Monday PM January 29th, 2007

Microsoft debuts Vista operating system at midnight...Enron natural gas pipeline break east of Houston forces evacuations...Three former British bankers accused in Enron-related fraud again ask federal judge to dismiss charges...

Bill Gates is hoping to ''wow'' you. That's one of the words the Microsoft chairman is using to describe the new Vista operating system. It goes on sale just after midnight tonight. As Gates puts it, ''there are chances for wows all over the "product''. More than five years in development, Vista is being sold to consumers for the first time. A business version went on sale last November. In Tokyo, where it is already Tuesday, about 80 people lined up at a store to become among the first to own Vista. One consumer explained that he says ''very high'' expectations for Vista. Gates says users booting up to Vista will see a slick 3-D graphical user interface and document icons that give at-a-glance previews. To get the basic Vista system upgrade, users will pay $99. A premium version goes for about $50 more.

Some 30 homes were evacuated when an Enron natural gas pipeline broke in a rural area east of Houston. The break happened around 11 a.m. at Texas 61 and FM 63 near the rural community of Hankamer, about 45 miles east of Houston. Aerial video shows a cloud of white vapor jetting from a hole cut by a backhoe sitting unmanned by the cut, but there were no flames visible. Chambers County sheriff's deputies say two workers suffered burns to their hands and faces. Workers had been examining the pipe when it blew up.

Three former British bankers accused in Enron-related fraud have again asked a federal judge to dismiss charges they skimmed $7.35 million from the sale of an Enron-related partnership. David Bermingham, Giles Darby and Gary Mulgrew were extradited to the United States in July and are charged with seven counts each of wire fraud. Prosecutors allege they mislead Greenwich NatWest about the value of the Enron partnership. Trial is set for September.

Governor Rick Perry has announced a $20 million funding commitment to FutureGen, to boost the state's effort to win the federal demonstration project. The $1 billion, near-zero emissions project is designed to utilize gasification technology to produce coal-fueled electricity. The governor says his proposed budget will contain an additional $183 million in dedicated general revenue to fund the Texas Emission Reduction Plan. The voluntary emission reduction program awards grants for projects aimed at reducing emissions of nitrogen oxides in areas of the state designated as non-attainment or near non-attainment for federal ground level ozone standards.

The Houston Executive Airport has officially opened for business, according to the Houston Business Journal. The airport, at Cardiff Road in Brookshire, caters to business and general aviation aircraft. There are long-range plans to extend the runway to 7,000 feet to accommodate larger aircraft. The airport offers aircraft fueling, ground handling operations and rental cars.

Stars of entertainment and politics are helping to celebrate the opening of a $50 million high-tech rehabilitation center in San Antonio. The privately built, 60,000-square-foot Center for the Intrepid is near Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston. It'll let the army to move its physical rehab program out of the hospital into its own facility. Senators John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton participated in today's opening festivities. Among the entertainers scheduled to participate were Denzel Washington, John Mellencamp and Rosie O'Donnell. It was financed by the private, non-profit Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and includes a rock-climbing wall, wave pool and a 360-degree virtual reality sphere. They'll help amputees and other severely wounded soldiers recover their balance and other basic skills. The center is designed to serve the growing number of soldiers who return from war as amputees or with severe burns.

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