A powerful 7.1 magnitude aftershock has rocked a large portion of eastern Japan, less than four weeks after an even stronger quake left thousands of people dead and caused a nuclear power disaster, but, this quake seems to have done limited damage.
The earthquake struck at 11:32 on Thursday evening and was centered under the Pacific Ocean off Japan's eastern coast in the same general area as last month's earthquake.
A warning of tsunami waves up to one meter in height was quickly issued, but withdrawn just over an hour later. The quake does not appear to have generated any high waves.
Last month's magnitude 9.0 quake and the tsunami it generated killed more than 12,000 people and left more than 14,000 missing. More than 100,000 people are still living in evacuation shelters.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other senior government ministers rushed to an emergency cabinet meeting after Thursday's quake.
A major concern was further damage to the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and other nuclear power stations in the area.
Speaking two hours after the earthquake, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama said there had been no rise in radiation at monitoring posts near the three nuclear plants closest to the epicenter.
Fukuyama says two of three external power connections to Onagawa nuclear plant are down, but the plant is fine with the remaining connection. Onagawa's reactors were not operating when the quake occured.
The earthquake last month crippled the Fukushima plant, leading to leaks of radioactive steam and water. The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company continues to struggle to prevent a meltdown of the nuclear fuel in the reactors. After Thursday's quake, TEPCO officials said there were no signs of new damage to the Fukushima plant.
NHK television reported a few light injuries stemming from the quake. The government says damage to the power grid had blacked out large parts of northern Japan.
The quake was felt far down the coast, and Tokyo, 300 kilometers from the epicenter, experienced strong shaking that lasted for at least a minute.
Friday, April 8, 2011
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Anti-Zombie Fortress is the nickname given to an abandoned coal mine in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan, mainly due to its unique structural design that can be seen as highly impervious to zombie raids. While the mine shaft has become a popular destination in Japan for haiyakos (廃虚) or “urban excursion of abandoned buildings” since the mid-2000s, photographs of the tower became a subject of “anti-zombie” parodies and online discussions via social news hubsite Reddit in early April 2011.
On April 1, 2011, Reddit user “Mitsjol” submitted a picture of the Shime coal mine to /r/pics, titled “This would make an awesome anti-zombie fortress.” In similar vein to other conceptual jokes like Rocket Propelled Chainsaw and Chinese Gundam, other Reddit users quickly responded with a series of photoshopped images, pointing out structural flaws and sharing their own “anti-zombie” designs, as well as creating replicas of the shaft tower in Minecraft.
Background: The Tower
Better known as the Winding Tower of the Shime coal mine in Japan, this 47.65 meter (156.3 ft) tall structure was built from 1941 to 1943, remained in operation over 21 years before it was closed down in 1961. According to various travel blog posts on Shime coal mine, the structure remains easily accessible by public transportation and well-preserved in shape to this day
But wait... A Challanger Appears!!!
Earlier this week we learned that Saab can not pay its supplier bills until its Russian sugar daddy, Vladimir Antonov, gets Swedish government approval to buy into the company that owns it. Now, suppliers are speaking out, telling Automotive News [sub] that the brand and its owner, Spyker Cars, owes “tens of millions” of Swedish crowns (10m crowns equals about $1.6m). A representative of the Swedish suppliers association explains
There is a perception in the media that there are discussions on extended credit times and such. But it is not about that, it is about the fact that Saab must pay its bills. If they cannot sort out their financial situation, things look very bleak.
With a “desperate” hunt for investment underway, Saab’s only hope appears to be Antonov, who says he has $71.5m to invest, an amount that should cover the $4.7m+ supplier debts. Meanwhile, work at Trolhattan has been stopped for at least the rest of the week. But even if Antonov gets Swedish government approval to invest, another, equally dire problem appears to be materializing: a dispute over the use of the name “Saab.”
The Saab brand is currently owned by Spyker Cars, a dutch-registered company. But Spyker Cars recently sold its Spyker sportscar business to an Antonov-owned firm an announced its intention to rename itself. The assumption has been that Spyker Cars would rename itself with some variation of the Saab name, but according to Thelocal.se, that assumption faces a serious obstacle.
Spyker has since indicated it wants to change its name to something that more reflects its new focus, but Swedish defence contractor Saab AB remained cool to the idea of Spyker using ‘Saab’ in its new name.
Instead, Spyker plans to vote to change its name to Swedish Automobile at its upcoming annual meeting, scheduled for May 19th.
But, as Saabsunited.com points out,
it is unknown if they are fully free to use the name SAAB, or if they have to always ask Saab technology AB if they want to use it differently.
With no money and no name, Saab is finished. If, on the other hand, Saab Technology AB has no claim to the Saab name, other options are opened. A Wall Street Journal commentary by Alessandro Pasetti suggests another possible outcome: a Chrysler-style takeover by the bottom feeders at Fiat. Pasetti sets up the challenge by explaining the hopelesness of Saab’s situation
Under a very bullish scenario, we estimate that even at steady normalized long-term 10% growth of sales—a rate never consistently achieved by any auto maker on the planet—combined with a break-even earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in 2011 and mid-teens operating margin expansion afterwards, the group will not be able to service its debt obligations by 2016. That’s precisely when the majority of its debt comes due, according to Saab’s financials.
More realistically, any viable business plan, in the light of the cyclical nature of the auto business, should hinge on a cash injection.
The upshot? Even if the name issue works out and Antonov invests, Saab will need more money. The solution?
As remote an option as it may seem, Fiat could strike a deal, structured along the lines of its Chrysler involvement. It could renegotiate the company’s European Investment Bank loan, putting in relatively little money but providing plenty of know-how for a 20% to 30% stake and leadership in the business.
The Italian auto maker is widely expected to increase its stake in Chrysler to 30% and take a majority stake in Detroit’s third largest auto maker in the next twelve months pre-IPO. Admittedly, Saab would be no game changer for Fiat, but it could become a short-term loss leader to help promote both Chrysler and Alfa Romeo, which is attempting a U.S. comeback. Saab offers a decent distribution network in the U.S., with sales of around €160 million (about 19% of total sales), so cross-levering Chrysler/Alfa and Saab’s distribution networks would make sense.
Meanwhile, trimming European exposure (78% of sales at €639 million), would help cut the highly uncompetitive cost base at the Swedish car maker. Its fixed and variable costs structure put it at a disadvantage not only to European mass auto makers, but also premium manufacturers like Daimler AG’s Mercedes and BMW in Germany.
The model pipeline is weak, but Saab brings fleet customers, which constitute a key part of its customer base. Logistically, moreover, Saab is attractive and, perhaps equally importantly, it offers a back door to China, where Fiat has historically struggled to make a breakthrough. On March 25, Saab announced a partnership deal with China Automobile Trading Co. Ltd. Russia is also on Saab’s radar.
Interesting… but not exactly comforting. Fiat’s got plenty of challenges without taking on another charity case. Fiat certainly seems like a likely candidate to “rescue” Saab, based on its experience getting a bailed-out Chrysler for no money down, but whether such a scenario would mean an end to Saab’s problems is hardly a sure thing.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Yesterday, Spyker CEO Muller said everything is peachy. Saab “is not on the verge of collapse,” Muller said to a rapt audience of reporters, while, as Reuters snidely remarked, “Saab was presenting new vehicles already shown at the Geneva auto show.” Muller promised that “a small glitch does not change the fact that cars are being made,” and that Saab would have the widest and newest range in its history next year. This year? No problem at all. Just that output would be more weighted towards the second half of the year. Which in itself would be a miracle, and outpacing the competition, because in Europe, auto sales are more weighted towards the first half of the year. This was yesterday. Now is today.
Today, the production lines at Saab ground to a halt again. No parts. Nobody was quick-witted enough to blame Japan. “Saab halted production anew on Tuesday due to parts shortages after failing to pay suppliers,” says Reuters. A day after the glowing presentation, Victor Muller told Reuters that Saab expects to have more production line interruptions: “This is an ongoing thing. It will take some time to get everyone back in line properly. We will get it under control.”
Meanwhile Saab spokeswoman Gunilla Gustavs told the wire service that they “are working intensively to make sure the flow gets going again. We are having discussions with suppliers and doing our best to come to mutual agreements.”
Saab’s part suppliers are less optimistic.
“They cannot pay their bills,” Svenake Berglie, chief executive of the FKG suppliers’ sector organisation, told Reuters. FKG said four or five of the biggest suppliers stopped deliveries because of unpaid invoices.
Everybody is now waiting for Russian sugar daddy Vladimir Antonov to come out of exile.
Maybe, we aren’t the only ones who had received threats for previous reporting. Reuters writes very cautiously: “Antonov, who owns banks in Lithuania and Latvia, used to have a 29.9 percent stake in Spyker but had to sell it, at GM’s insistence, before Spyker could buy Saab. Media reported at the time that Antonov had links to organized crime.”
No need to hold back. Meanwhile, even Russia’s state-owned news agency RIA-Novosti writes: ”Antonov was a key shareholder in Spyker, but he was forced out shortly before the Saab sale deal as GM reportedly suspected the Russian businessman of links to organized crime.” If RIA-Novosti says so, who are we to argue with them.
Antonov has applied to the Swedish Debt Office to take a below 30 percent stake in Saab. The BBC called the Debt Office and was told that “a formal request to clear Mr Antonov is currently under consideration, although it will take weeks rather than days before a decision is made.”
Meanwhile, even over at the Saabsunited cheering section, the mood turns from ebullient to guarded. Good advice is being dispensed: “Saab cannot afford big mistakes, hardly small. How should it proceed? With sincerity, honesty and humility.“
Or not, as the saying went here in years behind.
Test Drive Unlimited 2 (TDU2) is the latest pistonhead-oriented video game, a genre I’ve enjoyed since Test Drive first arrived in 1987. My PS3 usually spins two amazing time wasters: Gran Turismo 5 (GT5) for sheer hotshoe geekiness and the Grand Theft Auto series (GTA) for snark, storyline and reality-blurring gameplay. TDU2 sets out to blend elements of both, making it unique and intriguing in concept alone. But does the promise of a game that’s less serious than GT5 but more car-focused than GTA work in practice?
True to the GTA-side of the equation, TDU2 is escapism incarnate: you start in Ibiza (Hawaii comes later), the island famous for catering to the wealthy party-going set. That implies the need for top dollar super cars, flashy SUVs, and old school classics. The need for low-rent valets is obvious. That’s who “you” are: a hotel car-jockey daydreaming of a Jack Baruth racing lifestyle.
It’s a fun premise: TDU2 starts with poolside trust fund babies in a Penthouse apartment. You decide which person (avatar) best represents you: White/Black/Asian guy or girl. This sucks if you are a brown person but eventually I found a plastic surgery center, spent thousands of dollars and made “him” look more like me. Yes, really.
Back to the Penthouse: we learn that said party is in your honor. And there’s a gift in the garage: a Ferrari California! A woman wearing a dress tighter than Chrysler’s operating profit wants you to drive it. There are Barbie-doll females aplenty, but this is a “T for Teen” rated game: car-related dialogue matches the labored smack talk of a Fast And Furious flick. Ordinary conversations are whitewashed to the point of vapid PR jabber. Worse still, the majority of characters are complete douchebags, even the nice folks are fake and robotic compared to GTA.
Then again, there’s no Holy Grail of car-gaming communications: unlike GT5, TDU2 never insists on a catalytic converter upgrade on a pre-emissions vehicle. Good for them.
Back to the game, your birthday party is just a dream. And “you” wake up as a lowly valet, working up the ranks of a racing series called Solar Crown. The premise is kid friendly: TDU2 gets youngsters interested in cars by adding the social gaming elements of Xbox/PS3 consoles into the pistonhead mix. Kids won’t forget their smart phone aspirations, but TDU2 could make them lust for a Pagani Zonda.
Let’s dig into the social world: unlike GT5, one gets out of their car to do stuff. And you will explore: TDU2 demands purchasing more houses, more cars, attending (terribly pointless) driving schools and interacting with fellow racers on a variety of fronts.
My “favs” include car spots sprinkled around Ibiza: brand specific dealerships, performance garages, and automotive window dressings available via body shops. The free-roam gameplay is entertaining, kept organized by a map so beautifully detailed it makes Google Earth blush and GTA weep in agony. Much like said map, TDU2’s graphics are excellent, but the cars aren’t rendered to the point of GT5’s car-porn realism.
Too bad TDU2’s driving simulator is not for those old enough for a driver’s license. Vehicle dynamics contain enough vague responses to put away the race seat/feedback tiller in favor of a normal controller. And you must drive everywhere, at least once: unlike the geographically-diverse environment of GTA San Andreas, this gets old quickly. Making things worse, the music and DJ chatter is derivative, dull and repetitive. Earning TDU2’s style points for fast driving is also difficult, adding frustration for those with inflamed ADHD. City-to-city travel should let you have your cake and eat it too: this game takes too long to get to the goods, it’s an exercise in patience.
But, like the others, TDU2 lets one drive like a maniac without the pitfalls of vehicle collisions and their associated legal fees. Speaking of, there’s little damage upon impact and the island is deserted, aside from vehicular traffic. But the in-car views of the island are thrilling: watching the Lotus Espirt’s needles move to the right at full throttle was a great thrill compared to the UR-Accolade version of this game.
Back to why this is a non-driving simulator: while not a raging fan of online play, meeting fellow racers in the (awesomely rendered) clubhouse was wicked-cool. There were challenges aplenty created by fellow gamers, available at an activity desk. Back on the road, if you spot someone worth challenging, flash your lights, wait for confirmation, and get ready to rumble.
I’ve barely scratched the surface in this review, mostly because it feels like explaining the concept of an all-inclusive resort to someone that’s never seen an airport. This YouTube review will narrow the gap. If you like online interaction and wish to endlessly modify parameters such as the design of your homes/cars/avatar, this game can go on forever. Even with the driving simulator flaws and utterly trite dialogue, TDU2 is worth owning. If you have kids.
Atari provided a copy of Test Drive Unlimited 2 for this review.
Monday, April 4, 2011
Due to all the attention the gold infiniti towed in China got, here is a video of Hip-Hop artist 50 Cent [real name Curtis Jackson] being arrested in his new chrome Lamborghini.
Via TMZ: "TMZ has confirmed that rapper 50 Cent (aka Curtis Jackson) was arrested around 2:00PM this afternoon in Manhattan. Law enforcement officials in an unmarked car pulled over the star's silver Lamborghini at the corner of 8th Ave. and 35th Ave. in Midtown New York after they say he made an unsafe lane change."
Police issued 50 four summons: 1 for an unsafe lane change, 1 because his driver's liscense was expired, 1 because his lambo is unregistered with the state and another because the car is also not insured! He was issued the tickets and released. The gangsta rapper has a long and storied history with police, starting from when he was busted in a high school gym class in 1994 for hiding crack vials in his sneakers. He was then nailed again that year for felony drug charges; with these busts occurring only three weeks apart.
Sunday, April 3, 2011
The ongoing disaster in Japan caused by Friday’s massive earthquake and tsunami is forcing many automakers to extend production halts on domestic plants well into next week. Today, Toyota announced that it has decided to continue the vehicle-production halt started on March 14 at all of its plants in Japan, including all subsidiary vehicle manufacturers, through March 22. According to reports, the suspension of production has already cost Toyota some 40,000 vehicles up until now.
“A decision on when vehicle production will resume in Japan has yet to be made,” the company said in a written statement.
However, the world’s largest automaker noted that it will resume production of replacement parts for vehicles already on market beginning on Thursday, March 17, adding that it also plans to restart manufacturing parts for overseas production on Monday, March 21.
Every few years, Beijing’s government lashes out against billboards that advertise an ostentatious lifestyle. These exhortations are largely ignored, which preserves an endless source of involuntary humor.
Meanwhile in Nanjing, “scores of amazed onlookers flocked to a busy shopping street” to see a gold plated Infiniti G37 convertible that had pulled up curbside. “Unfortunately for the owners, police soon flocked to the scene as well,” reports the Daily Mail.
First, Nanjing’s finest wanted to issue a ticket for ostentatious illegal parking to a well-dressed couple that emerged from the car. Then, the police noticed the lack of a necessary ingredient for a ticket: A license plate. The golden car was not registered. A tow truck made its way through scores of reporters that conveniently were on hand, and the golden car was under arrest. Another win in the strike hard campaign against brazen bawdy bling
However, two days later, the golden Infiniti was not in the impound lot, but on display in a jewelery store in Nanjing. It also was featured prominently in state-owned Xinhua, with its own gallery, and the note that “it took five artizens (sic) over four months to plate gold on the Infiniti car.” Don’t worry, can’t bring luxury down in China.
What it needs is taste. That will come next year. Or after I have disposed of the faux Rococo fixtures that were left behind by the previous owner of my apartment.
The fine art of media stunts however is already mastered with aplomb.
What is The Rumble Report?
The Rumble Report provides honest, take-no-prisoners automotive news. reviews and editorials. Im going to call it like I see it and try to provide you on all the up to date automotive information as it hits the back fences!
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