Friday, January 31, 2014

Winter Storm Leon: When Will Roads Thaw Out?

<weather undergroundp>Winter Storm Leon delivered a long swath of snow and ice from parts of Texas to the coastal Southeast, coastal Mid-Atlantic and Northeast early Tuesday morning into Wednesday.

If you're stuck at home, or away from home, due to ice-packed, untreated roads, there's one question you'd like to know above all others: When will temperatures rise above freezing to begin melting the accumulated mess?

While some melting and drying did occur on roads Wednesday, it appears that the melting will accelerate as we close out the week.

After waking up to temperatures well below freezing Thursday, highs should rise into the 40s over much of Alabama, north Georgia, and South Carolina including Atlanta and Charleston, S.C., allowing some significant melting to begin by late morning or early afternoon in these areas.

Highs Thursday along the Gulf Coast should make it into at least the low 50s, helping to put an end to the icy misery there.

Once again, however, low temperatures early Friday morning will bottom out in the 20s from the Carolinas to the Deep South, meaning there may be some refreezing of untreated roads and bridges where lingering meltwater was left standing by Thursday's warmth.

, however, should bring widespread highs in the 50s in the Carolinas, north Georgia and Alabama, with 60s along the northern Gulf Coast. With lows Saturday morning forecast to remain primarily above freezing, Friday should spell the end of this long, aggravating snow and ice jam for parts of the Southeast.

MORE: Winter Storm Leon Photos

Thursday, January 30, 2014

China's Lenovo steps into ring against Samsung with Motorola deal

By Paul Carsten and Matthew Miller

BEIJING (Reuters) - Lenovo Group, the Chinese technology company that earns about 80 percent of its revenue from personal computers, is betting it can also be a challenger to Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Apple Inc in the smartphone market.

On Wednesday, Lenovo said it would buy Google Inc's Motorola Mobility handset unit for $2.91 billion in the fourth-largest U.S. acquisition by a Chinese or Hong Kong company ever.

"We are not only the number one PC company in the world but with this agreement we will become a much stronger number three smartphone company," said Wong Waiming, Lenovo's chief financial officer, on a conference call on Thursday.

Investors, however, took a dim view of the Promo Code, which came less than a week after the company announced it was buying IBM Corp's low-end server unit for $2.3 billion. The stock fell 8.2 percent on concerns Lenovo might have overpaid for a loss-making business and would dilute the value of shares by issuing new ones to help pay for the purchases.

Together with the IBM agreement, Lenovo has agreed in the last week to fork over as many as 800 million shares, representing about 7.7 percent of its outstanding stock.

With its acquisition of Motorola, Lenovo is emerging as the most viable contender to global smartphone leaders Apple and Samsung - albeit still a distant third-place player.

The deal will allow Lenovo to step outside its China comfort zone and firmly into other regions, including the United States, where Chinese smartphone makers have struggled, and Latin America, where Motorola remains a strong brand.

Google has the opposite problem. China is one place its presence is barely felt since it left the market in 2010 because of network security concerns.

Its search engine, which dominates in most of the world, recorded China market share by usage of just 1.6 percent in December, according to Beijing-based data firm CNZZ. Before 2010, its share reached 29 percent, according to Analysys Mason.

Even Google's Android operating system, which Samsung also uses, has struggled in China. Only 3.5 percent of Android devices in China have its Google Play app store installed, limiting its profit potential.

Whether the Lenovo partnership might reopen the door to China remains to be seen. Programs such as Google Maps and Google Plus, which is blocked by censors, would still be unavailable to most mobile users.


Lenovo's global smartphone market share following the acquisition will be more than 6 percent, compared with Samsung's 28.8 percent and Apple's 17.9 percent as of December 31, according to Lenovo and IDC.

For Motorola, Lenovo will pay $660 million in cash, $750 million in Lenovo ordinary shares, and another $1.5 billion in the form of a three-year promissory note, Lenovo and Google said in a joint statement.

Lenovo will receive more than 2,000 "patent assets" as part of the transaction, the companies said, but it remains unknown which will change hands and whether they might be subject to extra scrutiny from regulators.

"This has a huge impact not only to the smartphone market but also the Android ecosystem," said CK Lu, a Taipei-based tech analyst with Gartner. "Samsung dominates in the Android ecosystem but now they have a new challenger which is Lenovo."

China would like to see a home-grown competitor to both Android and Apple's iOS. Earlier this month, it launched its own "China Operating System".


Wong said Lenovo has no "urgent need" to raise additional funds to pay for the IBM or Motorola acquisitions. The deals together require capital outlays of $2.8 billion, while Lenovo has on-hand cash of more than $3 billion, Wong said. Lenovo also raised $1.2 billion in loans in December.

Motorola Mobility lost more than $1.5 billion, after taxes and extraordinary items, since Google acquired the unit in May, 2012, according to a Lenovo filing on Thursday. Google will report its fourth quarter and annual earnings later on Thursday.

"It looks like Lenovo is acquiring the Motorola unit at a premium," said Linus Yip, a Hong Kong-based strategist at First Shanghai Securities.

But Wong said he was "very confident" Lenovo can return the business to profitability. He declined to give a time frame.

Lenovo's smartphone business generates about $4 billion in annual sales, said Wong, and with the addition of Motorola the company should approach $10 billion in revenues "within a reasonable time".

"That actually gives us a much bigger scale platform for us to grow further," Wong said.

The deal may not be about market share so much as markets.

"It's not about entering the U.S. but about stepping outside of China," said Gartner's Lu. "They have the chance to compete with Samsung and Apple."

(Additional reporting by Clement Tan in Hong Kong and Jeremy Wagstaff in Singapore; Editing by Emily Kaiser and Alex Richardson)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Nine-game Husker diamond deal now available

LINCOLN - Nebraska baseball fans will again be able to purchase the nine-game Diamond Promo Codes for the 2014 season starting this week. Fans can either purchase reserved tickets for nine games in the lower grandstand (sections 110 or 112), in the Homerun Terrace (behind right field) and in the upper grandstand (section 210 or 2012).

Fans are able to choose nine games from any of the Huskers' 27 home games in 2014. The non-conference season includes games with Kansas State, St. John's, Northern Colorado, UC Irvine, Creighton, UNLV and UNO. The Huskers open Big Ten play on Friday, April 4, with the Ohio State Buckeyes, before also hosting Northwestern, Penn State and Illinois.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Review: The Toshiba Q Series Pro SSD delivers top performance at a discount

<Deal Newsp>Many capable SSDs are out there, but don't overlook a relative newcomer: Toshiba's Q Series Pro. Toshiba's drives are among the very fastest we've tested, and in an unusual development, we saw no drop in performance in its smaller capacities. Throw in heavy online discounts, and you have an excellent bargain in a top-performing drive.

The Q Series Pro drives are only 7mm thick, so they'll fit in just about any laptop that supports a 2.5-inch drive. The controller is Toshiba's own TC358790XBG, as is the 19nm Toggle-mode MLC NAND. In our tests reading and writing a single 10GB file (using a 16GB RAM drive on our test bed), each of the three capacities Toshiba sent us-128GB, 256GB, and 512GB-proved excellent performers.

Toshiba's drive delivered very high performance when reading and writing a single 10GB file (click to enlarge).

Until now, the rule as been that the smaller the capacity, the slower the drive (because of fewer chips and fewer channels), but the Q Series blew that up and then some. The 128GB drive actually ended up being the fastest capacity we tested, although the difference was so small as to be statistically irrelevant.

The 128GB Q Series Pro wrote our 10GB mix of files and folders at 409.9 MBps and read it at 412.25 MBps. With a single large 10GB file, that jumped to 635.4 MBps writing and 481.4 MBps reading. No single result was fast enough for first place, but where many drives shine at either reading or writing, the Q Series Pro is top-notch at both.

Toshiba's Q Pro Series SSD also delivered excellent performance when reading and writing 20GB of folders and small files.

As mentioned, the larger capacities were slower, but only by very slight margins. Overall, the 128GB finished third among all the unaided drives (no software on the PC) that we've tested of any capacity, and it finished far ahead of other 128GB drives we've tested.

The 256GB and 512GB drives placed fifth and sixth respectively; you should note, however, that first and sixth place are separated in performance by just 3 percent.

The bottom line

The Toshiba Q Series Pro drives carry some rather hefty suggested retail pricing: $160 for the 128GB, $310 for the 256GB, and a sky-high $740 for the 512GB model. But a quick trip online revealed stunning discounts that drop the price below 80 cents per gigabyte. That's a bargain in a drive this fast. The only downside is that the Q Series Pro is warrantied for just three years, while its Samsung 840 Pro and OCZ Vector competitors carry five-year warranties.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Carnival Cruise Lines launches new shore excursions best price guarantee

Shore excursions are part of the fun of cruising. Going ashore and taking a tour is an exciting option on cruises. And, almost always, there are more tour options than I can do. Makes for hard choices.

But Carnival Cruise Lines has now come up with a cruise industry first to be sure passengers get the Price Compare shore excursions possible. Carnival just announced a guarantee that guests who book a Carnival shore excursion and find a comparable tour at a lower price will receive an onboard credit of 110 percent of the difference.

"Many of our repeat guests who have booked Carnival shore tours previously are already knowledgeable on the outstanding value our tours provide," said Mico Cascais, vice president of tour operations for Carnival Cruise Lines.

"However, our research indicates that many others, particularly first-time cruisers, are interested yet concerned as to whether or not they are getting the best deal,. The best price guarantee program will assure our guests they are getting both the highest quality and the best value on all of our tours."

I've long known that the shore excursions offered by a cruise company are the best way to go. The excursions have to be well organized, reasonably priced, safe and interesting or the cruise line would not keep offering them.

I once saw a couple returning to our cruise ship shaking their heads and vowing never TO take a Jamaica tour again. The problem was not Jamaica and it was not the tour, it was the tour company. The poor couple had booked it with a tour company after they got off the ship and saw a cheap tour offered in Jamaica. Never ever do that.


Stick with the cruise company excursions. They offer the best protection and now the best price. I was very pleased with my Bob Marley tour when the Carnival Breeze docked in Jamaica. But I don't think I would have wanted to take the tour with any company other than the one backed by the Carnival company.

Of course, with Carnival's new excursion protection plan, cruisers are guaranteed to get the best deal from a Carnival excursion. Sounds like a great program.

Guests sailing on a Carnival cruise who book a shore excursion through the cruise line can be completely confident they are getting the best price and best value with the introduction of a new shore excursion best price guarantee.

The only guarantee of its kind in the cruise industry, the program is now available fleet wide for all Carnival Cruise Lines shore tours on ships sailing from North America.

Under the best price guarantee, guests who find the same tour offered by another operator at a lower price than their booked excursion either before or during their cruise can complete a claim form to receive 110 percent of the difference in the form of a shipboard credit.

The guarantee is available for excursions booked prior to or during a cruise. If guests pre-book an excursion, then find a comparable tour advertised online at a lower price, they can complete an online form up to seven days prior to the cruise to invoke the guarantee. Guests can also complete a form during the cruise either before or after their excursion has taken place. Claims are typically processed within 24-48 hours.


Guests who book their excursion through Carnival enjoy the convenience of having shore excursion tickets delivered to their stateroom, 24/7 access to shipboard staff to answer questions and obtain assistance, and an assurance that they will receive a refund or the excursion time will be adjusted as needed based on weather or other issues affecting a ship's scheduled port of call visit.

I heard a faint gasp during my Carnival Magic orientation meeting in December when Magic Cruise Director James Dunn told cruisers what would happen if they booked a shore excursion not offered by Carnival and didn't return to the ship in time for its sailing.

"We will leave you," Dunn said. "We've done it before and we will do it again."

Of course, that is no problem when you book a shore excursion with Carnival. I've never been late getting back to the ship on a ship-arranged tour excursion. But if something were to happen with a Carnival tour, Dunn said, the ship would wait.

Ongoing communication between tour operators and shipboard staff ensures that the cruise line is aware and can make necessary changes to a ship's departure time when a tour is running late or unexpected circumstances arise, Dunn said.

Sure worth the peace of mind to me.

The online and onboard claim forms require guests to provide the name of the competitor offering the comparable tour, excursion name, where the tour was advertised and the duration, price and any items included in the tour such as lunch, drinks, transportation or admission fees.

The best price guarantee is applicable to shore excursion matches on the same date as the tour purchased from Carnival.

For more information about Carnival's new shore excursion best price guarantee: Visit

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Best Offer: movie review

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Want to know whether that 18th-century painting you bought for a few million is actually a fake? Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) is your guy, a fussily observant assessor and auctioneer who prefers the company of heirlooms to human beings. In this initially intriguing, ultimately very silly romantic thriller from Cinema Paradiso' s Giuseppe Tornatore, our eccentric, hypochondriac hero-who can't even hold a cell phone without wrapping it in a handkerchief-is hired by an unseen, agoraphobic young woman (Sylvia Hoeks) to sell off her sizable estate. Trouble is, he's slowly falling in love with his silky-voiced client, who-as he tells his ladies'-man colleague, Robert (Jim Sturgess)-he's forbidden to lay eyes on.

It's a promising premise, and give writer-director Tornatore credit for laying out plenty of tantalizing, Hitchcockian narrative bread crumbs. There's a secret vault filled with ill-gotten paintings, an antique automaton that may hold the key to a shadowy secret, even an autistic little person whose seemingly random obsession with numerical patterns might not be so random after all. None of it comes together in any satisfying way, unfortunately, because Tornatore telegraphs every revelation with head-slapping amateurishness. But the fully committed Rush, at least, commands our constant attention, and no movie with a kookier-than-usual Ennio Morricone score (dig those staccato-chanting chorines!) could ever be a total waste of canvas.