down from the box and left them to be ready for the gates to open. Jack spent the time coiling the chains around his arm, that way hi partner wouldn?t run away from him.

The gates soared opened, the light temporarily blinding the gladiators as they ran out to face their opponents. Blood flew through the air as the head of one gladiator was smashed by an Orc?s mace, his partner soon dragged off by the orc to be eaten alive, a second pair charged a triton armed gladiator, the shield carrier sacrificed himself for the swordman to jump in and stab the man through his rips.

Jack pushed his own shield carrier into an opponent, knocking him off balance long enough for him to step in and slash his throat wide open. ?Get up and arm yourself with his damn sword!? Jack cursed at his partner, dragging him back onto his feet.

The poorly armed slaves were poor opponents for their better trained and armed opponents. The battle had barely lasted seven minutes and already half of the pairs had been cut to pieces, leaving only the battle-hardened Maskmen left to face them.

?To me!? Jack called, rallying the nearby Maskmen to gang up against three big shielded gladiators. ?Flank them, right, left! You, with me!? Jack ordered jumping forward with another pair, baiting the central gladiator out of the group. Jack got too close and was punched in his face, send face-first to the ground but before the man could deliver the killing blow, a sword found its way into his bare back. The last man was made short work off as a chain was wrapped around his neck and his windpipe broke under the pressure.

A scream was heard to Jack?s side and he spun around to find his parter decapitated by an orc. ?You bloody cu-? Jack cursed, rolling away from its sweeping axe, but he only evaded it by a small margin. The chains on his arm and the dead body were restricting him from any movement; he chopped the wrist of his dead partner, feeing himself.
He backed away, rejoining his other Maskmen as they stood face to face with the last orc gladiators. The Maskmen cursed, they knew they would be little of a challenge against orcs when it came to strength and fight for survival, ?We?re dead!? one of the men called, but Jack shot him a venomous look.
?They smell your fear,? he hissed. ?We may not be strong, but we?re faster, and think brighter. You are a Maskman, damn it, use your head!? Jack yelled, then ducked as an orc swung its sword out after his head.

Stabbing the orc in its stomach, he screamed in pain as the orc produced a rusty knife and stabbed him in his shoulder. Kicking the monster in its groin, he elbowed it square in the jaw, sending it wheeling down on the ground where he soon wrapped his chains around its throat and squeezed the life out of it. The last two orcs, outnumbers and cornered against the wall roared their last defiance to death as they fought the last Maskmen, dragging four with them in death.

Jack stood up, for a moment he couldn?t hear the applause of the crowd, and looked about those Maskmen who had survived all sighed in relief. They would life?For now.

Jim Mobley, & Baile Snowsong. Heckclown City

?Last time I check my invitation, I did not read anything about ?Unorthodoxy Trade Method? my dear Pirate Lord Snowson,? Jim Mobley said calmly.
The air was tense as the members of the Shadow Council looked to and fro as words were exchanged between the two Gang Lords. Assassin Guild Masters, Drug Lords and Mercenary Warlords made up the Shadow Counil, and which in turn determined all the decisions of the Heckclown Union.
Yet such a council was never without its friction and rivalries, especially when money, land and power was involved, and such complications was only worsened when every man present was a man of Mask.

?You sell slaves to the Avuvians, you use the catacomps of Crypt as lairs for your drugs, and you trade with the orcs. You, ser, are asking for more trouble than the Union can afford,? Baile Snowsong accused, slamming his hand down on the table. ?We will face war if this goes on. We already suffer from trade embargoes from the Avuvian and every Ulmo-loving bastard, but now you will go as far as to offend the neutral kingdoms as well!?
Muttering of agreement and disapproval was heard along the long-table and all eyes turned to Jim Mobley. ?I?m surprised that you are concerned about war when it is you, and your pirates that has been harassing the trade routes of Ulmo?s worshippers for decades. Tell me, Lord Baile, is it your Dark Elven nature or is it your hypocrisy which differs you from me??

?Why you!-? Baile spat and drew his weapon. A move rarely done at the Shadow Council; every member flew to their feet, guns, swords and crossbows pointed at one another. ?C?mon then! Lets settle this, right here and right now!? Baile challeneged.
?And risk civil war? You?re insane!? A warlord cried and turned his pistol from Mobley to Baile.
?Gentlemen,? Mobley? silk-like voice said. ?How about we treturn to our civilized manners of solving such problems?? Eyes were shifted and one by one the men nodded and returned their weapon, and seated themselves once again.

?Baile has a point, however. If you continue pressing your trade as you have, you?ll find the undead soldiers of Crypt crawling out your arse before you can find an alternative. No one touches their priests, but to defile their graveyards and crypts is to ask for the wrath of Crypt himself.? The men nodded in agreement, remembering that the Union had once insulted the people of Crypt badly enough to spark a war. Although they won, their economy was badly scarred, and they had never pressed the worshipers of Crypt again.

?Whatever the case may be here, Jim, you better stop using the Temples of Crypt as Drug Stroages, or I?ll see your business chocked, understood?? Charles Gripper, an influential Black Market Merchant, warned. ?As for you, Baile, you better start choosing which ship to raid. We can?t afford a war with the Avuvian Confederation. Move to vote for this decision.? The vast majority of the dozen men present raised their hands in agreement and the feud was left at that.

The Heckclown Union was divided by gangs and tribal-like behavior, but when the Shadow Council voted for something it was followed. No one could stand up against the power of the Council; it was made up of the most wealthy merchants, powerful warlords and men of social influence. Go against those men, and you?d be better off swimming against the current of a waterfall; they controlled the Union and they controlled each other. Manipulation and economic ties forced each and every man to endure each other as they would sit present at the table.
The only man who wasn?t a part of the Council was Baron Karl von Sneiker. He didn?t care for power-bickering, he had his fort and contempt on staying put there, training and protecting the borders. He was respected and feared for his abilities as a general and for his influence; did he wish it, he could choke half other Union into submission as every caravan passed through his near bandit-free lands, and he rarely demanded toll for the grain from the people of Hallow.

Karl has always been hard to influence. Jim had learned that the hard way, and still bore scars from their first meeting, so he remained one of the few independent warlords, free of debt and reliance to others.

Sir Daniel Fortesque & Sammuel ?Kain? Volkmar. Road to Hedes

?The wards here are fading, have them fixed,? Sir Daniel Fortesque ordered as he pointed on the road where a wards had been carved and painted. The lands of Crypt were haunted in the night as the living restless-dead awakened from their sleep and sought to satisfy their thirst for revenge.

The Temple of Crypt wasn?t perfect. Although its priests and necromancers were taught its strict rules from when they were children, there were still the very few who?d run away and become ambitious, where it bordered insanity. Such necromancers were to be hunted down and killed, yet they never left the world without scarring it one way or the other. Whatever the case they always left undead who couldn?t easily be given rest, Daniel had ordered these undead to be imprisoned within the forests of his kingdom so they wouldn?t harm anyone else and to ensure they didn't harm his own people, magical wards were painted on every road, wall and independent house.

?Our work is given little acknowledgement, milord,? Captain Sammuel ?Kain? commented. Kain was the Captain of the Grim Reaper Knights, the elite soldiers of Crypt.
?Our holy Texts never asked for acknowledgement nor understanding,? Daniel answered as he watched the necromancers finish painting the wards, they?d last another decade before they?d need repainting. ?We do what others will not. If we didn?t, every field, city and sewer would-?
?End up like the infested nest of the Orcus cultists.? Kain said synchronically. ?I know the holy Texts as well as you do, but what they?ve missed is the fact that humans move on. Look at every other kingdom and Empire; armed with muskets, canons and what not. The Temple of Crypt may guard the forbidden knowledge of the past, but we will never stop humans from ripping each others throats out.?

Daniel sighed. Kain was right, even with the wisdom of thousands of years behind him, Daniel had seen the same events unfold time after time, and at every conflict he had stood passively and watched as men had killed men, waiting only with a shovel to bury the dead.
?It may be so but we are not to determine the fate of mankind.?
?But we can determine whether or not the dead are allowed to rest in their graves,? Kain sneered.
?You know as well as I, that there are no spirits bound within the body of the Undead. They-?
?We demand their bodies to be mutilated further than what decay does. Does that not clash with the Crypt?s Ethics??
Daniel fell silent. It was true, many of the doctrines and ethical codes clashed, yet they were based on idealism not realism. The ethics demanded that the services of the priests are not to be charged, yet every temple outside of the Theocratic Kingdom of Archious demanded money one way or the other to pay taxes, payment, restocking supplies, and so on.

?I know how frustrating it is when your work is overlooked, taken for granted and when you?re expected to clean up the messes of others,? Daniel finally said, taking Kain by surprise. ?I?ve been there too. When I first became Crypt?s avatar, I dreamed that I?d build an Empire who would worship him as much as you and I. Yet, Crypt never gave me his blessings to go forth and win wars and take land, instead he asked me to put down my sword and shovel and go to an ancient field.
?There I saw bodies scattered. Orc and man alike, both decaying making ot near impossible to tell race apart. Crypt then told me, ?were I not to do my duties and pay my respect to the dead as I did to the living, this is what would happen. Heroes would never be known, those who died would be unsung and the married would never know whether their husband would come home.?
?Kain, ambition and realism is what drives every other kingdom and empire forward, but who will look after those they leave behind? We move at out own pace, saving those we meet along the way.?

Kain bowed before this. ?I understand,? he replied humbly.

With the wards repainted, the men headed back for Hedes.


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Monday, December 26, 2011

Military Wives take out Xmas No.1

Last updated 14:04 26/12/2011

A choir of wives of soldiers serving in Afghanistan topped the British singles charts this week, beating X Factor winners Little Mix to the Christmas No. 1 spot and outselling the rest of the top 12 put together.

Wherever You Are by Military Wives, a song written using excerpts from letters sent between military couples, sold 556,000 copies, the Official Charts Company said.

All proceeds from the single go to The Royal British Legion and the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen Families Association.

"It's a testament to the Military Wives' hard work and the nation's support of them as well as the power of choral singing," said Gareth Malone, the choirmaster who put the group together for a BBC television series, The Choir.

"I'm delighted they have found their voice."

The 100-strong Military Wives choir dislodged from the top spot a cover of Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice's Cannonball by Little Mix, a group of four girls that won this year's X Factor television singing contest.



- Reuters


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Giants coach downplays injury, ready for Dallas

Rex Ryan, Tom Coughlin


updated 5:33 p.m. ET Dec. 26, 2011

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) ? Walking into his news conference to kick off an NFC East showdown week with the Dallas Cowboys, Tom Coughlin couldn't hide the injury.

There was a noticeable limp in his left leg, one that seemingly will bother the 65-year-old New York Giants coach for weeks and might require medical intervention down the road.

Coughlin didn't care. He wasn't going to discuss the extent of the injury sustained in Saturday's game with the Jets when he was slammed into by D.J Ware after the Giants running back was hit out of bounds.

All that was important was that the Giants (8-7) are playing Dallas (8-7) Sunday night at MetLife Stadium for the NFC East title and a playoff berth. The loser goes home.

"Never better. I may not be able to run for a while," Coughlin said of his health, adding later that he doesn't discuss injuries.

Still, Coughlin had some fun. When asked about Ware, he joked Ware was no longer with the team.

He blamed himself for not paying attention and taking his eye off the play, even though he admitted the late push that resulted in a penalty came 10 yards out of bounds. He even noted he was in for treatment Sunday, just to check up on his players who were hurt in Saturday's 29-14 win that gave the Giants bragging right over Rex Ryan and the brash Jets, the team that co-owns the stadium where they play.

The man who also led the Giants to a Super Bowl title in 2008 and missed the playoffs the past two seasons added he has no intention of coaching from the press box Sunday night. He will be on the field with his players in this all-or-nothing game.

"This is a long and storied rivalry, no doubt about it," Coughlin said of the Giants-Cowboys series. "There have been some great, great games between the two franchises. The one a couple of weeks ago was an outstanding game and example of that. We prepare ourselves for just that type of high intensity, outstanding, high level of performance on both sides."

The Giants rallied from a 12-point deficit in the final 5:41 to beat the Cowboys in Dallas on Dec. 11. However, Coughlin reminded his team Monday that Dallas beat the Giants in the Meadowlands last season after losing in Texas.

Defensive end Dave Tollefson said Coughlin has been the one person the players can count on in what has been an inconsistent year.

The fourth-quarter injury on Saturday was yet another example.

Player after player was amazed at Coughlin's toughness after taking the hit, which looked nasty. Trainers forced him to go to the bench to be examined, but he fought them all the way and quickly limped back to his coaching position along the sideline.

"You know his actions, obviously, Saturday was a great example to the public," Tollefson said. "He would never ask us to do anything that he himself would (not) be willing to do, though he is twice the age of our youngest guy. Seriously, he means what he says and he says a lot of things that he does say, there is conviction in his voice. So you can really tell he means it."

And that he led to loyalty toward a coach who let his players know where they stand.

"You don't want to let him down because he is willing to do anything he can to not let us down," Tollefson said.

Coughlin's message to the team Monday was simple: Forget about the win over the Jets. If you want to get into the postseason, win on Sunday.

"We are all all-in," said defensive captain Justin Tuck, who seemingly shook off all his injuries and played his best game of the season against the Jets. "Coach Coughlin is the same as all of us. I know that leg is banged up a little bit, but he wasn't showing any ill effects today and came in excited about the opportunity that we have this week."

Outspoken safety Antrel Rolle went home to Miami for Christmas, and texted his coach to see how he was feeling Sunday.

"Some of our toughness definitely rubbed off on him," Rolle quipped before getting serious. "He is a tough guy. He kept it going. If our coach is strong enough to go out there and fight and keep it going and hang through a situation like that, we're younger. Why can't we do it?" That's the mentality I have."

Some of the players could not help but tease Coughlin a little bit. One of the things he always says to them is: no toughness, no championship."

The coach heard that a couple of times after being hurt.

His age also was a target.

"I don't think he has taken a hit like that since World War II," Tollefson said of Coughlin, who was born a year after the hostilities ended. "For him to bounce back is impressive."

He'll tape it up if he has to," added guard Chris Snee, the coach's son-in-law. "It didn't look very good but I guess it could have been a lot worse."

NOTES: Coughlin hopes to have WR Mario Manningham (knee) back for the regular-season finale. ...DE Osi Umenyiora (ankle) is a little more iffy. ... Rolle, CB Corey Webster and DE Jason Pierre-Paul all played over 100 plays against the Jets.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


More newsGetty Images
Brees already among the greats

Tanier: Drew Brees deserves to be seen as more than a runner-up MVP. He is a future Hall of Famer, and he should be acknowledged as one of the best quarterbacks, not just of this generation, but of any generation.

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Sea Shepherd says drones find, photograph Japan's whaling fleet (Reuters)

SYDNEY (Reuters) ? Hardline whaling opponents attempting to stop Japan's annual whale hunt in the Antarctic said Sunday they had intercepted and photographed its whaling fleet using pilotless drone aircraft.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said it located the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru off Australia's western coast Saturday using the drones, the first time this season it has made contact with the whalers.

However, other Japanese ships shielded the vessel "to allow it to escape," Sea Shepherd said in a statement.

"We caught them due west of Perth," founder Paul Watson told Reuters by satellite phone from the ship Steve Irwin. "For the next few days we will be chasing them. We are heading south."

The two drones are equipped with cameras and detection equipment and allow Sea Shepherd to monitor the whaling fleet from a distance, he said.

Watson said Sea Shepherd's three ships were well outside Antarctic waters when the Japanese vessel was seen. The Sea Shepherd waited for the Nisshin Maru after hearing from fishermen it had sailed through the Lombok Strait in Indonesia on its voyage to Antarctic waters.

The Sea Shepherd society's annual attempts to stop the Japanese whale hunt by "direct action" have been widely criticised by other environmentalists and governments, particularly Japan. However, it also has influential supporters.

Watson said sympathisers in New Jersey in the United States contributed to the cost of the two drones.

An international moratorium on whaling has been in place since 1986, but Japan exploits a loophole allowing whaling for scientific purposes to justify its annual hunt.

(Reporting by Chris McCall; Editing by Paul Tait)


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Sunday, December 25, 2011

49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and QB Alex Smith react to Saturday's 19-17 win in Seat...

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Ryan Church

From BR Bullpen

Ryan Matthew Church

BR page

BR Minors page

[edit] Biographical Information

Ryan Church hit two home runs on Easter Sunday in 2006.

Church was originally drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 14th round of the 2000 amateur draft out of the University of Nevada, Reno. After four season in the Indians system, he was sent to the Montreal Expos along with Maicer Izturis in return for lefty Scott Stewart after the 2003 season. He had alsway hit well in the Indians system: with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in 2000, he hit .298 with 16 doubles and 10 homers in 73 games. In 2001 for Columbus and Kinston, he hit .278 with 30 doubles and 22 homers in 125 games. In 2002, for Kinston and AA Akron, he hit .307 in 124 games, with 29 doubles and 22 homers. In 2003, he hit .261 in 99 games for Akron, with 17 doubles and 13 homers. Moving to the Expos' organization he had another big year in his first season at the AAA level for the Edmonton Trappers. In 98 games, he hit .343, with 29 doubles, 8 triples and 17 homers, with 74 runs scored and 78 RBI before earning his first call-up to "the Show".

Ryan was one of the last players to make his major league debut for the Expos, late in the 2004 season. In spite of going 3 for 4 in his first start in left field on August 22nd, he only hit .175 in 30 games that first year. The Expos became the Washington Nationals the following year and Church played regularly for them over their first three seasons in D.C., with batting averages of .287, .276 and .272. His home run total improved from 1 to 9 to 10 to 15 over his first 4 seasons. In 2008, he was traded to the New York Mets along with catcher Brian Schneider for Lastings Milledge. He was having his best season that year as the Mets' regular right fielder, hitting .307 with 10 homers and 37 RBI in 57 games, when he had to go on the disabled list with a concussion in early July. He came back in late August, but finished at .276 with 12 homers in 90 games.

Church was back with the Mets in 2009 and having another good season when he was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Jeff Francoeur on July 10th; he was hitting .280 in 67 games at the time of the trade, then went .260 for the Braves. He signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010, where he was a teammate of Lastings Milledge, the player he had been traded for two years earlier, but he hit only .182 in 69 games as a pinch-hitter and back-up outfielder. At the trading deadline, the struggling Pirates sent him to the Arizona Diamondbacks, along with a couple of other unproductive veterans - Bobby Crosby and D.J. Carrasco - in return for C Chris Snyder and Pedro Ciriaco. None of the players involved in the deal did much afterwards. Church for his part hit .265 in only 49 at-bats the rest of the year. He became a free agent again after the season but failed to find another team.

[edit] Notable Achievements?

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Ed Roman, renowned guitar builder, dies at 61 (AP)

LAS VEGAS ? As a guitar-maker for the stars, Ed Roman found a platform for fierce opinions about his commercially manufactured competition, exhorting musicians to drop what he called "misdirected ignorant brand loyalty."

His own guitars found their way into the hands of everyone from Ted Nugent to British rockers Eric Burdon of The Animals and John Entwistle of The Who. Roman, sometimes likened to a Viking for his red hair, was unafraid to unleash self-described politically incorrect opinions about foreign-made products, chain stores and corporate guitar manufacturers.

But his daughter remembers a soft side to his big, brash personality. She remembers him taking care of her pet hamster, letting the critter roll around in a plastic ball amid an office brimming with expensive guitars.

"He had a very kind, gentle heart," Lindsey Star Roman said.

Roman died Dec. 14 at his home following an illness, his daughter said. He was 61.

"He's going to be remembered with a smile. He made everyone laugh," she told the Associated Press Thursday. "And he's certainly going to be immortalized through his guitars."

Roman, whose critiques found an outlet on the voluminous "Guitar Rants" section of his personal website, started playing the instrument as a youth in Stamford, Conn. His inspiration was Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees The Ventures, a prolific instrumental combo most active in the 1960s.

Roman worked on motorcycles before turning to guitar building in 1976, because "he always wanted to make something better," his daughter said.

"He was fortunate to meet most of his heroes," she said.

Roman, tired of East Coast winters and observing that "everyone eventually comes to Vegas," moved to Las Vegas in 2000 and opened a large shop there in 2001, according to his daughter.

His time in Sin City brought him ? and his wide range of custom guitars ? close to other famous musicians, including Marie Osmond and country musician Keith Urban.

Also a singer and a bassist, Roman was in the process of recording albums of his own before his unexpected death last week.

Roman's Las Vegas store remains open. In lieu of a funeral, a memorial concert is planned for Roman's birthday, Feb. 24.


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TUAW Best of 2011: Vote for the best iPhone productivity app

The nominations are in, and the poll is ready to go! The TUAW Best of 2011 awards are all about you -- the readers -- and what you think is the cream of the crop of Apple or third-party products and software. To vote, select one entry from the top nominations made by readers. We'll be announcing the winner in just a few days. Vote early and often!

TUAW is asking for your votes for the best iPhone productivity app of 2011.

Our readers provided a plethora of nominations in this category, but five apps really stood out. Springpad (free) captured the lion's share of the nominations for its easy to use interface, customizable notebooks, and ability to sync across platforms. A dark horse was ISMEStorage (US$4.99) a comprehensive cloud and local file manager that supports cloud services from Amazon S3 to Zimbra Briefcase and just about everything in between.

The big guns weren't left out of the voting, though -- both Dropbox (free) and Evernote (free) were popular nominations for iPhone productivity apps. It was good to see OmniFocus for iPhone ($19.99) in the nominations, as it is a consistently popular and highly-rated productivity app.

And now, let the voting begin! The results will be announced on Christmas Day, December 25.



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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Paula Scher?s Exquisite Book of Lying "Maps"

?They are so fashionable. They are designed ? to appear to be unauthored, as if they were created by a computer,? she explains. But in fact they are created by individuals to prove particular points. ?My maps are the opposite of that. This is personal; this is my opinion,? she says. And looking at her South America, with its sexy colors, hand-painted lettering, and absurdly misplaced islands, there?s no trendy illusion of objectivity.


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Deal of the Day: Case-Mate Tough Case for Samsung Skyrocket

Case-Mate Tough Case for Samsung Skyrocket

The Dec. 23 Deal of the Day is the Case-Mate Tough Case for the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket. It's built ot withstand sudden drops and accidental falls and has a snug, form-fitting silicone wrap that provides shock resistance. There's also a hard shell that protects againstn impact. And best of all, it's available today only in black-on-black or black-on-pink for just $19.95 -- that's 43 percent off! Get yours while supplies last.


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