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This thing is gonna be even cooler than I thought

Motor Head Messiah

By: Clive Thompson
Motorhead Messiah
"Check it out. It's actually a jet engine," says Johnathan Goodwin, with a low whistle. "This thing is gonna be even cooler than I thought." We're hunched on the floor of Goodwin's gleaming workshop in Wichita, Kansas, surrounded by the shards of a wooden packing crate. Inside the wreckage sits his latest toy--a 1985-issue turbine engine originally designed for the military. It can spin at a blistering 60,000 rpm and burn almost any fuel. And Goodwin has some startling plans for this esoteric piece of hardware: He's going to use it to create the most fuel-efficient Hummer in history.

Goodwin, a 37-year-old who looks like Kevin Costner with better hair, is a professional car hacker. The spic-and-span shop is filled with eight monstrous trucks and cars--Hummers, Yukon XLs, Jeeps--in various states of undress. His four tattooed, twenty something grease monkeys crawl all over them with wrenches and welding torches.

Goodwin leads me over to a red 2005 H3 Hummer that's up on jacks, its mechanics removed. He aims to use the turbine to turn the Hummer into a tricked-out electric hybrid. Like most hybrids, it'll have two engines, including an electric motor. But in this case, the second will be the turbine, Goodwin's secret ingredient. Whenever the truck's juice runs low, the turbine will roar into action for a few seconds, powering a generator with such gusto that it'll recharge a set of "super capacitor" batteries in seconds. This means the H3's electric motor will be able to perform awesome feats of acceleration and power over and over again, like a Prius on steroids. What's more, the turbine will burn bio diesel, a renewable fuel with much lower emissions than normal diesel; a hydrogen-injection system will then cut those low emissions in half. And when it's time to fill the tank, he'll be able to just pull up to the back of a diner and dump in its excess french-fry grease--as he does with his many other Hummers. Oh, yeah, he adds, the horsepower will double--from 300 to 600.

"Conservatively," Goodwin muses, scratching his chin, "it'll get 60 miles to the gallon. With 2,000 foot-pounds of torque. You'll be able to smoke the tires. And it's going to be super efficient."

He laughs. "Think about it: a 5,000-pound vehicle that gets 60 miles to the gallon and does zero to 60 in five seconds!"

This is the sort of work that's making Goodwin famous in the world of underground car modders. He is a virtuoso of fuel economy. He takes the hugest American cars on the road and rejiggers them to get up to quadruple their normal mileage and burn low-emission renewable fuels grown on U.S. soil--all while doubling their horsepower. The result thrills eco-evangelists and red-meat Americans alike: a vehicle that's simultaneously green and mean. And word's getting out. In the corner of his office sits Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1987 Jeep Wagoneer, which Goodwin is converting to bio diesel; soon, Neil Young will be shipping him a 1960 Lincoln Continental to transform into a bio diesel--electric hybrid.

His target for Young's car? One hundred miles per gallon.

This is more than a mere American Chopper--style makeover. Goodwin's experiments point to a radically cleaner and cheaper future for the American car. The numbers are simple: With a $5,000 bolt-on kit he co-engineered--the poor man's version of a Goodwin conversion--he can immediately transform any diesel vehicle to burn 50% less fuel and produce 80% fewer emissions. On a full-size gas-guzzler, he figures the kit earns its money back in about a year--or, on a regular car, two--while hitting an emissions target from the outset that's more stringent than any regulation we're likely to see in our lifetime. "Johnathan's in a league of his own," says Martin Tobias, CEO of Imperium Renewables, the nation's largest producer of bio diesel. "Nobody out there is doing experiments like he is."

Nobody--particularly not Detroit. Indeed, Goodwin is doing precisely what the big American automakers have always insisted is impossible. They have long argued that fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel cars are a hard sell because they're too cramped and meek for our market. They've lobbied aggressively against raising fuel-efficiency and emissions standards, insisting that either would doom the domestic industry. Yet the truth is that Detroit is now getting squeezed from all sides. This fall, labor unrest is brewing, and after decades of inertia on fuel-economy standards, Congress is jockeying to boost the target for cars to 35 mpg, a 10 mpg jump (which is either ridiculously large or ridiculously small, depending on whom you ask). More than a dozen states are enacting laws requiring steep reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. Meanwhile, gas prices have hovered around $3 per gallon for more than a year. And European and Japanese car makers are flooding the market with diesel and hybrid machines that get up to 40% better mileage than the best American cars; some, such as Mercedes new BlueTec diesel sedans, deliver that kind of efficiency and more horsepower.

General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, in short, have a choice: Cede still more ground--or mount a technological counterattack.

Goodwin's work proves that a counterattack is possible, and maybe easier than many of us imagined. If the dream is a big, bad ass ride that's also clean, well, he's there already. As he points out, his conversions consist almost entirely of taking stock GM parts and snapping them together in clever new ways. "They could do all this stuff if they wanted to," he tells me, slapping on a visor and hunching over an arc welder. "The technology has been there forever. They make 90% of the components I use." He doesn't have an engineering degree; he didn't even go to high school: "I've just been messing around and seeing what I can do."

All of which raises an interesting possibility. Has this guy in a far-off Kansas garage figured out the way to save Detroit?

America's most revolutionary innovations, it has long been said, sprang from the ramshackle dens of amateurs. Thomas Edison was a home-schooled dropout who got his start tinkering with battery parts; Chester Carlson invented the photocopier in his cramped Long Island kitchen. NASA, desperate for breakthroughs to help it return to the moon, has set up million-dollar prizes to encourage private citizens to come forward with any idea, no matter how crazy. As the theory goes, only those outside big industries can truly reinvent them.

Goodwin is certainly an outsider. He grew up in a dirt-poor Kansas family with six siblings and by age 13 began taking on piecework in local auto shops to help his mother pay the bills. He particularly enjoyed jamming over sized engines into places no one believed they'd fit. He put truck engines inside Camaros, Grand Nationals, and Super Bees; he even put a methanol-fueled turbocharger on a tiny Yamaha Banshee four-wheeler. "We took that thing from 35 horsepower to 208," he recalls. "It was crazy. We couldn't put enough fins on the back to keep it on the ground." After dropping out of school in the seventh grade, he made a living by buying up totaled cars and making them as good as new. "That," he says, "was my school."

Along the way, Goodwin also adopted two views common among Americans, but typically thought to be in conflict: a love of big cars and a concern about the environment. He is an avid, if somewhat nonideological, environmentalist. He believes global warming is a serious problem, that reliance on foreign oil is a mistake, and that butt-kicking fuel economy is just good for business. But Goodwin is also guiltlessly addicted to enormous, brawling rides, precisely the sort known to suck down Saudi gasoline. (I spied one lonely small sports car in the corner of his garage, but he confessed he has no plans to work on it right now.) When he picked me up from my hotel, he drove a four-door 2008 Cadillac Escalade XL that should have had its own tugboat. He parallel parked it in one try.

If Goodwin is an artist, though, his canvas has been the Hummer. His first impression of the thing was inauspicious. In 1999, he bought an H1 in Denver and began driving it back to Kansas. Within 50 miles, the bolts in the transmission shook loose, forcing him to stop to fix it. "By the time I made it home, after three roadside repairs, I pretty much knew that the Hummer was not all it should be," he told me. He didn't think much of the 200 horsepower engine, either, which did "zero to 60 in two days. It was a piece of junk."

So Goodwin decided to prove that environmentalism and power could go together--by making his new lemon into exhibit A. First, he pulled the gas engine so he could drop in a Duramax V8, GM's core diesel for large trucks. Diesel technology is crucial to all of Goodwin's innovations because it offers several advantages over traditional gasoline engines. Pound for pound, diesel offers more power and torque; it's also inherently more efficient, offering up to 40% better mileage and 20% lower emissions in engines of comparable size. What's more, many diesel engines can easily accept a wide range of bio diesel--from the high-quality stuff produced at refineries to the melted chicken grease siphoned off from the local KFC.

"Think about it," Goodwin laughs. "A 5,000-pound vehicle that gets 60 miles to the gallon and will do zero to 60 in five seconds!"

Putting a diesel engine in the Hummer, however, required Goodwin to crack GM's anti theft system, which makes it a pain to swap out the engine. In that system, the engine communicates electronically with the body, fuel supply, and ignition; if you don't have all the original components, the car won't start. Goodwin jerry-rigged a set of cables to trick the engine into believing the starter system had broken, sending it into "fail-safe mode"--a backdoor mechanism installed at the factory. (At one point in his story, Goodwin wanders over to a battered cardboard box in the corner of the garage and hauls out an octopus like tangle of wires--"the MacGyver," his hacking device. "I could have sold this for a lot of money on eBay," he chuckles.)

Once he'd picked the car's lock, Goodwin installed the Duramax and a five-speed Allison--the required transmission for a Duramax, which also helps give it race-car-like control and a rapid take off. After five days' worth of work, the Hummer was getting about 18 mpg--double the factory 9 mpg--and twice the original horsepower. He drove it over to a local restaurant and mooched some discarded oil from its deep fryer, strained the oil through a pair of jeans, and poured it into the engine. It ran perfectly.

But Goodwin wanted more. While researching alternative fuels, he learned about the work of Uli Kruger, a German who has spent decades in Australia exploring techniques for blending fuels that normally don't mix. One of Kruger's systems induces hydrogen into the air intake of a diesel engine, producing a cascade of emissions-reducing and mileage-boosting effects. The hydrogen, ignited by the diesel combustion, burns extremely clean, producing only water as a by-product. It also displaces up to 50% of the diesel needed to fuel the car, effectively doubling the diesel's mileage and cutting emissions by at least half. Better yet, the water produced from the hydrogen combustion cools down the engine, so the diesel combustion generates fewer particulates--and thus fewer nitrogen-oxide emissions.

"You can feed it hydrogen, diesel, bio diesel, corn oil--pretty much anything but water."

"It's really a fantastic chain reaction, all these good things happening at once," Kruger tells me. He has also successfully introduced natural gas--a ubiquitous and generally cheap fuel--into a diesel-burning engine, which likewise doubles the mileage while slashing emissions. In another system, he uses heat from the diesel engine to vaporize ethanol to the point where it can be injected into the diesel combustion chambers as a booster, with similar emissions-cutting effects.

Goodwin began building on Kruger's model. In 2005, he set to work adapting his own H1 Hummer to burn a combination of hydrogen and bio diesel. He installed a Duramax in the Hummer and plopped a carbon-fiber tank of super compressed hydrogen into the bed. The results were impressive: A single tank of hydrogen lasted for 700 miles and cut the diesel consumption in half. It also doubled the horsepower. "It reduces your carbon footprint by a huge, huge amount, but you still get all the power of the Duramax," he says, slapping the H1 on the quarter panel. "And you can feed it hydrogen, diesel, bio diesel, corn oil--pretty much anything but water."

Two years ago, Goodwin got a rare chance to show off his tricks to some of the car industry's most prominent engineers. He tells me the story: He was driving a converted H2 to the SEMA show, the nation's biggest annual specialty automotive confab, and stopped en route at a Denver hotel. When he woke up in the morning, there were 20 people standing around his Hummer. Did I run over somebody? he wondered. As it turned out, they were engineers for GM, the Hummer's manufacturer. They noticed that Goodwin's H2 looked modified. "Does it have a diesel engine in it?"

"Yeah," he said.

"No way," they replied.

He opened the hood, "and they're just all in and out and around the valves and checking it out," he says. They asked to hear it run, sending a stab of fear through Goodwin. He'd filled it up with grease from a Chinese restaurant the day before and was worried that the cold morning might have solidified the fuel. But it started up on the first try and ran so quietly that at first they didn't believe it was really on. "When you start a diesel engine up on vegetable oil," Goodwin says, "you turn the key, and you hear nothing. Because of the lubricating power of the oil, it's just so smooth. Whisper quiet. And they're like, 'Is it running? Yeah, you can hear the fan going.'"

One engineer turned and said, "GM said this wouldn't work."

"Well," Goodwin replied, "here it is."

Goodwin's feats of engineering have become gradually more visible over the past year. Last summer, Imperium Renewables contacted MTV's show Pimp My Ride about creating an Earth Day special in which Goodwin would convert a muscle car to run on bio diesel. The show chose a '65 Chevy Impala, and when the conversion was done, he'd doubled its mileage to 25 mpg and increased its pull from 250 to 800 horsepower. As a stunt, MTV drag-raced the Impala against a Lamborghini on California's Pomona Raceway. "The Impala blew the Lamborghini away," says Kevin Kluemper, the lead calibration engineer for GM's Allison transmission unit, who'd flown down to help with the conversion. Schwarzenegger, who was on the set that day, asked Goodwin on the spot to convert his Wagoneer to bio diesel.

Observers of Goodwin's work say his skill lies in an uncanny ability to visualize a mechanical system in precise detail, long before he picks up a wrench. (Goodwin says he does much of his mental work during long drives.) "He has talent unknown to any mortal," says Mad Mike, Pimp My Ride's host. "He has this ability to see things so exactly, and I still don't know how he does it."

For his part, Goodwin argues he's merely "a problem solver. Most people try to make things more complicated than they are." He speaks of the major car makers with a sort of mild disdain: If he can piece together cleaner vehicles out of existing GM parts and a bit of hot-rod elbow grease, why can't they bake that kind of ingenuity into their production lines? Prod him enough on the subject and his mellowness peels away, revealing a guy fired by an almost manic frustration. "Everybody should be driving a plug-in vehicle right now," he complains, in one of his laconic engineering lectures, as we wander through the blistering Kansas heat to a nearby Mexican restaurant. "I can go next door to Ace Hardware and buy a DC electric motor, go out to my four-wheel-drive truck, remove the transmission and engine, bolt the electric motor onto the back of the transfer case, put a series of lead-acid batteries up to 240 volts in the back of the bed, and we're good to go. I guarantee you I could drive all around town and do whatever I need, go home at night, and hook up a couple of battery chargers, plug one into an outlet, and be good to go the next day.

"Detroit could do all this stuff overnight if it wanted to," he adds.

In reality, Goodwin's work has begun to influence some of Detroit's top auto designers, but through curious and circuitous routes. In 2005, Tom Holm, the founder of EcoTrek, a nonprofit that promotes the use of alternative fuels, heard about Goodwin through the Hummer-junkie grapevine and hired him. When Holm showed GM the vehicles Goodwin converted, the company was duly impressed. Internally, Hummer executives had long been looking for a way to blunt criticism of the H2's gas-guzzling tendencies and saw Goodwin's vehicles as an object lesson in what was possible. So GM decided to flip the switch: It announced the same year that, beginning in 2008, it would convert its gasoline Hummers to run on ethanol; by 2010, it said, Hummers would be bio diesel-compatible.

"It was an influence," concedes Hummer general manager Martin Walsh, of the EcoTrek vehicles. "We wanted to be environmentally responsible by having engines in Hummers that run on renewable fuels." But until I contacted Hummer for this story, GM didn't know that the man behind those machines was none other than Goodwin.

GM's commitment is a start, however halting. Overall, though, Detroit still seems to be all but paralyzed by the challenges of fuel economy, emissions, and alternative fuels. And it's not just about greed or laziness: Talk to car-industry experts, and they'll point out a number of serious barriers to introducing radically new alternative-fuel vehicles on a scale that will make a difference. One of the highest is that low-emission fuels--bio diesel, ethanol, electricity, hydrogen, all of which account for less than 3% of the nation's fuel supply--just aren't widely available on American highways. This creates a chicken-and-egg problem. People won't buy alternative-fuel cars until it's easy to fill them up, but alternative fuel makers won't ramp up production until there's a viable market.

Goodwin admits all these things are true but believes the country could be weaned off gasoline in a three-step process. The first would be for Detroit to aggressively roll out diesel engines, much as Europe has already begun to do (some 50% of all European cars run diesel). In a single stroke, that would improve the nation's mileage by as much as 40%, and, because diesel fuel is already widely available, drivers could take that step with a minimum of disruption. What's more, given that many diesel engines can also run homegrown bio diesel, a mass conversion to diesel would help kick-start that market. (This could have geopolitical implications as well as environmental and economic ones: The Department of Transportation estimated in 2004 that if we converted merely one-third of America's passenger cars and light trucks to diesel, we'd reduce our oil consumption by up to 1.4 million barrels of oil per day--precisely the amount we import from Saudi Arabia.)

The second step in Goodwin's scheme would be to produce diesel-electric hybrid cars. This would double the mileage on even the biggest diesel vehicles. The third phase would be to produce electric hybrids that run in "dual fuel" mode, burning bio diesel along with hydrogen, ethanol, natural gas, or propane. This is the concept Goodwin is proving out in his turbine-enhanced H3 Hummer and in Neil Young's Lincoln: "At that point, your mileage just goes really, really high, and your emissions are incredibly low," he says. Since those vehicles can run on regular diesel or bio diesel--and without any alternative fuel at all, if need be--drivers wouldn't have to worry about getting stranded on the interstate. At the same time, as more and more dual-fuel cars hit the road, they would goose demand for genuinely national ethanol, hydrogen, and bio diesel grids.

For Goodwin, navigating this process is all about imagination and adaptability. "The point is to design cars that are flexible," he says. "You'll see a change in how vehicles are fueled in the future. Which fuel source will be the exclusive one or the one that'll take over the petroleum base is, you know, anybody's guess, so it's like the wild, wild West of fuel technology right now. I think it'll be a combination between a few different fuels. I know hydrogen will definitely come around."

Imagination and vision, of course, are often rewarded. As global pressure increases on the United States to reduce our carbon emissions, those rewards are likely to get juicier. Under some versions of legislation being considered in Congress, for example, companies voluntarily deploying super efficient vehicles in large fleets could be awarded substantial offsets. Take DHL, the FedEx rival: Goodwin says his company, SAE Energy, is negotiating with the shipper to convert 800 of its vehicles to dual fuel. "We could get them an offset of something like 70 cents a gallon," Goodwin says, "and reduce their cost of fuel by 50%."

Industry insiders and observers agree with many of Goodwin's prescriptions, particularly his concept of fuel flexibility. "We have to have alternatives," says Beau Boeckmann, vice president of California's Galpin Motors, the largest Ford dealership in the country, who recently partnered with Goodwin to convert a 2008 F450 truck to hydrogen and biodiesel. "Only with a combination of things can we get alternative fuels off the ground." Boeckmann believes hydrogen is the true "silver bullet" for ending greenhouse gases but thinks it'll take more than a decade to figure out how to create and distribute it cheaply. Mary Beth Stanek, GM's director of environment, energy, and safety policy, also agrees with the multifuel approach--and points out that this is precisely how Brazil weaned itself from regular gasoline. "They pull up to the pump, and they've got a whole bunch of different choices," she notes. She, too, predicts diesel will make a comeback because of its inherent fuel efficiency: "You will see more vehicles going back to diesel over a lot of different lines."

Yet in reality, American carmakers seem conspicuously slow on the uptake. Stanek is about as ardent a fan of alternative fuels as you're likely to find inside GM, but even she admits no one there is seriously thinking of abandoning the gasoline engine anytime soon. The 300-million-gallon U.S. biodiesel business is a fraction of the 12-billion-gallon ethanol one. And Detroit is extremely cautious about what the market can bear.

A Detroit carmaker does, of course, have to worry about selling millions of cars at reasonable prices. But we've been hearing this refrain for a long, long time. And with European and Japanese carmakers driving ever harder into our market--and with Chrysler having become just another meal for Cerberus Capital--this hardly seems like the time to be overly cautious. (Those ultralow-emission Mercedes BlueTec diesels, for example, include a four-wheel-drive sedan that gets 37 mpg and goes from zero to 60 in 6.6 seconds.) Moreover, after decades of consumer apathy, improving fuel economy and reducing carbon output are becoming urgent national priorities. The green groundswell has arrived, and, given the stakes, anyone who ignores it does so at his peril. If Detroit can't sell diesel now--especially a clean, high-performance, money-saving diesel--it never will.

With U.S. carmakers being stripped for parts, now is hardly the time for them to play it safe.

Goodwin, perhaps, can afford to be a visionary. He has the luxury of converting cars for fancy clients who'll pay handsomely to drive on higher moral ground. (He charges $28,000 for a "basic H2 conversion to diesel--custom concept cars cost far more.") The future of the American car will likely be won by an automaker that can split the difference--one that may innovate more slowly than Goodwin would like, but a hell of a lot faster than the Big Three.

Goodwin himself seems more oracle than implementer, slightly unsure of how his ideas could be brought to the masses. He's working on patenting aspects of his and Kruger's dual-fuel work and would love to license it to the big carmakers. But the truth is, he's a mechanic's mechanic--happiest when he's solving some technical puzzle. He loves getting his hands dirty, "throwing wrenches around" in his shop, pioneering some weird new way to fuel a car. Today, he's thinking about taking his wife's Infiniti, outfitting it with a tank of ether, and powering the engine via blasts of compressed air in the cylinders. "Zero emissions!" he crows. It's the visionary inventor's curse: constantly distracted by shiny objects.

Goodwin eyes the turbine, which he has dragged out to the center of the floor. Just for kicks, he says, he's thinking of mounting it on a wheelie board and firing it up. "I'd love to see how fast that goes," he says. "I'm just not sure how I'm going to steer it."

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Figure out WHERE you want to go

Trazzler is a cool new travel site that doesn't try to help you book trips, but instead helps you figure out where you want to go. Personally, I love going places but don't know where the cool places and things to do are—whether in foreign lands or in my own back yard. Trazzler gives you a quick and simple way to develop a travel "wish list" that's pretty fun. Obvious (aka, me) is an investor in Trazzler. And Biz and I are both advisers.

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In case you're wondering, THIS is what I want for Christmas!

In case you're wondering, THIS is what I want for Christmas! on TwitPic

If you could meet ONE person...

Think about this for a moment. If a trusted friend could arrange a meeting between you and anyone of your choosing, who would you choose?
by Seth Godin

Not for entertainment or curiosity or bragging rights, but to help your business. Who could help? Someone who could actually aid your marketing or development...

Years ago, I went to the AOL partner's conference. I'm no runner (unless someone is chasing me) yet I signed up for the early morning run because I knew Steve Case, CEO of AOL, would be running. I ran with him for twenty minutes, almost killed myself. Didn't help. (But I'm glad I met him).

If you're an author, can Jeff Bezos at Amazon help you more than a motivated promotions manager far down the ladder? It's unlikely.

People in charge can rarely help you, because they are rarely (truly) in charge. Billionaires can't help you, either, because they have their defense force fields on full strength during meetings like this. In fact, the person who can help you the most is almost always someone who doesn't appear that powerful on the surface.

Remember, it's not just that they can help you. It's that they want to help you. Famous people qualify in neither category.

So, who is it? Hint, it's not the Wizard of Oz or the Pope or Barack Obama. It's someone not famous, someone who actually makes things happen and someone who actually cares. Think hard... Got it?

Great. Go meet them.

Possibly the best laptop / netbook and a great gift to boot

A great keyboard in an affordable portable makes the Aspire One a must-have for quick and easy mobility.
Darren Gladstone, PC World
Friday, August 08, 2008 01:54 PM PDT
Editor's note: This full review replaces an earlier preview of the Aspire One.

Asus, watch your back. Oh, sure, the Eee PCs are cheap and tiny, but they've got serious competition waiting in the wings. Acer's Aspire One is priced as low as $400 for the Linux version, but it weighs in with enough features to make me consider leaving my high-end portable on the sidelines.

Why the conversion? For starters, it's fairly light and lean (weighing 2 pounds and measuring 9.8 by 6.7 by 1.14 inches). That's in no small part thanks to Intel's 1.6-GHz Atom processor. Of course, Acer isn't alone in that department. MSI's Wind, Asus's new Eee 1000, and plenty of others are on their way to market with Intel's bargain-priced CPU.

(See PC World's video: Atomic Mini-Notebooks for a comparison of the Acer Aspire One and the MSI Wind.)

The Aspire One is also fairly well constructed. The hard, candy-colored exterior (it comes in a number of hues; my favorite: Sapphire Blue) is fairly polished and feels solid to the touch--certainly tough enough to withstand being tossed in your bag. And a huge, well-secured bezel keeps the 8.9-inch, 1024-by-600-pixel display in place. The screen itself, though, is a little too glossy. Even with the brightness cranked up, you might find it tough to see outside. Then again, many full-priced, full-featured notebooks stumble with the same problem.

Now, when I think of the average netbook (as some people call this class of mini-notebook)--certainly ones in the $400 price range--the word that comes to mind is "compromise." You get Linpus Linux Lite, not Windows XP. You get OpenOffice.org instead of Microsoft Office. You get an 8GB hard drive and 512MB of RAM. It just doesn't sound like a great deal.

Then I used it. I was genuinely surprised at the relatively smooth sailing that comes with the OpenOffice.org suite (after the 10-second load time for OOO 2.3). I didn't mind the locked-down launch page for the Aspire One. All the basic tasks I'd likely throw at the machine were all right in front of me, on screen. Firefox 2 is the default browser--no surprise there. The built-in messenger client supports AIM, MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, and Google Talk accounts. A serviceable RSS reader is built in as well. Wi-Fi connectivity isn't an issue on this little laptop, either. A quick toggle flick, and it's connecting without a hitch.

Unfortunately, we can't run WorldBench on the Aspire One's tiny 8GB NAND hard drive, but I can tell you that it'll boot in 25 seconds flat. I had no problems streaming video from Youtube over an 802.11g connection. I copied over a 77MB Weezer album in just under 8 seconds (and then proceeded to play MP3s through the tiny, tinny speakers; pro tip: get headphones!). Next up, a 213MB WMV episode of Best Week Ever. It took about 11 seconds for the Aspire One's Media Master to fire up, but once it did, the show ran sans stutter. Granted, this episode was recorded at 320-by-240-pixel resolution and 29 frames per second, but go up much higher, and you'll start seeing some video slowdowns.

Another test I had to improvise, since WorldBench won't work here: battery testing. Sitting in your garden-variety coffee shop doing sporadic Web browsing and document typing, this notebook should last you roughly 2.5 hours. Or two iced coffees with skim milk.

Performance aside, you'll need some more room to grow. Aside from the standard-issue USB ports, ethernet jack, and VGA out, the Aspire One comes with two storage card slots. Why two? One is tasked for "storage expansion"--pop in an SD card, and the mini-note will format the flash storage to serve as extra internal hard-drive space. The other slot serves the usual purpose: for files you want to transfer from a digital camera or other device you have on hand.

If you're not sold on the storage space--or on Linux, for that matter--Acer will also offer a slightly pricier, XP-loaded flavor of the Aspire One (though the company hasn't revealed exact pricing, expect this version to cost around $600 sometime this fall). It'll have an 80GB hard disk and 1GB of RAM.UPGRADED: 160GB and 6-hour battery-life with Microsoft XP and web cam now available!

Now another surprise is how much I like the keyboard. It's a great size and doesn't feel crunched up in order to hit a form factor. In fact, because it provides solid key response and a wide gap between buttons, I proclaim this one of the few netbooks to be fully adult-hand friendly. Wish I could say the same about the mouse pad. Like HP's 2133, the left and right mouse buttons sit on either side of the touchpad. That makes it a little less convenient when you need to deftly manipulate documents.

OK, so the machine isn't perfect. The important part is that Acer gets more than enough right to hit the mark for basic use. And, considering the low costs to own this li'l laptop, you could get a lot of mileage out of the Aspire One. If you have simple needs, this is your notebook.

Maybe there's something to the power of positive thinking, after all

Flat broke at the age of 21, Joe Cirulli made a list of 10 things he wanted to accomplish in life. One by one, he pulled them off -- and built a health and fitness empire.
From: Inc. Magazine, August 2008 | By: Bo Burlingham

It's a warm Thursday evening in Gainesville, Florida, and the Gainesville Health & Fitness Center on Newberry Road is ablaze with activity. Downstairs, about 70 members stare at television screens as they run, walk, climb, and pedal furiously in the cardio area. Over at the indoor basketball court, a group of sweat-drenched players is leaving, and another group is taking its place. In the pool area, an instructor is counseling half a dozen arthritis sufferers who have shown up for aquatics exercise therapy, while a guy with a military haircut endures the 50-degree water of the cold plunge pool and some of the older members hang out around the whirlpool and sauna.

At 66,000 square feet, this is the largest of the three health clubs and four rehabilitation centers that compose Joe Cirulli's local fitness empire. An intense, compact, clean-cut fellow, Cirulli has been lifting weights ever since he got his first set at the age of 9. For 46 years, he has worked out five or six days a week, every week, usually at 5 in the morning. Nevertheless, you probably wouldn't mistake him for Charles Atlas, dressed as he is in the uniform of GHFC managers -- a cobalt-blue shirt, tie, dress pants, and spit-polished shoes. "We all dress up," he says. "When I started working in health clubs, the girls were all in leotards, and the guys in tank tops, and I could see that some of the customers were intimidated by that. So we dress up and take them off guard."

Just then, he happens to catch the eye of a man who could, in fact, be mistaken for Charles Atlas. He's blond, middle-aged, and muscular, wearing a tank top over his ripped torso. He gives Cirulli a big hug. They chat for a minute, and then Cirulli moves on.

"That's Michael," Cirulli says. "He died here." He died here?

"Yeah, I was at Starbucks one evening and decided to come back to the club. When I walked in, he was lying there with two doctors, club members, standing over him. He was blue, and he didn't have a pulse. The doctors were trying to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. They didn't know I'd bought an AED [automated external defibrillator] for each of the clubs. I went and got it, and they put it on his chest and gave him a jolt. Nothing happened. They increased the voltage and tried again. Nothing happened. They increased it again. Nothing happened. They tried one more time, and he sucked in air. I mean, you literally could see him come back to life. He started burping. One of the doctors asked him, 'Do you know where we are?' He said, 'Yes. At church.' The doctor said, 'No, you were working out. You weren't breathing.' I'm standing there thinking, Oh, man, what a great investment that was!

"Turned out he'd done a big workout after not working out for a while. When he stood up too quickly, he got dizzy, passed out, hit his head, and swallowed his tongue. He suffocated. Four years ago. He was 46. He has a wife and two girls. So he always gives me a big hug when he sees me."

Cirulli may have one of the four best fitness businesses in the world (according to a British industry expert) and the best in the United States (according to an American one), but his company has as much to do with saving lives as with pumping iron and going to spin class. Indeed, he and his colleagues at GHFC decided in 1999 that their mission should be to make Gainesville the healthiest community in America. Four years later, it became the first and only city ever to receive the Gold Well City award from the Wellness Councils of America. Previously, the best that any city had done was bronze. The accomplishment led GHFC to modify its mission. Now the goal is to keep Gainesville the healthiest city in America -- "one person, one business, one child at a time."

Those aren't just words. The company offers programs aimed not just at promoting fitness but also at alleviating a variety of chronic ailments and helping to solve long-term medical problems. It has pioneered the use of specially designed exercise machines to relieve neck and lower back pain. It has been a leader in using hydrotherapy to treat arthritis. It has tackled childhood obesity, and thus the prospect of a diabetes epidemic, by holding events at schools, developing weight-loss programs for overweight teens, and offering high school students free use of its facilities in the summer from 6 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon, as long as their parents approve. Twice a year, it holds a Family Fun Fitness Day to encourage everyone in the community to be more active.

Granted, some people might say that all that is simply effective marketing. Cirulli, for his part, makes no bones about his desire to attract and retain as many members as possible. Indeed, GHFC signs up around 10,000 new members a year and has a retention rate of 77 percent, well above the industry average of about 60 percent. That ability to attract and retain members translates into sales of $16.7 million a year, with one of the healthiest pretax margins in the industry. Perhaps even more remarkable than GHFC's financial performance is its commitment to serving people who have never been -- and probably never will be -- club members. The campaign to win the Gold Well City award grew out of that commitment. "We believe we can have an impact on our community, and in our minds we have an obligation to do it," says Debbie Lee, GHFC's marketing director and the point person in the campaign.

The impact has been huge. The Well City campaign alone brought together people from throughout the community, including people from hospitals, businesses, government organizations, The Gainesville Sun, the University of Florida, and the local community college. Obviously, many factors are driving the burgeoning trend toward workplace wellness, not least the explosion of health care costs and the demonstrable effectiveness of wellness programs in holding them down. And yet what has happened in Gainesville is also part of another story -- a story about how one man's obsession with self-improvement can imbue a company and then spread from that company to an entire community, and from that community to other communities far and wide.

The employee handbook of Gainesville Health & Fitness is a 53-page document, prosaically entitled Customer Service Manual, that spells out in minute detail things such as the rules for interacting with customers and a description of what Cirulli and his team want to see happen in the next 10 years. A particularly revealing passage can be found on page seven, under Core Values, one of which is Creating Our Own Future. It reads, in part, "Our greatest power is the freedom to choose; we decide what we do, what we think, and where we go....We can do what we want to do; we can be who we want to be. We develop our own future by applying persistence to the possibilities. Our future is all around us. If we seek, we will find it. If the door is closed, we must knock and keep knocking until it opens. We never give up...."

Anyone familiar with the company's origins can understand where such convictions come from. By all rights, Gainesville Health & Fitness should not exist today. In January 1978, when Cirulli assumed the debts of the Gainesville Executive Health Spa and changed its name, neither he nor anyone else had any reason to believe the club would survive. He was barely 24 years old, and the five fitness businesses he had previously worked for had all gone bankrupt, leaving their creditors -- including their paid-up members -- in the lurch. Bankers had been burned so often that the mere mention of the words health club filled them with fear and loathing. Real estate owners felt pretty much the same way. Cirulli thus had the worst of both worlds, since his club occupied 1,500 square feet above his landlord's business, which just happened to be a bank. On top of that, he had no money, no friends or family with money, and no experience running his own business.

Yet Cirulli believed he could pull it off. If you ask him why, he might tell you about an experience he had had four years earlier, at the age of 20, when he was working as an instructor at his second health club in Gainesville and was given an opportunity to try his hand at sales. He signed up eight members on his first day. "Normally it takes months to do that," the vice president of the fitness company told him over dinner that evening. "You don't seem too excited."

"It wasn't that hard," Cirulli replied.

Or he might tell you about reading a book shortly thereafter and finding it a "life-changing experience." It was one of the classics of the self-help canon, The Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vincent Peale. The book persuaded him to set a goal: to become the top salesperson of the fitness company's 10 clubs. He achieved it in three months.

Then again, he might tell you about coming back to Gainesville from his hometown of Elmira, New York, after Christmas to discover that the fitness company had folded, his last paycheck had bounced, and he could make the payment due on his new maroon MGB only by getting back the $95 deposit on his apartment, which left him homeless and broke. He spent the next few months sleeping in health clubs and his MGB. At one point, he went to buy a Diet Coke at McDonald's and discovered he had just 12 cents to his name. Finally, he landed a job at a new Gainesville health club -- and read another book, Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill.

From Hill, Cirulli learned that the secret of success lies in knowing what you want. He proceeded to take out a legal pad and write down 10 goals, which he was supposed to read aloud every night before going to bed and every morning when he awoke. He did so for the next few years. The goals were: 1. Own a health club in Gainesville; 2. Make it respected in the community; 3. Earn $100,000 by the age of 25; 4. Own a Mercedes-Benz like the one driven by the Six Million Dollar Man; 5. Own a home in the mountains and one by the ocean and build another for his parents; 6. Become a black belt; 7. Become a pilot and own a plane; 8. Travel all over the United States; 9. Travel all over the world; and 10. Save $1 million.

So he believed it was destiny, not calamity, that beckoned when the owner of the Executive Health Spa confessed that he was an alcoholic, in the middle of a divorce, and about to declare bankruptcy. The following day, the bank announced that the club would be evicted in 30 days. To achieve his first goal, Cirulli would have to raise money, find a new place, persuade the landlord to lease it to him, get the necessary permits, build the space out, move the equipment, and somehow keep the club running -- and the members happy -- the entire time. How he did it reads like The Perils of Pauline.

First, he persuades the banker to give him 60 days rather than 30. It's not enough. He finds a location, but banks won't lend to a health club. He finally wangles a personal loan, only to learn that the location has fallen through. The banker who is the landlord of the old club demands he return the keys. Cirulli begs. The banker relents but demands a signed lease and a rent check by 9 a.m. Monday. Cirulli miraculously finds space in a brand-new mall. He has $1,700 and three weeks to get the place ready -- plumbing, electricity, new walls, showers, lockers, the whole bit. The club is still under construction when he moves in the equipment in June, whereupon a building inspector threatens to shut Cirulli down if he sees anyone using it. The club opens anyway. The building inspector never returns. Gainesville Health & Fitness gets its certificate of occupancy six months later, and Joe Cirulli achieves goal No. 1.

The other nine goals took a little more time, but he achieved all of them within 12 years -- before his 33rd birthday. He drew two lessons from the experience. First, you can accomplish just about anything if you put your mind to it, are willing to work hard, and refuse to give up no matter what adversity you encounter. Second, books can change your life. There is no limit to what you can learn or how much better you can become, as long as you keep reading, listening, and searching for wisdom.

By then, moreover, he was well on his way to building a company molded around those beliefs and filled with people who shared them.

If owning a business was, in fact, Cirulli's destiny, it had kept itself well hidden prior to his arrival in Gainesville. As a child, he seemed destined only for a rough time. Linda Cirulli-Burton remembers her younger brother getting beaten up by the older boys at school. That spurred Joe to start lifting weights -- first in his cellar, then at the local YMCA. Soon, he was so strong that no one dared pick on him.

The Cirulli family lived on the hard-knocks side of Elmira. Joe was the third of seven children and the oldest boy. His father, Armand, was a 22-year Navy man who became a postman after his discharge. His mother, Frances, was a nurse. Making ends meet was a struggle. Cirulli remembers his parents bringing him a fancy chicken sandwich from Moretti's restaurant once when he was in the hospital after breaking his leg. "Enjoy it," his mother said, "because you'll never have one again."

In 1971, Cirulli graduated from high school and entered Corning Community College. After two years there, he still wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life. He decided to take a year off from school and travel around the country with a friend. When the friend backed out, he changed his itinerary and went to Gainesville, where his girlfriend was attending a community college. "I arrived at 3 a.m. on October 27, 1973," he recalls. Later that morning, he worked out at a local health club. Before leaving, he asked the manager if he could work as an instructor without pay for the next month in exchange for use of the facilities. The manager agreed. Cirulli extended his stay for another 30 days and began earning $1.90 an hour.

By the time Cirulli finally headed home for Christmas, Gainesville was in his blood. After the holiday, he intended to work with masons he knew in Elmira and save money for college, but the frozen ground gave him a good reason to revise his plans. He returned to Gainesville, thinking he would stay for three months and then go back to his job with the masons in the spring. He didn't make it. His success selling health club memberships obviated any need to earn money through masonry. Maybe that was when destiny took over. In any case, he had his own fitness center within four years.

Cirulli immediately went to work expanding it. He began with 2,500 square feet in a wing of the mall that had 11,000 square feet of space altogether. The rest was occupied by retailers of one sort or another. One by one, they moved out, and Gainesville Health & Fitness moved in, eventually taking over the whole wing. At the same time, he was proving that a health club could actually be profitable if you behaved as if you really cared about your members, as opposed to treating them like a necessary inconvenience. He invited members of the failed clubs he had worked for to join Gainesville Health & Fitness and agreed to honor whatever terms were in their original contracts. Beyond that, he promised that he wouldn't raise fees as long as they remained members. Still, Cirulli faced an uphill battle persuading the citizens of Gainesville to join, given the industry's reputation in town. So he turned his attention to the students of the University of Florida, which at the time did not have a fitness center. The majority of them, he realized, could not afford the initial payments that new members were traditionally required to make when they signed up. But Cirulli figured that most students were honest and would pay monthly even if there was no up-front fee. He set up a fee structure for students and began marketing to them. Within a few years, students made up 98 percent of GHFC's membership.

By then, Cirulli was beginning to develop a reputation in the industry. "Joe was already a legend in Florida when I started my business in 1982," says Geoffrey Dyer, founder of Lifestyle Family Fitness, a 57-club chain based in St. Petersburg, Florida. "I didn't sleep for two nights when I heard he might be coming to Lakeland, where I was located. I called him up, and he said, 'Don't worry. We're not coming. We're just talking.'"

Cirulli was indeed staying in Gainesville, but he had by no means stopped expanding. He opened a club for women in 1984. Two years later, after learning that a Wisconsin health club chain was coming to town and taking aim at his membership, he moved the original center to a new location and doubled its size. A couple of years later, after the University of Florida announced plans to build its own fitness center, he got into physical therapy and began marketing aggressively to the Gainesville public. In 1996, after the university built a second, even larger fitness center, he opened his giant flagship center. This time, he bought the building, because he realized he could control the market only if he owned, rather than leased, his facility.

As the business grew, so did Cirulli's renown. Articles about Gainesville Health & Fitness started appearing in industry publications, and people from other clubs began making the trek to Gainesville to see what Cirulli was up to. He welcomed them all. "He was willing to let anyone come down," recalls Frank Napolitano, formerly an executive with industry giant Town Sports International and now the CEO of GlobalFit, a provider of health club benefits to employees of large corporations. "He'd give you his training manual, share his best practices." Even if he wasn't there, visitors couldn't help being impressed by how cheery and helpful the staff was and by the cleanliness of the club.

What impressed people most, however, were Cirulli's results. "Year in, year out, he'd turn in these incredible sales numbers," says Napolitano. "And here you were, spending tens of millions of dollars on marketing and getting nowhere near those results."

Naturally, people wondered how Cirulli did it, and he was happy to tell them. As speaking invitations rolled in, he began traveling all over the country and around the world, often taking members of his staff with him. Wherever they went, they talked about the company's distinctive culture and way of operating, shaped largely by the ideas that Cirulli picked up on his never-ending quest for self-improvement.

Wherever you turn at GHFC, you find examples of Cirulli's application of something he has heard about or read. Every month, for example, he meets for two days with what he calls his Get Better Team to think of ways to improve the business. On Monday mornings, there's a Focus and Energy meeting of managers from 8 a.m. until 10 a.m. New employees receive One Minute Praising or One Minute Reprimands, lifted straight out of The One Minute Manager, by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. Blanchard's characterization of employees as either ducks or eagles helped inspire a GHFC program called Eagles of the Moment, wherein club members nominate employees who have gone above and beyond the call of duty. It's all about self-improvement. "We're a factory for producing future leaders," says Shawn Stewart, the company's 32-year-old operations manager.

Production begins with the hiring process, which is the foundation for everything else GHFC does. The company, which now has 375 employees, typically gets about 1,000 applications a year for 70 to 100 jobs, almost all of which start at minimum wage. "We compete on work environment," says Stewart, who oversees the selection of more than 75 percent of the company's new employees.

There are five steps to getting hired at GHFC, beginning with a four-page application form consisting mainly of puzzles and games. "We eliminate most of the lazy people with that," Stewart says. Next, references are checked by phone, which further reduces the pool. The third step is a group interview, with at least eight candidates and a hiring team including supervisors and department heads, followed by a one-on-one with the department head. Stewart challenges his people to come up with creative ways to determine whether candidates really share the company's four core values: integrity, willingness to work hard, extraordinary commitment to helping people, and desire to create the future.

One technique, for example, is the chair test, wherein extra chairs are left in the interview room. Stewart used it once with a candidate who had come through the group interview with rave notices. The candidate was sitting in the room when Stewart entered. "They need some chairs next door," Stewart said and began picking up the extra ones and carrying them out of the room. He kept doing this until only two were left. The candidate didn't move, except to take his feet off a chair when Stewart asked him to. "Well," said Stewart, "thanks for coming, but this place is really not for you."

The guy was taken aback. "But you haven't interviewed me yet," he said.

"Yes, I just did," Stewart said and ushered him out of the room.

Finally, candidates are taken through a high-intensity workout on the MedX machines developed by the late Arthur Jones, the founder of Nautilus. The idea is to work a particular muscle or group of muscles to exhaustion. "We want to see how people react to adversity," says Stewart. "That's when the true self comes out. We tell them up front we're not looking to see what kind of shape they're in. We just want to know two things: Are they hard working, and can they listen and follow directions?" Despite all the screening to that point, 25 percent of the candidates fail the test.

The ones who pass become the raw material of the leadership factory. Most recruits seem only too happy to get with the program. That includes being "shadowed" by a veteran employee who serves as an on-the-job trainer and administers weekly quizzes in preparation for quarterly tests, on which they must score at least 90 percent. They are further expected to take advantage of the opportunities for continuing education offered by the company's large library of self-help books and tapes. And they have to follow the rules.

Recruits receive points for things like tardiness, no tie or nametag, improper shoes, complaining, and cursing. Seven points in a quarter results in probation.

It's not for everybody, which is intentional. "The whole selection process is designed to weed out the wrong people," notes Will Phillips, a management consultant who runs roundtables, including one Cirulli belongs to, for fitness-industry CEOs. "Joe takes very seriously the idea that you should hire for attitude and train for skill. When you hire people and try to convert them to your way of doing things, you create a horrible tension that training is supposed to 'fix' employees. That may be more insidious than having a selective, somewhat authoritarian goal-driven business like Joe's."

Of all the goals that Cirulli and his colleagues set for themselves, none seemed more daunting than making Gainesville the healthiest city in America, though the choice of that mission was hardly a surprise in itself. For years, Cirulli had been saying that the ultimate measure of a fitness business should be the health of the community in which it is located.

But it was one thing to have such a mission and quite another to measure your success in achieving it. Debbie Lee was the one who came up with the mechanism. She remembered a project she had overseen when she was a coordinator of undergraduate programs at the University of Florida. One student had interned at Johnson & Johnson in Jacksonville, where she worked on the company's application for certification as a Well Workplace by the Wellness Councils of America. It turned out that WELCOA also had a program for certifying cities, based on the percentage of the work force in Well Workplaces, which the group defines as companies, organizations, and institutions with comprehensive wellness programs. Cities with 20 percent of their work force in such a program won the bronze, 30 percent took silver, and 50 percent earned the gold. One could argue whether a WELCOA certification actually constitutes the best measure of a community's health. But the program did lay out a plan of action that could be used to rally the community, and other cities had already participated, making it possible to compare results. And because no city had ever done better than a bronze, why not go for the gold?

But GHFC could do only so much by itself. If Gainesville was going to become the first Gold Well City, the community's movers and shakers had to get behind the effort. With that in mind, Cirulli and Lee approached Marilyn Tubb, who was then vice president for community affairs at Shands HealthCare, a University of Florida affiliate and operator of several hospitals around the state, and had just become president of the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce. In short order, Tubb and Lee put together a steering committee of 16 people, including representatives of media outlets, health care programs, and local government. The committee immediately went to work building support for the campaign.

To win the award, at least 20 organizations had to participate in the effort and obtain their Well Workplace certifications within three years leading up to the submission of the Well City application. That called for a lot of work in a relatively short period of time. The organizations had to select coordinators, organize health fairs, get people screened for health risks, hold meetings, launch exercise programs, and so on. Shands HealthCare donated the health screenings. The Gainesville Sun contributed advertising. GHFC provided consulting, speakers, meeting space, exercise programs, whatever. And government officials from across the political spectrum put aside their differences to get behind the campaign. When word finally came in the spring of 2003 that Gainesville had won the award, hundreds of residents turned out to celebrate.

The rest of the fitness industry took note of the achievement and GHFC's role in it. Many clubs contacted Debbie Lee to learn more. Only a relative handful, however, launched Well City campaigns of their own. "People admire Joe for the way he's integrated himself into the community, but I don't think many of them try to emulate him," Napolitano says. "They feel as though they have a lot more pressing issues to take care of."

And maybe they do, or maybe they have overlooked what Gainesville Health & Fitness got out of the campaign from a business standpoint. Beyond signing up a lot of new members, the company firmly established itself as the wellness resource of the community. "I know that if I need help with anything, I can call GHFC, and they will always either provide it themselves or point me in the right direction," says Tracy Tompkins, who served as campaign coordinator at Naylor LLC, a custom-publishing and event-management company. "We wanted to become better organized around wellness, but we lacked direction and know-how," says Tompkins. Naylor now uses the program in recruiting.

By positioning itself as the city's wellness resource, GHFC has gained an enormous competitive advantage that its salespeople have been able to make good use of in selling to the corporate market. That advantage is certain to grow as health care costs continue to rise and more companies discover that a serious wellness program is one of the only responses they can offer. By the time the rest of the fitness industry catches on, however, Joe Cirulli will no doubt be on to the next big thing.

Whatever that next thing turns out to be, it will happen in Gainesville. Cirulli insists he has no desire to have a fitness center anywhere else. He loves his city, and the feeling is mutual. Three times GHFC has been named Business of the Year by the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce. Cirulli has received the Distinguished Entrepreneur for Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of Florida's Warrington College of Business Administration, in addition to being named Industry Visionary of the Year by the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association in 2005.

Along the way, Cirulli has become a walking advertisement for the power of positive thinking. He still owns the little Mercedes, but he mostly drives a Lexus these days. His parents live in a house he built for them in Gainesville. Cirulli has his own home there, as well as a beachfront place on Anna Marie Island. Once a week, he flies his A36 Bonanza, often to Sarasota, where he has a condo. Although he never made another list of goals for himself, he did get together in 1999 with his managers to draft one for GHFC. "We will be recognized worldwide as a model company for improving the health of an entire community," the document began. It then listed 10 goals for the next 10 years. The fourth was, "We will be on the cover of a leading business magazine."

Guess they can check that one off.

How to win friends and influence people ... on Twitter

HOW TO: Win Friends and Twinfluence People

December 19, 2008 - 9:30 am PDT - by Mark Drapeau (Mark Drapeau is a regular contributor to Mashable)

In the last year or so, microsharing service Twitter has grown by leaps and bounds, in terms of both popularity and usefulness. Regardless of the precise companies or services that become the most popular in the future, forming and utilizing decentralized social networks through microsharing is most likely here to stay, because it is fun and useful.

But the lack of structure, bounty of third party applications, and global sources of expert advice can also be daunting to newbies. So, for those who are new to Twitter, here are 10 things I’ve learned about winning friends and twinfluencing people:

Win Friends

1. Be unique, but be yourself

Just like in everyday life, if you want people to notice you, somehow you’ve got to stand out in the crowd. Twitter is a complicated and growing mess of feeds and it’s difficult for people to find each other. However, always stay true to who you really are - don’t “peacock” just for the sake of attracting people to bizarre behavior. Marina Orlova uses her brains, beauty, and natural charm to teach people about history and linguistics in a really fun way. Broaden your horizons, but don’t fake it.

2. Participate in conversation

Twitter is inherently a conversation. By using search tools, reading blogs, etc., find people who are talking about things you’re interested in, and join the conversation in a respectful and hopefully unique way. Tireless blogger and new media business consultant Chris Brogan is a great example of this. Find something good to add to the conversation - or stay quiet; don’t just be a nag, a yes-man, or a me-too person.

3. Provide value to a community

People get on my radar when they selflessly and repeatedly add value to a community of readers. Some people are funny, some provide free services, some give out advice. Music enthusiast and online guitar instructor Walt Ribeiro provides awesome value to his online community, and has turned his talents into a tiny empire of popularity. People like this slowly turn into rock stars.

4. Attract loyal followers

There are all kinds of ways to ‘game the system’ and attract followers, like you-follow-me-I-follow-you and following bots that auto-follow and then unfollowing them. But what does having 8,000 followers mean when they don’t know you or care about you? By making solid connections over the years, Peter Shankman has built a loyal following of “hacks and flacks” who can be mobilized at anytime through his “Help a Reporter Out” (HARO) network. By participating in conversations and adding value you will accumulate followers that will help you when you need it.

5. Mix microsharing with other outlets

You can’t just Twitter; it’s too one-dimensional. Mix it up with whatever you like doing, whether that’s blogging about tech, short videos of you pimping your hot rod, taking nature photography, or attending black-tie galas and appearing in magazines.

Through running a family business, producing online video shows, and headlining social media conferences, wine expert Gary Vaynerchuk “brings thunder” to everything he does. Doing and cross-referencing different activities online creates feedback loops that increase viewers and can get people talking about you and your activities when you’re not there to participate yourself.

6. Find the influencers:

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It’s easy to find out who the popular and influential people are on Twitter - they’re giving keynotes at events, they’re at the top of the TwitterGrader and Twitterholic and other lists, and mainly, people talk about them. Self-styled geek blogger Robert Scoble is an influencer – the “Scoble Effect” can literally crash new startup websites with a rush of traffic. Learn who influencers are, what they do, and why people revere them. Imitate some of their behaviors when relevant, while still being yourself.

7. Become an authority

It’s nice to be good at something. It’s better to make yourself invaluable. If your tweets disappeared, would anyone notice? If you make yourself an authority on some topic being discussed in the Twitterverse, people will seek you out to be in the conversation - and that is evidence of influence. I can’t name many information technology or social software analysts, but I know Jeremiah Owyang – through his listening, writing, and conversation – he has made himself an invaluable part of the Twitter community. Find your niche and own it.

8. Be creative

Invent a contest. Conduct a poll. Document an exciting trip. Wear funny scarves on a YouTube channel. The innovative Sarah Evans founded both the popular Top 50 Tweeples contest and the frequent #journchat discussions that have bridged the gap between traditional media, bloggers, and public relations professionals. Surprise people with new ideas - anything novel that builds community, increases participation, and allows people to have fun is a winner. Don’t be boring.

9. Reward with shout-outs

When you see someone doing something awesome, give them a high-quality shoutout. But be stingy and make it count. Here’s a shout-out that I gave to Army public affairs guru Lindy Kyzer for the great tweets she was sending from a conference she was attending. Everyone loves hearing that they’re doing something awesome - and they also remember who thought that in the first place. Put a virtual smile on someone’s face.

10. Always have fun

People use social media for many reasons, some more serious than others. But no one is immune from enjoying themselves. If all you do is post links to your latest influential blog, or link to current news stories you’re reading, you may be adding value, but you may also be boring everyone who follows you. Toss in an unexpected joke, complain about your dog, announce your engagement. Colleen Graffy, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, has a serious job – but that doesn’t stop her from showing her funny side. If you are enjoying yourself it will rub off on others.

The Bottom Line

There aren’t any secrets. You get out what you put in. Work hard, add value, and don’t rest on your laurels. Note what’s happening in the news, and in life. Always evolve; adapt to your environment. Embrace trial-and-error and a spirit of lethal generosity. Take risks. Be surprising. Be awesome.

It's never too early for Bernie Madoff jokes

Always a joker that @BernieMadoff
via Twitter

BM: Knock, knock.

IJ: Who's there?

BM: Bernie.

IJ: Bernie who?

BM: Bernie Madoff with all your money. Hahahaha!

Latin American stocks leap

LATIN AMERICAN MARKETS: Stocks Leap As Fed Ramps Up Fight Against Economic Slump
December 16, 2008: 07:17 PM ET

CNNMONEY.com -- Equities in Latin America surged Tuesday after the U.S. central bank said it would put all of its available tools to work in an effort to jumpstart spending and help pull the world's largest economy out of recession.

Stocks across the region and on Wall Street leaped after the U.S. central bank established a target rate for the federal funds rate of 0 to 0.25%, effectively cutting its key rate by between 0.75% and 1%.

"On the emerging markets side, the central bank's decision came through bigger than most had anticipated," said Paul Biszko, emerging markets strategist at RBC Capital Markets.

The Fed also said the focus of its policy will be to support financial markets and stimulate the economy "through open market operations and other measures that sustain the size of the Fed's balance sheet at a high level."

Biszko also said that emerging-market currencies gained against the U.S. dollar right after the decision, but noted that volume has thinned as more investors leave for the holidays.

"I'm a little skeptical in terms of the sustainability of the initial positive impact," he said. The decision smells of desperation ... and generally, the tone is quite bearish in terms of macro fundamentals."

Brazil's Bovespa climbed 4.4% to 39,993.46, its highest close since Nov. 4. There, banking stocks were strong. Banco Bradesco (BBD) and Itau (ITU) each gained 6.4%, Banco do Brasil rose 5% and Unibanco (UBB) jumped 6.1%.

In another point of support, Bradesco, Unibanco and Banco do Brasil told Dow Jones Newswires that they had no exposure to the alleged $50 billion investment scheme by hedge-fund manager Bernard Madoff which has hit scores of banks and investors worldwide.

Shares of volume leaders Petrobras and Vale climbed, with shares of the oil giant up 4% and the iron-ore miner up 4.9%. The lead advancer on the Bovespa was railroad operator All America Latina Logistica as its shares jumped 10%.

Mexico's IPC climbed 4.7% to 22,032.54 for its best closing level since early October.

Cement maker Cemex (CX) shot up 15%, with gains also fueled after the company said an agreement reached with its bankers would allow it to seek refinancing for $6 billion in debt due next year. The news about Cemex's debt offset the company's weak forecast for the fourth quarter.

Shares of manufacturer Grupo Carso rose 12%, copper miner Grupo Mexico gained 4% and mining concern Penoles spiked 8%.

Market heavyweight America Movil (AMX) ended 4.4%, Telmex (TMX) rose 3.1% and retailer Walmex (WMMVY) advanced 2.5%.

Broadcasters Grupo Televisa (TV) and baked goods maker Bimbo were the only stocks of the 36 listed on the index to move lower. Televisa fell 0.9% and Bimbo slipped less than 1%.

Argentina's Merval rose 2.6%. The benchmark has posted gains since Dec. 2.

Chile's IPSA reversed earlier losses, and edged up 0.5%.

Thrive in 2009

We asked Barry Moltz, a widely recognized expert on small businesses, for tips on how small businesses can thrive in today’s economy. Barry’s tips are based on his hands-on experience as a small business owner and his research as a professor and published author. So whether you’re a provider on Elance or a employer, you’re sure to get a lot out of these tips:
Dec 15, 2008 11:07am on Elance

I often joke that the original title of my first book was: “The Worst They Can Do is Eat You! Surviving Your Business during Tough Times”. That title seems very appropriate today as we head into a very tough part of the economic cycle.

How do we survive and thrive in 2009? Check out these 10 tips:

1. Do you feel lucky? You should.
We are fortunate during these tough times. That’s right, we are much more fortunate than our big business brethren. It is much easier for us to have a good month since it only takes one more customer to turn around our small business.

As an elancer, a few more customers can really have an impact on your bottom line. You only need to find a few great clients to make sure your business thrives.

Elancers are not weighed down by huge overhead and can react to market or customer changes now, rather than later, in order to get more projects.

2. Focus on profitability not growth.
Many times we need to invest in order to grow our business. In a recession, you can only grow if you are profitable. As a small business owner, if you cannot be profitable and grow at the same time, then focus on just being profitable and learn to market yourself. For 2009, growth can wait.

3. Sell painkillers.
During difficult economic times, people only buy when they are in pain or have a very great need. Focus on selling the painkillers in business, not vitamins. Find your niche and understand who is in pain and what you can do to solve that pain.

Do some research – find out who solves your customers pain now and give them a reason to switch to you. Face your fears and start asking prospective clients “will you buy our products?” That answer will be the only one your small business needs.

4. Challenge all of your business assumptions.
This is no time for sacred cows. If your business can be done in another more efficient way, then adapt – or die. Cockroaches do this extremely well in bad times.

Think about what you can do to increase your gross margin. How can you satisfy your clients at a lower cost? What parts of your business make a profit? Which clients are profitable? What are the nice-to–haves and luxuries in your business? Take no prisoners.

5. Upsell your clients – substitute current products for higher cost ones.
Your product may have become the cheap alternative. In a recession, price trumps it all. Ask your clients if they’d rather purchase a similar, less expensive replacement product or service – and then offer it to them.

6. Focus on cash flow.
Forget about the sales line on your profit and loss statement. Look at your own cash flow statement. Focus on getting paid from your clients, extending your payments to vendors and keeping your inventory as low as possible. Ask clients to pay using Escrow.

7. Get an A+ in customer service.
Outstanding customer service, unless you are a utility company, is the only sustainable competitive advantage. This is how you, as an elancer, can separate yourself from the rest of the pack. Clients will stay with you and give you more business if you treat them right.

8. Cut costs now, even if revenue has not gone down.
No business owner has ever regretted cutting costs too soon. Don’t get caught in a death spiral.

First, in deciding which costs to cut, use the “cringe factor”. Which bills make you “cringe” as you pay them at the end of each month? And which payroll checks make you “cringe” as you sign them?

If you’re cringing at these costs, it means that you are not getting value out of the expense and you need to either cut it or find another way to get by. Look for more efficient alternatives such as hiring an elancer to get work done on a project by project basis.

9. Match revenue and expenses.
Keep your resources variable and available. When you hire a provider on Elance, you reduce your overhead and match every expense with offsetting revenue to ensure a profit.

10. Finally, take your eyes off the stock market and your portfolio.
If you have checked the market and gone over your portfolio with your financial advisor, then it’s okay for the next five years. Leave it alone. There is nothing more you can do.

Remember your resiliency. Economic cycles come and go. You have been here before and survived. Cheer the good times with parties, awards and trophies. Mourn the bad times, but then let go. Value action so you have more chances at success.

About Barry Moltz: Barry Moltz has founded and run small businesses with a great deal of success and failure for more than 15 years. After successfully selling his last operating business, Barry has branched out into a number of entrepreneurship-related activities, including founding an angel investor group and an angel fund. Barry is an internationally recognized expert on entrepreneurship, published author on the subject of small business, and has appeared as guest on The Big Idea, an MSNBC TV show hosted by Donnie Deutsch.

Chat on your iPhone with AIM, MSN, Yahoo or Google Talk in a single chat window

Mundu Optimizes Multi-Client Chat Tool for the iPhone
by Kristen Nicole

Geodesic Information Systems has optimized Mundu’s instant messengering client for the iPhone.

With the iPhone edition, you can chat with AIM, MSN, Yahoo, or Google Talk with its single chat window. You can add contacts and manage your buddies, and the scroll function has been modified especially for use on the iPhone, so you won’t miss a single word of your conversations. Mundu has created its application to be used on the Palm, and will soon be available for Symbian. The downloadable chat service will cost you a one-time licensing fee of $11.00 for the Palm and Windows Mobile, though it is free for the iPhone.

See also: IPHONE TOOLBOX: 75+ iPhone Resources

Free and simple seems to be working

OpenX:Ad Server Explosion
December 15th 2008 by Editor

ADOTAS — Free and simple seems to be working for OpenX.

According to the company, its software served over 300 billion ad impressions, while its Hosted product has more than 1 billion monthly ad impression run rate. The ad server manages the advertising on over 100,000 websites in more than 100 countries.

Published under GPL, the company makes money on professional services to its publishers, sells premium support packages and enterprise-level Hosted accounts. A fourth revenue stream being tested is OpenX Market, a monetization platform where advertisers and publishers can partner up with each other.

OpenX has raised around $20.5 million in funding from Accel Partners, Index Ventures, First Round Capital, Mangrove Capital Partners and O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures.

Express your opinion, comment below.

Brazil in the red, Argentina up

LATIN AMERICAN MARKETS: Brazilian Benchmark In The Red; Argentina Up
December 15, 2008: 01:24 PM ET

Latin American equity markets were mixed Monday, with Brazilian shares under pressure while Argentina's benchmark rose in the wake of the government's plan to expand its infrastructure investment program.

Brazil's Bovespa index fell 1.8% to 38,655. Energy and consumer-durable shares were the only groups to post gains, but they were off their highest levels of the session.

Oil giant Petrobras (PBR) shares rose 1.8%, pulling back from a nearly 6% jump after crude-oil futures erased their advance. Crude prices leaped more than 8% to above $50 a barrel, but worries about weak demand began to outweigh expectations that OPEC will cut production when the cartel meets later this week.

Shares of iron-ore producer Vale (RIO) rose 1.5%, the only company in the steel sector to see share-price gains.

Communication stocks were off 3% in Sao Paulo, led by cell services provider Tim Participacoes (TSU). Its shares fell 11% to also pace overall market decliners.

Shares of competitor Vivo Participacoes (VIV) fell 0.9%.

Credit Suisse named Vivo and cable company Net Servicos de Comunicacao (NETCD) among its 2009 top picks in the Latin American telecom sector, and said it was overweight wireless stocks.

But the broker also lowered its 12-month target prices for the group by an average of 21% "to incorporate less favorable macro assumptions."

Shares of Net were off 5.6%.

Cosan Ltd. (CZZ) shares lost 4.2%. The sugar and ethanol producer's holding company on Friday evening swung to a second-quarter net loss of 380.7 million reals. Revenue rose to 715.1 million reals from 627.5 million reals a year ago.

Banking stocks were also in the red. Banco Itau (ITU) lost 4.4%, Unibanco ( UBB) fell 5.7% and Bradesco (BBD) gave up 3%.

Elsewhere, market professionals lifted their forecast for economic growth in Brazil for 2008 while decreasing their outlook for inflation.

Economists polled for the country's central bank weekly survey released Monday now expect growth of 5.59%, above the previous forecast for 5.24%. The consumer price index is now expected to come in at 6.13%, down from 6.20%.

The decline in inflation throughout emerging markets "might help the global economy pull out of the slump," said Danske Bank in a research note Monday.

The drift downward in inflation figures "should open the door for further monetary easing for most emerging markets in the coming months."

Last week, central banks in Brazil and Chile held their respective benchmark interest rates steady as policymakers said they wanted to continue monitoring macroeconomic conditions.

The IPC was off 15 points to 21,390, paring earlier losses. Trading in Mexico was closed Friday for a holiday.

Volume leader America Movil (AMX) fell 2.7% and Grupo Televisa (TV) lost 1.1%.

The Mexican wireless giant and the broadcaster were also placed on Credit Suisse's telecom/media top-picks list.

But the session was led by fixed-line operator Telefonos de Mexico (TMX), with its shares up 4.8%.

Argentina's Merval rose 1.9% to 1,115.49 as the government said it will expand its public-works spending program to 111 million pesos, from 71 million pesos. The program is aimed at creating more jobs to stimulate economic growth.

Stock in steel tube maker and market heavyweight Tenaris (TS) rose 2.4% and shares of oil company Petrobras Energia (PZE) gained 3%.

Chile's IPSA shed 0.8% to 2,325.92.

Televisa coin bolsters Spanish web

La Sexta to receive $69 million

MEXICO CITY -- Televisa, the world's largest provider of Spanish-language content, is pumping an extra $69 million into Spanish free-to-air broadcaster La Sexta to keep the tyro web operating.

The figure reflects the Mexican TV giant's 40% stake in the firm and Spanish partners' decision to ask for a $174 million investor infusion next year, starting with $13.4 million in January.

With this, Televisa will have put $354.2 million into La Sexta over five years ending 2009.

La Sexta, which bowed in 2005, is one of two newcomers to the Spanish market. The web scored a major coup by winning broadcast rights to the 2006 World Cup soccer tourney, sharing them with fellow new-kid-on-the-block Cuatro, owned by Spanish conglom Sogecable.

But La Sexta has failed to reach its profit targets and is mired in the war over European Champion's League soccer and other feevee soccer that Mediapro, another of its key investors, is waging with Sogecable, which owns cablers Canal Plus and Digital Plus.

Televisa's ties to La Sexta are part of the web's wider plans for Europe as one of its key spheres of influence. It has also made significant moves this year in China and Brazil.

How to talk to girls

Here's gimmick if I ever saw one... and I don't mean it in a bad way. Great title that attracts attention and the gall of an 8-year-old to actually write a book like this?! I'd love to see how it sells. I don't expect it to be a best-seller (sorry kid) but I do expect a decent return for the publisher and a bright future as a child-celeb :-/

Your mom wasn't your dad's first

...a very cool ad

Televisa Presses Forward With Suit Against Univision

Media Giant Also Says Recession Will Be Less Severe in Mexico's Ad Market Than in U.S.
By Laurel Wentz
Published: December 09, 2008

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Mexican media giant Grupo Televisa is getting ready to go to trial next month against Univision Communications over alleged breaches in a long-running agreement to supply programming to the Spanish-language U.S. broadcaster.

"We're not in negotiations with Univision to reach a settlement, or make an investment in the company," said Michel Boyance, Televisa's investor relations officer, at the 36th Annual Global Media and Communications Conference, hosted by investment bank UBS.

The jury trial, scheduled to start Jan. 6 in a Los Angeles court, is expected to last three or four weeks, he said.

If Televisa, which he said supplies programming that generates 35% to 40% of Univision's TV broadcasting revenue, is victorious in court, the company could try to demand higher prices from Univision or seek another buyer for its shows. Mr. Boyance said Televisa has not decided what it would do, although he noted that Univision has said it would appeal if it lost.

Although Televisa collects about $500 million a year in overseas revenue from sales of TV programs and magazines, most of the company's business is in Mexico. Mr. Boyance said Televisa expects the current recession to be more severe than the last economic downturn in 2001, but not to have as much impact on the ad industry in Mexico as it will in the U.S. market.

"In Mexico most advertisers are consumer-related companies that sell food, beverages, telecommunications," he said. "Those companies represent about two-thirds of our TV advertising revenues."

In Mexico, car advertising makes up very little of TV broadcasting ad sales compared to double digits in the U.S., and financial services advertising is only about 4% of Mexican TV ad revenue.

For broadcasters seeking easier ways to make money in a recession, starting their own lottery may not be a great idea. Televisa obtained a concession from the Mexican government two years ago to open 65 bingo parlors in Mexico and operate a nationwide lottery.

But Televisa underestimated the strength of the country's two existing lotteries, both owned by the government, when the media giant started its own lottery in February 2007 with tickets selling for as little as five cents.

"It's been difficult for us to take away market share," Mr. Boyance said. "We're trying to get better distribution and a better ad campaign."

TodoBebe rolls out Embarazo.com for pregnant moms

Serving millions who seek trusted pregnancy ("embarazo") information in Spanish
By: PR Newswire
Dec. 10, 2008 09:00 AM

MIAMI, Dec. 10 /PRNewswire/ -- Todobebe, Inc., a leading multi-media company dedicated to the adventures of parenting announced today the roll out of its website property "embarazo.com", which means "pregnancy" in English. Todobebe first acquired the URL in 1999, and the new site reinforces the company's commitment to provide entertaining, easily accessible, and trusted content for Spanish speaking families globally.

The embarazo.com website provides original content created just for Spanish speakers who are in this unique life stage. It provides relevant articles all about pregnancy, as well as easy to use links to the best quality information, tools, community, and resources on everything from planning a pregnancy to being a parent.

With over 10 million births globally born to Spanish speaking families, and with millions of related searches for pregnancy information on the Internet each month, www.embarazo.com, a dedicated, simple to understand, and easy to find website, was long overdue.

About Todobebe, Inc.

Todobebe, Inc is a global media company dedicated to the adventures of parenting. Its core branded properties include "Todobebe" or "All things Baby", and "Viva La Familia" or "Hooray for Family", and provide the best in family entertainment and expert advice to millions of Spanish speakers worldwide through national broadcast TV formats, radio content, digital community and content websites, promotions, and licensing. Since its launch in 1999, Todobebe has grown from a trusted source for Spanish speaking moms planning, expecting, and raising children 0 to 5 years old, to an integrated marketing partner for advertisers seeking efficient, custom marketing programs that build brand loyalty, drive purchases, and measure results within an exclusive, entertaining and family friendly context.

About Viva La Familia.

Todobebe's Viva La Familia properties include a Viva La Familia branded multi-media promotions platform and the Viva La Familia TV show. The popular family TV show is a one hour format in which dreams come true, Todobebe comes to the rescue, and children entertainers join in the fun. The 2008 debut episode of the popular weekly TV show on the Univision Network captured the highest national ratings in the time slot among 18 to 34 year olds, beating ABC, FOX, CBS, NBC, ABC. The shows are licensed by Televisa for national broadcast and Pay TV in Mexico. The multi-media Viva La Familia promotions platform offers the chance for thousands of moms with babies and young children to host parties for their friends and families where surprises happen, products are sampled, and learning is full of fun. Advertisers participate with sampling, research, and experiential marketing reaching over 100,000 partygoers in homes and millions of media impressions nationwide.

About Embarazo.com.

Embarazo.com ("Pregnancy" in English) joined the family of Todobebe properties in 1999. Re-launched in 2008 (www.embarazo.com), it provides original content created just for Spanish speakers who are expecting a baby and are looking for trusted and easy to understand information and resources related to this unique life stage. It provides relevant articles and easy to use links to additional information and resources.

SOURCE: Todobebe, Inc.