30 October 2008
Rico says it's only a partial list of the places he's been, but it's a good start... (And his father's map would make these journeys look like nothing.) But as he adds places to the list, he discovers how many places there are in the world he's never been (and likely will never get to).
Posted by Rico at 16:15
Courtesy of my old friend Jim Irwin, this splendid line from Harry S. Truman:
"My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference. I, for one, believe the piano player job to be much more honorable than current politicians."
Posted by Rico at 12:28
The International Herald Tribune has an article by Graham Bowley about the Syrians predictable response to the US raid:
Thousands of people demonstrated in the Syrian capital Damascus on Thursday, in an apparently stage-managed protest of the American military raid across the Iraqi border into Syrian territory on Sunday.Rico says he's so sorry Abu Ghadiya got whacked...
Accounts of the demonstration by SANA, Syria's official news agency, did not convey whether the protest was spontaneous or orchestrated by the government. But judging by other news accounts and images shown on television, it seemed clear that the government had organized the protest, which looked precisely timed and managed.
The BBC showed scenes of crowds of protesters massing in central Damascus, carrying Syrian flags and pictures of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. According to the Associated Press, reporting from Damascus, Syrian riot police formed a protective ring around the United States Embassy, a mile away from the demonstrations. The embassy was closed for the protests and the crowds dispersed peacefully after a couple of hours.
Syria said eight civilians were killed in the raid on Sunday, and has described the attack as "terrorist aggression" by the United States. But American officials said the raid, by American helicopter-borne forces, killed an Iraqi militant responsible for running weapons, money and foreign fighters across the border into Iraq. The American officials said that all the people killed in the assault were militants.
Earlier this week, in its first retaliation against the raid, the Syrian cabinet said it had decided to order the closure of the American School and an American cultural center in Damascus.The strike into Syria was by far the boldest by American commandos in the five years since the United States invaded Iraq and began to condemn Syria's role in stoking the Iraqi insurgency.
In justifying the attack, American officials said the United States was determined to halt the flow of militants and weapons across the border to the insurgency. They confirmed the death in the raid of the man suspected of leading an insurgent cell, an Iraqi known as Abu Ghadiya. In the raid on Sunday, about two dozen American commandos in specially equipped Black Hawk helicopters swooped into the village of Sukkariyah, six miles from the Iraqi border, just before 5 p.m., and fought a brief gun battle with Abu Ghadiya and several members of his cell, the officials said. It was unclear whether Abu Ghadiya died near his tent on the battlefield or after he was taken into American custody.
Posted by Rico at 10:22
The International Herald Tribune has an article by Ethan Bronner about a dig in Israel:
Overlooking the verdant Valley of Elah, where the Bible says David toppled Goliath, archaeologists are unearthing a 3,000-year-old fortified city that could reshape views of the period when David ruled over the Israelites. Five lines on pottery uncovered here appear to be the oldest Hebrew text ever found and are likely to have a major impact on knowledge about the history of literacy and alphabet development. The five-acre site, with its fortifications, dwellings and multi-chambered entry gate, will also be a weapon in the contentious and often politicized debate over whether David and his capital, Jerusalem, were an important kingdom or a minor tribe, an issue that divides not only scholars but those seeking to support or delegitimize Zionism.Rico says the desperation of those seeking to justify their belief in the Bible is a sad thing to watch...
Only a tiny portion of the site has been excavated, and none of the findings have yet been published or fully scrutinized. But the dig, led by Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is already causing a stir among his colleagues as well as excitement from those who seek to use the Bible as a guide to history and confirmation of their faith. "This is a new type of site that suddenly opens a window on an area where we have had almost nothing and requires us to rethink what was going on at that period," said Aren Maeir, professor of archaeology at Bar-Ilan University and the director of a major Philistine dig not far from here. "This is not a run-of-the-mill find."
The 10th century B.C. is the most controversial period in biblical archaeology because it is then, according to the Old Testament, that David united the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, setting the stage for his son Solomon to build his great temple and rule over a vast area from the Nile to the Euphrates Rivers.
For many Jews and Christians, even those who do not take Scripture literally, the Bible is a vital historical source. And for the state of Israel, which considers itself to be a reclamation of the state begun by David, evidence of the biblical account has huge symbolic value. The Foreign Ministry's Web site, for example, presents the kingdom of David and Solomon along with a map of it as a matter of fact. But the archaeological record of that kingdom is exceedingly sparse — in fact almost nonexistent — and a number of scholars today argue that the kingdom was largely a myth created some centuries later. A great power, they note, would have left traces of cities and activity, and been mentioned by those around it. Yet in this area nothing like that has turned up — at least until now.
Posted by Rico at 10:05
The International Herald Tribune has an article by Mary Walsh (no, not Hemingway's wife; she's dead) about AIG and your tax money:
The American International Group is rapidly running through $123 billion in emergency lending provided by the Federal Reserve, raising questions about how a company claiming to be solvent in September could have developed such a big hole by October. Some analysts say at least part of the shortfall must have been there all along, hidden by irregular accounting.Rico says 'let the people who took the risk bear the loss'? What is this guy, a Communist? No good capitalist should ever have to bear the loss of their extremely bad judgement...
"You don't just suddenly lose $120 billion overnight," said Donn Vickrey of Gradient Analytics, an independent securities research firm in Scottsdale, Arizona. Vickrey says he believes AIG must have already accumulated tens of billions of dollars worth of losses by mid-September, when it came close to collapse and received an $85 billion emergency line of credit by the Fed. That loan was later supplemented by a $38 billion lending facility.
But losses on that scale do not show up in the company's financial filings. Instead, AIG replenished its capital by issuing $20 billion in stock and debt in May and reassured investors that it had an ample cushion. It also said that it was making its accounting more precise. Vickery and other analysts are examining the company's disclosures for clues that the cushion was threadbare and that company officials knew they had major losses months before the bailout.
Tantalizing support for this argument comes from what appears to have been a behind-the-scenes clash at the company over how to value some of its derivatives contracts. An accountant brought in by the company because of an earlier scandal was pushed to the sidelines on this issue, and the company's outside auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, warned of a material weakness months before the government bailout. The internal auditor resigned and is now in seclusion, according to a former colleague. His account, from a prepared text, was read by Representative Henry Waxman, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, in a hearing this month.
These accounting questions are of interest not only because U.S. taxpayers are footing the bill at AIG but also because the post-mortems may point to a fundamental flaw in the Fed bailout: the money is buoying an insurer — and its trading partners — whose cash needs could easily exceed the existing government backstop if the housing sector continues to deteriorate.
AIG has declined to provide a detailed account of how it has used the Fed's money. The company said it could not provide more information ahead of its quarterly report, expected next week, the first under new management. The Fed releases a weekly figure, most recently showing that $90 billion of the $123 billion available has been drawn down.
AIG had come under fire for accounting irregularities some years back and had brought in a former accounting expert from the Securities and Exchange Commission. He began to focus on the company's accounting for its credit-default swaps and collided with Joseph Cassano, the head of the company's financial products division, according to a letter read by Waxman at the recent congressional hearing. When the expert tried to revise AIG's method for measuring its swaps, he said that Cassano told him, "I have deliberately excluded you from the valuation because I was concerned that you would pollute the process." Cassano did not attend the hearing and was unavailable for comment. The company's independent auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, was the next to raise an alarm. It briefed Sullivan late in November, warning that it had found a "material weakness" because the unit that valued the swaps lacked sufficient oversight.
"We may be better off in the long run letting the losses be realized and letting the people who took the risk bear the loss," said Bill Bergman, senior equity analyst at the market research company Morningstar.
Posted by Rico at 09:57
The International Herald Tribune says the euro is falling like the price of gasoline:
The euro's sharp descent against the dollar may have further to run as a potential emerging-market crisis threatens more trouble for European banks, and the euro may even return to parity with the dollar.Rico says he doesn't have any euros, so it's only a theoretical issue for him, but it will surely change things for a lot of people who do.
The euro fell to a two-and-a-half-year low against the dollar Tuesday. The euro has declined 22 percent since hitting a record above $1.60 in mid-July, falling more than 11 percent this month.
The euro has sold off sharply in recent months, with economic growth prospects for the 15-nation euro zone deteriorating sharply after the financial crisis that started in the United States spilled over to the rest of the world.
Several European banks have been bailed out, and fears are growing that the unprecedented efforts by governments to shore up the financial system will not be enough to prevent Europe from falling into recession.
Posted by Rico at 09:52
After 28 years, the Phillies finally won the World Series in (delayed by rain) Game Five.
It was 44 degrees Fahrenheit (6.7 degrees Celsius), with a stiff wind to right field when play resumed Wednesday night. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel sent up Geoff Jenkins as a pinch-hitter for Hamels, intending to replace him if Rays manager Joe Maddon countered with a left-hander like the rookie David Price.Rico says he didn't stay up for the whole thing (creeping old-fartism and a brain injury), but when the Phillies were ahead going into the ninth inning he went to bed. Fortunately there wasn't a last-minute disaster, and they won:
With two out in the ninth inning Wednesday, at 9:58 p.m., closer Brad Lidge's slider went under Eric Hinske's bat for strike three... A giant championship banner fell against the center-field backdrop, and fireworks exploded in the distance.
Posted by Rico at 09:45
The International Herald Tribune has the story, via the AP, of the continuing melamine disaster in China:
Animal feed producers in China commonly add the industrial chemical melamine to their products to make them appear higher in protein, state media reported Thursday, an indication that the scope of the country's latest food safety scandal could extend beyond milk and eggs.Rico says any time you wonder why the FDA is a good idea, think of this in your local supermarket, and this in your local hospital:
The practice of mixing melamine into animal feed is an "open secret" in the industry, the Nanfang Daily newspaper reported in an article that was republished on the Web sites of the official Xinhua News Agency and the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily.
Publicizing such a problem is rare for the Chinese media and appears to be a tacit admission by China's central government that melamine contamination is widespread. The news comes after four brands of Chinese eggs were found to be contaminated with melamine, which agriculture officials have speculated came from adulterated feed given to hens. The discovery of the tainted eggs followed on the heels of a similar crisis involving compromised dairy products that sent tens of thousands of children to the hospital and was linked to the deaths of four infants. That scandal was triggered by dairy suppliers who added melamine, a chemical used to make plastics and fertilizer, to watered-down milk in order to dupe quality control tests and make the product appear rich in protein.
Health experts say ingesting a small amount of melamine poses no danger, but in larger doses, it can cause kidney stones and lead to kidney failure.
It is forbidden to deliberately add melamine to food and animal feed, but its apparent prevalence highlights the inability of authorities to keep the food production process clean of toxins despite official vows to raise safety standards.
Chemical plants used to pay companies to treat and dispose of excess melamine, but about five years ago began selling it to manufacturers who repackaged it as "protein powder," the Nanfang Daily report said, citing an unnamed chemical industry expert. Melamine is high in nitrogen, and most protein tests test for nitrogen levels. The inexpensive powder was first used to give the impression of higher protein levels in aquatic feed, then later in feed for livestock and poultry, the report said.
In the past week, melamine has been discovered in at least four brands of Chinese eggs, and officials in China's largest city, Shanghai, said they had begun checks on all eggs sold in local markets. No one has been sickened and it was not immediately clear how many eggs have been recalled.
The reputation of Chinese products has come under fire in the past year after high levels of chemicals and additives were found in goods ranging from toothpaste to milk powder. Chinese authorities and a leading dairy producer delayed reporting the contamination of milk products for months.
The Ministry of Health said Wednesday that 2,390 children remained hospitalized after drinking tainted milk, including one in serious condition, and 48,514 had been treated at hospitals and released.
Posted by Rico at 09:35
29 October 2008
Seybold Online has a article about the future of publishing, brought to you by The Christian Science Monitor, of all things:
The New York Times reported today the decision by The Christian Science Monitor to cease its Monday through Friday print edition and move to an online-only version (apart from a new printed Sunday magazine) beginning in April. The news is a significant milestone, but hardly unexpected. Articles in The Seybold Report and elsewhere have long observed the evisceration of newspaper print ad revenues by the Web, as well as the demographic changes in media consumption habits, that are predictors of this type of change.Rico says he'd seen this coming, but it's coming faster than he thought it would...
For national papers such as the Monitor, brand strength will give them an edge — perhaps sufficient to thrive in a brave new media world. Not many newspapers can boast the Monitor’s journalistic and editorial reputation. According to the report, the move will enable the paper to keep all of its bureaus open, preserving the journalistic brand. However, because it is a non-profit, it is uncertain whether this is a model for other papers' successful transition.
For-profit newspapers need not despair — although they may have to consider a similar move. In an upcoming issue of The Seybold Report, we will examine two Scandinavian newspapers’ profitable (and somewhat unconventional) use of the Web to fight against the overall downturn in the industry. Technology and workflow choices are vital, but so is each paper’s commitment to improving its brand value. People don't buy a newspaper (or advertise in it) because it is printed or online. They do so based on how well it meets the public demand for information and ideas. Good journalism is still essential to the brand — regardless of the medium or its revenue model.
Here’s a measure of success to shoot for: People still say the word “dial” when interfacing with their modern, dial-less phones. In the future, they will probably also refer to reading something in “the paper” when referring to the online or e-paper versions of their daily news container. The medium is not the message. (Sorry, Marshall.) Publishing businesses that “get” the notion of building a better idea container — the historic mission of Seybold — will be the most likely to survive.
Posted by Rico at 21:00
al-Reuters has the story by Michael Wei and Ian Ransom about the latest disaster out of China:
Authorities in a northeastern Chinese city on Wednesday vowed severe punishment for those responsible for melamine-tainted eggs turning up in Hong Kong, as the health scare spread to another city in eastern China. At least four children have died and tens of thousands were made ill amid the melamine scandal, the latest in a series of health scares to sully the "made in China" label.Rico says when the Chinese say 'harsh punishment', they mean it...
Chinese products ranging from chocolate to milk powder have been recalled throughout the world due to contamination fears. Melamine, used in making plastic chairs, among other things, is often added to cheat nutrition tests.
Chinese eggs have now come under the spotlight, after Hong Kong food safety authorities over the weekend found melamine-tainted eggs produced by Hanwei Group in the northeastern port city of Dalian on local shelves. Problem eggs have now been found in Hangzhou, capital of the eastern province of Zhejiang, the official Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday, citing quality authorities there who had ordered a city-wide recall of all Ciyunxiang-brand eggs. The tested batch of Ciyunxiang eggs, produced by Green Living Beings Development Center based in China's northern Shanxi province, contained 3.5 mg in every kilo, Xinhua said. Calls to the company went unanswered.
China currently has no standard for acceptable amounts of melamine in eggs, but allows only 2.5 mg per kilo in most milk products.
There had been no reports of people being made ill from the eggs in Hangzhou, Xinhua said, but the government-led recall, the first for eggs in China, suggests the problem may be widespread and could usher in a round of checks nationwide.
Authorities in Dalian on Wednesday blamed tainted chicken feed for the high levels of melamine found in Hanwei Group eggs exported to Hong Kong. The municipal government promised harsh punishment in a notice posted on its website.
Posted by Rico at 15:36
Rico says he's hopelessly biased, so you can read his view of Microsoft through those prisms:
Apple announced that the next version of its operating system would take a break from introducing new features and focus on performance. "We have delivered more than a thousand new features to OS X in just seven years and Snow Leopard lays the foundation for thousands more," said Bertrand Serlet, Apple's senior vice president of Software Engineering. "In our continued effort to deliver the best user experience, we hit the pause button on new features to focus on perfecting the world's most advanced operating system."Rico says it's all blah, blah, blah until it ships... (They don't call it vaporware for nothing.)
The OS X update, expected to ship in June 2009, will be optimized for multi-core processors and enable "breakthrough amounts of RAM, up to a theoretical 16TB." Apple also promised a new, modern media platform with QuickTime X. The update will also offer out-of-the-box support for Microsoft Exchange 2007.
The first question to Microsoft was whether Windows 7 was a smokescreen for fixing some of the problems with Vista. "No," was the answer "Service Packs 1 and 2 are fixing things," said Microsoft's Ian Moulster. "This is less about fixing things and more about building on the good stuff. This is about where we go from here."
One major new feature confirmed for Windows 7 is a vastly improved touch-screen support. Taking its cue from the iPhone and the technology from Microsoft Surface, Windows 7 will see the same kind of multi-touch gestures applied to the desktop or laptop computer.
One interesting point is that while Google steered clear of multi-touch input for its Android G1 phone (lest Apple's legal team descend upon the company with a fury), Microsoft appears to have no such qualms. Because the Surface was a multi-touch product, Microsoft feels a legitimate claim to the technology. However, like Google, Microsoft is also going to enable any company to develop its own gestures for the Windows 7 operating system.
In this sense, the ball for touch-screen technology is now very much back in Apple's court. Of course, Apple has the iPhone and has rolled out multi-touch technology to the trackpads of its laptops, so in that sense Apple is the leading authority on touch-based input. However, it's made no mention at all of rolling out touch-screen technology beyond its iPhone and iPod touch products. At the launch of the iPhone in the UK, Macworld asked Steve Jobs about the prospect of multi-touch making its way to the Mac and he replied: "multi-touch makes a lot of sense on the iPhone, but not so much sense on an iMac. Consider it a research project." We think a touch-screen Mac just became a lot more likely.
In all though, aside from the touch-screen technology, we found the proposed feature set for Windows 7 somewhat lightweight. "This is a taster rather than a full set," said Ian Moulster. "We're not ready to bestow everything."
So what comes next with Snow Leopard? We are confident that more information will be revealed by Steve Jobs on 6 January 2009 at the Macworld Expo and Conference in San Francisco. Hopefully more features will be revealed, although Apple appears fairly adamant that the next operating system is about performance and not features. It will be interesting to see Apple's response to Microsoft's adoption of touch-screen technology. As for the actual release date, we expect to see Snow Leopard on sale in June 2009.
The release date for Windows 7 is a little more fuzzy. "You get stung if you get it wrong," said Ian Moulster.
Posted by Rico at 15:20
The New York Times has the story by Vikas Bajaj about the stock market:
After four mostly miserable weeks, a powerful afternoon rally left traders wondering if it was time to buy again. Shares, the bulls argued, have become too cheap to resist, despite signs of trouble in the economy. Many other investors, however, remained unpersuaded. At about 2 p.m., the market exploded into one of its biggest rallies since World War II, with the Dow Jones industrial average closing up 889.35 points, or 10.9 percent, to 9,065.12. In the last 69 years, the Dow has gained that much on only one other day, and that was two weeks ago, on 13 October.Rico says he hopes people with money start grabbing up these cheap (relatively speaking) stocks again; there are people he cares about who own some and can use the increase in their retirement accounts...
There was no single catalyst for the surge, and market specialists said investors seemed to be coming around to the idea that stocks were worth buying, given that the Dow had plunged 32 percent since the end of August. By some measures, stocks are cheaper than they have been in decades. Investors also may have also been looking ahead to a Wednesday meeting at the Federal Reserve, at which policy makers are expected to cut interest rates again. “Circle today as one of those days that the fundamental issues trumped panic and fear,” said Robert J. Froehlich, vice chairman and chief investment strategist with DWS Investments. But, he added, he was not ready to declare that stocks would not fall below the closing level on Monday.
The big question on the minds of investors on Wall Street and Main Street, however, remains this: Have stocks fallen enough to reflect the steep declines in profits that are sure to accompany a potentially long global recession?
While some prominent investors like Warren E. Buffett and R. Jeremy Grantham, who had been bearish in the past, have in recent days said that they think stock prices had fallen far enough for them to start buying, others remain unpersuaded.
“For me, the best part about today is that the market went up in the wake of what was some really discouraging economic news,” said Stuart Schweitzer, global markets strategist at J.P. Morgan Private Bank. “When the markets go up on bad news, it holds out hope that the bad news has been digested.” Some analysts were looking ahead to the meeting of the Fed’s rate-setting committee. Investors are betting that the Fed will cut its benchmark fed funds rate to 1 percent, from 1.5 percent.
The rally on Tuesday may partly reflect a growing confidence among investors that the recent moves by the Fed and Treasury Department will prevent more cataclysmic failures in the financial system, like the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, analysts said. “People are feeling much more comfortable that the financial system is stabilizing, and that allows them to focus on fundamental valuations of stocks,” said Todd Steinberg, head of equities and commodity derivatives at BNP Paribas-Americas. “The caveat to that is there is still a lot of economic issues to come.”
It is hard to know whether stock prices reflect a realistic assessment of the coming economic pain. As a group, stock analysts have been slow to reduce their expectations of future corporate profits. (History shows that Wall Street is typically slow to make adjustments to its forecasts at turning points.)
Steven C. Wieting, an economist at Citigroup, said he thought stocks had fallen by more than earnings would through the end of next year, suggesting the market might have fallen too far in recent weeks.
Posted by Rico at 10:49
Microsoft did fess up that there'd been a few teensy problems with Vista:
It was when Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president of Windows and Windows Live, got around to dealing with the issues that had plagued Vista that the audience become more enthusiastic. It was the admission of problems in Vista, and what they were doing to fix them, that worked up the crowd. "We got feedback on Vista from bloggers, the press, and, oh, some commercials," Sinofsky said, to laughter.Rico says he's still not rushing out to buy a Gates POS...
For starters, he addressed the annoying User Access Control security system, which asked people if they really wanted to perform a certain action even for the most basic of functions. In adding UAC to Vista, Sinofsky said Microsoft had meant well, but "we possibly went too far."
In Windows 7, users can specify the intrusiveness of notifications and confirmations Windows uses to alert the user to system changes. They can now control how much notification they desire using a slide bar, which enables them to choose from "Never notify me", "Only notify me when programs try to make changes", "Always notify", and "Notify and wait for my approval." UAC had offered only an all-or-nothing choice. The change drew a fair amount of applause.
Sinofsky also addressed Vista's problems with drivers, many of which were not available until some time after the operating system had shipped. Because Windows 7 uses the same device driver model as Vista, which now has been on the market nearly two years, he did not see there being a similar snag when Windows 7 hits the market. Now, he said, the third-party market is fully involved in writing compatible drivers. "With Vista, we really weren't ready at launch with the device coverage we need," he said.
Another change that drew audience applause was being able to natively create and mount a virtual hard drive in Windows 7, a feature demonstrated on-stage. These drives can be either dynamic or fixed in size.
Sinofsky also teased a much smaller footprint for Windows 7. He showed off a netbook with 1GB of memory and said that after it booted Windows, the tiny, low-powered notebook PC still had more than half of its memory left over.
Concerns over memory had proved to be another thorn in the side of Vista, with the older Windows XP finding new life not only among customers who didn't want Vista, but also as the OS of choice for less-powerful computers like netbooks.
Posted by Rico at 08:07
The "please ignore the man behind the curtain" act is starting at Microsoft again, this time to make us forget they ever did Vista:
Rico says but, wait, there's more:
Day two of Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference kicked off with the first public demonstration of Windows 7, the successor to Windows Vista.As opposed, say, to focusing on how Microsoft fucked up their lives and their computers for a couple of years with crappy software...
It's a key unveiling for Microsoft, not just because the company is quickly seeking to move on beyond the problems it encountered with Vista. To Ray Ozzie, chief software architect for Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Windows 7 marks a part of its overall effort to better deliver what he described as one complete offering.
"If you take one thing away from what you see here today at PDC, it is that we can do our customers a great service by focusing how much we can give them for a combined value of their investments," Ozzie said. "Our objective to make the combination of PC, phone and the Web of more value than the sum of their parts."
Rico says but, wait, there's more:
Julie Larson-Green, vice president of Windows Experience, gave Windows 7's first public demonstration, focusing heavily on its touchscreen elements, such as how older applications can be touch-enabled without rewriting them. Larson-Green also demonstrated Windows 7 support for connecting to a multitude of devices, including a Windows Mobile phone. Though a service called Device Stage, all devices on a network -- including desktop PCs, laptops, printers, attached storage and Windows Mobile phones -- can be viewed and accessed as readily as a hard disk partition on the computer. Developers can embed their own links into the Device Stage screen that appears when accessing their specific device. As a result, a user can easily visit the driver download page for their printer, for instance.Rico says gee, now it looks and acts just like (dare he say it) a Macintosh...
In addition to new touch functionality and Device Stage, Larson-Green also demonstrated another nifty user-interface element that combines Quick Launch buttons and Taskbar icons. Moving the mouse over a Word icon shows thumbnails with all of the application's open documents, making it possible to jump to an open Word file with a single click.
Yet another change: The sidebar from Windows Vista that occupied the right side of the screen is gone. Under Windows 7, it's possible to place widgets anywhere on the desktop
28 October 2008
Rico says he just finished God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens. While very well written (he's practiced at it), as Ambrose Bierce would have said "The covers of this book are too far apart." Not because he doesn't have good things to say (he does, and Rico agrees with him wholeheartedly), it's just that it's an essay (and Hitchens considers himself an essayist) that got out of hand. (Probably because he owed some publisher a book.) Read it anyway, even if you are (you benighted fool) religious. There's a lot of good stuff in here, including this splendid observation about the eyesight of an osprey:
The osprey can swoop accurately on a fast-moving fish that it has detected underwater from many, many feet above, all the while maneuvering with its extraordinary wings. Ospreys have been almost exterminated by Man, while you yourself can be born as blind as a worm and still become a pious and observant Methodist, for example.
Posted by Rico at 17:26
Computerworld has an article by Heather Havenstein about the latest from Google:
Google Inc. this week unveiled gadgets created by its Google Labs project that allow Gmail users to look at Google Calendar and Google Docs data without having to open the hosted applications. For example, Gmail users can use one of the gadgets to see their Calendar agenda and get alerted when a meeting is scheduled, Google said. Another gadget could show users a list of recently accessed Google Docs and let them search across all documents from within Gmail. Google Labs, which solicits user feedback as it develops products, also created the ability to add any gadget to Gmail by pasting in the URL of its XML file.
The new products are the latest in a series of offerings to come out of Google Labs in recent months. Earlier this month, Google Labs rolled out Mail Goggles aimed at preventing Gmail users from sending email that they might later regret. Last month, Google Labs rolled out a test version of an audio search indexing system that's designed to find specific words in videos and let users jump to the portion of the video where the words are used. And, in August, the company unveiled Google Labs-developed Google Suggest, which suggests search queries as users type words or letters.
From an on-line column on CNet by Gordon Haff:
IT analyst James Governor writes that "customers always vote with their feet. Experience always comes before open. Even supposed open standards dorks these days are rushing headlong into the walled garden of gorgeousness we like to call Apple Computer."Rico says he couldn't have put it better himself...
Posted by Rico at 11:52
The Wall Street Journal has an article by Lauren Pollock about Google's lawsuit:
Google Inc. will pay $125 million under a settlement to resolve lawsuits challenging the Internet search giant's plan to digitize, search and show snippets of in-copyright books without the explicit consent of the copyright owner. The pact, which is subject to the approval of a New York federal court, will resolve a 2005 class-action lawsuit brought by book authors and the Authors Guild and a separate case filed the same year by five publishers - McGraw-Hill Cos., Pearson PLC's Pearson Education Inc. and Penguin Group (USA) Inc., John Wiley & Sons Inc., and CBS Corp.'s Simon & Schuster Inc.Rico says he doubts that Google would ever digitize his books, but he'll take his piece of the $125 million if they do... (And he'll take your money now, thank you; click the link and go buy one or two.)
If approved, the agreement would expand online access to millions of in-copyright books and other written materials from the collections of libraries participating in Google Book Search - a project intended to make millions of books searchable via the Web - while also compensating copyright owners for allowing online access to their works.
Google's $125 million payment will be partially used to establish a Book Rights Registry under which holders of U.S. copyrights can register their works and receive compensation from institutional subscriptions, book sales and ad revenues. The settlement will also be used to resolve existing claims by authors and publishers and to cover legal fees.
Posted by Rico at 11:32
Only the BBC would have an article (by Finlo Rohrer) entitled Is James Bond loathsome?:
When a new Bond film comes out, it is invariably to a frenzy of positive press coverage far outweighing that given to any other mere action flick. But is it okay to hate James Bond?Rico says all true, but he's going to see Quantum of Solace anyway... (And the one after that. And the one after that.) Not that he ever would, but if Sean Connery ever made another one...
Maybe it's the line "Bond, James Bond".
Maybe it's the way a raised eyebrow is enough to captivate the most combative alpha-woman. But there's something that make some people hate the Bond phenomenon. The journalist Paul Johnson started it all, with his famous 1958 New Statesman review of Ian Fleming's novel, Dr No, entitled Sex, snobbery and sadism.
The first charge that has to be levelled at Bond is the curious attitude towards sex and women.
On the one hand, women often get interesting roles as crusading goodies and marauding baddies. On the other hand, they seem barely to get going before they are harpooned or shot. Then there's the portrayal of sex. Whole generations of teenage boys have had to cope with the realisation that the real world does not contain legions of Honeychile Riders and Mary Goodnights, eager to please.
Then there's the allegation of racism, or at the very least xenophobia that rears its head. The baddies are never English. Even when they appear English, they turn out to secretly have German or eastern European heritage.
In one of his works on Bond, Kingsley Amis wrote that it seemed that no Englishman could be found doing anything wrong. All the villains were foreign.
And there's something else about the baddies. They always have a dodgy eye, a medical condition or an odd scar to really hammer home their evil outsider status. heir foreignness squares with the line of interpretation that sees the Bond novels and films as a reassertion of Englishness or Britishness in a world where Britain was suddenly losing its empire and struggling to find a new role. "It's not racial superiority, it's cultural superiority," says Professor James Chapman, of Leicester University, author of Licence to Thrill, a Cultural History of the James Bond Films. And, of course, if the films were truly hostile to women and foreigners, how would one explain why both flock to them in droves?
But the third major charge against our superspy is harder to excuse - excessive brand usage. Fleming's novels were full of name checks for products. Bond drank Smirnoff vodka and Dom Perignon champagne and wore a Rolex. But the film franchise has taken this to even greater lengths. In the run-up to a Bond release the tie-ins come in thick and fast. Bond watches Sony televisions. Bond flies Virgin Atlantic. In Die Another Day he changed his mind on the vodka issue and preferred Finlandia. It reached a nadir in Casino Royale when Bond, best known for Aston Martins, suddenly decided he fancied a drive in a Ford Focus Zetec.
But the purpose these brand adverts served in the Fleming novels wasn't as a generator of filthy lucre, but rather as an indicator of class. Bond was posh, not too posh, but just posh enough to get on in life in a suave manner. In the years of post-war privation, his choice of marmalade and grooming products showed that.
Then there's the issue of Bond's representation of spying. For Bond it appears to consist almost entirely of global travel and a relaxing espionage itinerary featuring only minimal interruption to the poolside cocktails.
At the heart of any execration of Bond is the formulaic nature of the films. Rich but psychologically flawed mastermind builds big base at sea/under dormant volcano/in space. James Bond despatched by M to spy on rich but psychologically flawed mastermind. Conspiracy uncovered with minimal detective work, leaving plenty of time for bedroom activities. Bond captured but still manages to destroy rich but psychologically flawed mastermind. The end.
If these baddies have already got enough money to build massive subterranean bases and purchase matching jumpsuits for their armies of henchmen, why do they carry on plotting?
And why do they always decide to kill Bond in a stupidly elaborate way. There's a whole internet cult, the Evil Overlord List (see internet links, above right) dedicated to dealing with the kind of silliness that sees Bond doing battles with sharks or squid, or tied up and left to die, after being told the full details of the mastermind's conspiracy.
The last charge to aim at Bond relates to just how seriously these films are taken. Very is the answer. There are oodles of academic treatises analysing the cultural importance of the books and the films. Bond's defenders will point to the humour of the films, insist that nothing is really taken seriously, that it's all a bit of fun. But there is a very fine line between tongue-in-cheek and just plain stupid. Moonraker crossed that with its ludicrous let's-have-the-climactic-fight-in-space schtick. And there have been some ridiculous gadget moments. The invisible car in Die Another Day left even fans wincing. And it's that underlying seam of corniness that is the real problem with Bond. The political incorrectness can be forgiven, or even celebrated, but the lurking silliness cannot.
Posted by Rico at 10:42
The Philadelphia Inquirer has the story by Joe Juliano about the World Series:
What was pretty much a drizzle for the first three innings turned into a downpour that left the infield a muddy mess and the grass dangerously slick, resulting in the suspension of the game at 11:10 p.m. after 51/2 innings with the teams tied at 2-2.
The game will be resumed at the point it was stopped, but there was no decision made on when that would be. Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said the game would resume when the weather permits, "whether it's one day or two or three or whatever". The weather forecast left little room for optimism that the game would continue tonight, with rain, wind, and temperatures in the 40s. "We'll stay here if we have to celebrate Thanksgiving here," he said. Selig added that the game would start at night because "the fans bought tickets for a night game, and it will be the same starting time, whether it's Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night, or whenever."
Because of the uncertainty regarding the resumption of the game, the dates for Games 6 and 7, if necessary, are in a similar state of limbo.
Posted by Rico at 10:37
Microsoft has breathlessly announced that it's moving all its software into the clouds. No, not the clouds that hang over Redmond, Washington most of the time, the cyberspace 'cloud' that everyone's jumping up into. Of course, in Microsoft's eyes this is a totally new thing that they damn near invented, which conveniently ignores things like MobileMe from Apple, that Rico's been on for months...
Posted by Rico at 10:27
The Washington Post has the story by Robin Wauters:
Google has released a custom Google Earth application for the iPhone/iPod Touch, and it's stunning. The Google Earth geographical software has been altered to make maximum use of the iPhone's screen and functionality. You're able to tilt the device to adjust your view when browsing mountainous terrain, use the 'My Location' feature to jump right to where you are in the blink of an eye, and use Google's local search engine to look for information on cities, places and businesses. Google has also added additional layers to the application, namely Panoramio and Wikipedia, for geo-located high-quality photos and informative articles respectively.Rico says he already loaded it on his iPhone and it is way fucking cool...
This marks the main differentiator between the official Google Earth app and the one Earthscape released last May. More recently, the Earthscape application dropped its price from $10 to free, but will most likely be trumped by the official app now.
The app is free and available today in all languages the iPhone currently supports (18) and will gradually be released for 22 countries in total.
Posted by Rico at 10:20
Banned in 1989, the trade is back on:
Nine tonnes of ivory went on the block on Tuesday in Namibia, kicking off the first legal sales of elephant tusks in nearly a decade -- exclusively for Chinese and Japanese buyers.
The first auction opened early on Tuesday, according to Namibia's environment ministry, beginning nearly two weeks of sales around the region that will bring a total of 108 tonnes of ivory into the two Asian powers.
Four African countries have been authorised by CITES -- the international convention that regulates trade in endangered species -- to make a one-off sale of ivory to the two Asian powers.
But some conservationists fear that the sudden arrival of so much legal ivory in China and Japan could provide a way for poachers to slip their ill-gotten wares past the eyes of regulators.
The Asian giants are among the world's largest markets for ivory, which is used for families' traditional seals to stamp documents as well as handicrafts.
Michael Wamithi, head of the elephant programme at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said both nations are also among the top destinations for illegal ivory taken from poached elephants.
"Several multiple-tonne seizures have been made at Chinese ports in recent years. The lack of enforcement for the registration systems in both countries also provides a convenient loophole for illegal traders," he said.
The wildlife trade watchdog Traffic said it has confidence in the auctions, which after Namibia will move every three days through Botswana, Zimbabwe and finally South Africa.
"As far as we're concerned, it's a well-managed process," Traffic's national representative David Newton said in Johannesburg.
Despite concerns about China's enforcement efforts, Newton said Beijing had made real efforts to comply with international rules on ivory trade. "They are taking this a lot more seriously," he said. "We're always urging caution, and the ivory trade needs to be very strictly managed," he said. "For the one-off trade, we're confident that the monitoring mechanisms are in place."
The auctions, which are closed to the public and to media, are selling off tusks from government stocks. CITES says it agreed to the sales only in African countries where elephant populations are judged to be healthy and growing. More than 312,000 elephants are living in the four nations. Most of the tusks were taken from elephants that died from natural causes or from culling of herds, when animals are killed to prevent overpopulation.
CITES said in a statement that it has taken precautions to make sure that the auctions don't encourage poaching. Willem Wijnstekers, secretary general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), will visit all four countries to supervise the sales. He will also meet on the sidelines of the auctions with Chinese and Japanese authorities about measures taken to monitor the ivory after the sale, CITES said in a statement. Profits from the sales must go towards elephant conservation projects, or towards programmes aimed at developing communities who live around elephant ranges, it added.
The ivory can go only to China and Japan, which then must track it to prevent it from being resold overseas, in compliance with CITES regulations. The international ivory trade was banned in 1989, but since 1997 CITES has authorised the four African countries to carry out occasional sales. The last sale in 1999 earned five million dollars. The four countries agreed not to hold a new sale for at least another nine years. South Africa will hold the biggest sale, with 51 tonnes on the block, followed by Botswana with 44 tonnes, Namibia with nine tonnes, and four tonnes in Zimbabwe.
Posted by Rico at 10:14
al-Reuters has a story by Hez Holland about Tutsi rebels advancing through the Congo:
United Nations peacekeepers prepared on Tuesday to evacuate around fifty foreign aid workers from a town in eastern Congo, which Tutsi rebels are advancing upon, officials said. The rebels fought their way along a road toward Rutshuru, about 100 kilometers north of North Kivu's provincial capital, Goma, drawing within 10 kilometers of the town.Rico says he thought that whole Tutsi thing had died down, but apparently not in the Congo...
The UN's peacekeeping mission, MONUC, sent attack helicopters against rebel positions north of Goma on Monday, prompting anti-aircraft fire from Nkunda loyalists.
Tuesday's advance comes a day after insurgents attacked the town of Kibumba, 20 kilometers north of Goma, sending around 20,000 refugees fleeing toward the provincial capital.
Nkunda's National Congress for the Defense of the People accuses the Congolese army of collaborating with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, which includes Hutu militias and ex-Rwandan soldiers responsible for orchestrating Rwanda's 1994 genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Posted by Rico at 10:09
The Associated Press has a story by Woody Baird about why Obama needed more than one Secret Service agent:
In a rural Tennessee county where you can't buy alcohol or even find a Wal-Mart, residents of tiny Bells stopped each other to ask if anyone knew the pale-skinned young local accused of plotting to kill dozens of black people, including Barack Obama. It was a jolt to find out on Monday that a 20-year-old who grew up among them was one of two white supremacists accused of plotting a national killing spree that would ultimately target the Democratic candidate for president.Rico says it sounds to him like the typical posturing of stupid young men ("dressed in white tuxedos and top hats", really), but you never know... (And where'd he get the gun?)
The town, surrounded by fertile cotton fields, is safe and certainly not known for breeding neo-Nazis, they agreed. "If we had any skinheads in this county I wasn't aware of it. We hardly know what they are," said Sam Lewis, who lives across the street from the mother of suspect Daniel Cowart. Cowart, he said, grew up in the comfortable, well-maintained neighborhood and wasn't known as a troublemaker. "His mother is a real sweet, nice girl, and this comes as a shock and a surprise," Lewis said.
Cowart is charged, along with Paul Schlesselman, 18, of Helena-West Helena, Arkansas, with planning a killing spree to shoot and decapitate black people, and top it all off by attacking Obama. The charges were made public Monday.
Cowart and Schlesselman are charged by federal authorities with possessing an unregistered firearm, conspiring to steal firearms from a federally licensed gun dealer, and threatening a candidate for president. They were being held without bond.
Authorities describe the two as neo-Nazi skinheads, and an affidavit from a federal agent says they devised a plot to kill 88 people — beheading 14 of them. The numbers 14 and 88 are symbols in skinhead culture, authorities said, referring to a 14-word phrase attributed to an imprisoned white supremacist: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children" and to the eighth letter of the alphabet, H. Two 8s or Hs stand for "Heil Hitler".
The killing spree was initially to target a predominantly black school, which was not identified in court documents. It was to end, authorities said, with the two suspects, dressed in white tuxedos and top hats, blasting guns from the windows of a speeding vehicle aimed at Obama. The reported threat of attacking a school filled with black students worried Police Chief Fred Fielder. Helena-West Helena, with a population of 12,200, is 66 percent black. "Predominantly black school, take your pick," he said. The young men said they expected to die in the attack, the affidavit said. Obama's campaign had no immediate comment on the alleged plot.
Joe Byrd, a lawyer representing Cowart, said he was reviewing the charges against his client "as well as the facts and circumstances of his arrest" and was not yet prepared to comment.
City Attorney Jasper Taylor said Cowart most recently lived with his grandparents in a southern, rural part of the county. He moved away, possibly to Arkansas or Texas, then returned over the summer, Taylor said.
Riddell said Mark Schlesselman left work twice Sunday to speak with law enforcement, only to return and say, "I've got a problem. He wouldn't condone anything like that," Riddell said. "He did look very, very upset today. He didn't speak about it to anybody at work."
Jim Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of the Nashville, Tenn., field office for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, said authorities took the threats seriously. "Even if they were just to try it, it would be a trail of tears around the South," Cavanaugh said. At this point, there does not appear to be any formal assassination plan, Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren said. "Whether or not they had the capability or the wherewithal to carry out an attack remains to be seen," he said. The investigation is continuing.
Posted by Rico at 10:00
The New York Times has an obituary by Marilyn Stasio about one of the best:
Tony Hillerman, a former newspaperman whose evocative mystery novels set among the Navajos of the Southwest took the American detective story in new directions and made him a best-selling author, died Sunday in Albuquerque, where he lived. He was 83.Rico says he's read damn near all of Hillerman's stuff, and thinks he's a great writer who revealed much of interest about our Native American brethren:
His stories, while steeped in contemporary crime, often describe people struggling to maintain ancient traditions in the modern world. The books are instructive about ancient tribal beliefs and customs, from purification rituals to incest taboos.If you haven't read one of his books yet, Rico says you should buy one next time you're flying somewhere and read it on the plane; you'll be happy you did.
Beginning with The Blessing Way in 1970, the 18 novels that Mr. Hillerman set on Southwest Indian reservations, featuring Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Sergeant Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police, gave the traditional genre hero a new dimension. Leaphorn and Chee appear in separate novels in Mr. Hillerman’s Navajo Tribal Police series. Each story challenges one or the other officer with a crime that seems to be entangled in the spirit world but that is also rooted in the reservation life that Mr. Hillerman knew so well. Mr. Hillerman first brought Leaphorn and Chee together on the same case in Skinwalkers, a 1986 novel that has illuminating interplay between these two different representatives of Navajo culture.
Mr. Hillerman wrote with intimate knowledge of the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni tribes; he grew up with people very much like them. “I recognized kindred spirits” in the Navajo, he wrote in an autobiographical essay in 1986. “Country boys. Folks among whom I felt at ease.”
For all the recognition he received, Mr. Hillerman once said, he was most gladdened by the status of Special Friend of the Dineh conferred on him in 1987 by the Navajo Nation. He was also proud that his books were taught at reservation schools and colleges.
The New York Times has a story by Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker about the raid into Syria:
The raid was carried out by Special Operations forces, who killed an Iraqi militant responsible for running weapons, money and foreign fighters across the border into Iraq, American officials said.Rico says "strikes on militant targets in sovereign nations without those countries’ consent"... Sounds like pretty aggressive international police work to him.
The helicopter-borne attack into Syria was by far the boldest by American commandos in the five years since the United States invaded Iraq and began to condemn Syria’s role in stoking the Iraqi insurgency.
The timing was startling, not least because American officials praised Syria in recent months for its efforts to halt traffic across the border. In justifying the attack, American officials said the Bush administration was determined to operate under an expansive definition of self-defense that provided a rationale for strikes on militant targets in sovereign nations without those countries’ consent.
Together with a similar American commando raid into Pakistan more than seven weeks ago, the operation on Sunday appeared to reflect an intensifying effort by the Bush administration to find a way during its waning months to attack militants even beyond the borders of Iraq and Afghanistan, where the United States is at war.
Administration officials declined to say whether the emerging application of self-defense could lead to strikes against camps inside Iran that have been used to train Shiite “special groups” that have fought with the American military and Iraqi security forces.
American officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the raid said the mission had been mounted rapidly over the weekend on orders from the Central Intelligence Agency when the location of the man suspected of leading an insurgent cell, an Iraqi known as Abu Ghadiya, was confirmed. About two dozen American commandos in specially equipped Black Hawk helicopters swooped into the village of Sukkariyah, six miles from the Iraqi border, just before 5 p.m., and fought a brief gun battle with Abu Ghadiya and several members of his cell, the officials said. It was unclear whether Abu Ghadiya died near his tent on the battlefield or after he was taken into American custody, one senior American official said.
One United States official described Abu Ghadiya as al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia’s “most prominent” smuggler of foreign operatives crossing the Syrian border into Iraq, and in February the Treasury Department named him as one of four major figures in that group living in Syria.
The official said Abu Ghadiya was in his late 20s and came from a family of smugglers in Anbar Province, in western Iraq. He was also suspected of having led an attack in May on a police station in western Iraq that killed 11 Iraqi officers, an American official said. Spokesmen for the Defense Department and the CIA declined to comment on the attack. On Sunday, an American military official had denied that American military helicopters had played a part in the raid.
Since the September 11 attacks, the United States has attacked terrorism suspects in the ungoverned spaces of countries like Yemen and Somalia. But administration officials said Monday that the strikes in Pakistan and Syria were carried out on the basis of a legal argument that has been refined in recent months to justify strikes by troops and by rockets on militants in countries with which the United States is not at war.
n seeking support in international law for its actions, the Bush administration is joining a list of nations that have cited Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which enshrines the right of individual or collective self-defense to all member states. Over the years, a growing body of legal argument has made the case that this right of self-defense allows a nation to take military action on the territory of another sovereign nation that is unable or unwilling to take measures on its own to halt the threat.
Posted by Rico at 07:50
Rico says the story (which survived Snopes; here's the original in Norwegian) is that this woman, back in 1988, needed a hundred bucks in over-weight baggage charges in order to fly home to Norway, and didn't have the money. So who's behind her in line at the airport? None other than a then-obscure Harvard Law student with a funny name: Barack Obama.
Posted by Rico at 07:27
Barack Obama went to Honolulu to see his dying grandmother (can I get an 'awww' here?), and then went for a walk in the neighborhood with (reports say) only one Secret Serviceman as escort (given the reports of idiots threatening to kill him, you'd think they'd have brought them all). But don't he look good?
Posted by Rico at 07:24
27 October 2008
The Christian Science Monitor has a story by Jonathan Adams about the recent, if still unacknowledged, hoo-hah in Syria:
Syria has issued strong protests after accusing the US military of conducting a deadly cross-border raid from Iraq that left at least eight civilians dead. Syrian state media reported that four US helicopters entered Syrian airspace around 4:45 p.m. Sunday and struck a construction site in the al-Boukamal region. An unnamed US military official quoted by the Associated Press confirmed the attack, saying the US was trying to shut down "rat lines" sending al-Qaeda-linked insurgents and other foreign fighters into Iraq from Syria. The raid appears to be straining already tense US-Syrian relations, even as Syria has reached out to the Iraqi government and Lebanon, entered into indirect talks with Israel, and held talks with the European Union.
SANA, the Syrian Arab News Agency, quoting an unnamed "official media source," said the helicopters attacked a civilian site about five miles inside Syria, "leading to the martyrdom of eight citizens," including the building guard and his wife.
Citing an "official source", SANA said the Syrian government had summoned the top American diplomat in Damascus to condemn and complain about the "dangerous aggression". The Iraqi chargé d'affaires was also summoned, the report said.
Agence France-Presse quoted a commentary in the Syrian government newspaper Tishrin: "The American forces from Iraq committed cold-blooded murder... They committed a war crime in killing eight Syrian civilians in a quiet village."
The Associated Press reported Monday that clergy were preparing the dead for burial as angry Syrian villagers chanted, "May God's wrath fall on them." The report quoted Jumaa Ahmad al-Hamad, a nephew of one of the dead, who saw the helicopters open fire on the building.
The New York Times reported on Monday that Iraqi police in Anbar Province, which borders Syria, "did not indicate on which side of the border the blast had taken place," raising some question about the details of the incident. It also noted that Iran joined Syria in lashing out at the Americans, according to the Associated Press, calling the apparent attack a "violation of the territorial integrity" of Syria. The Associated Press cited an unnamed US military official as saying the raid targeted "elements of a robust foreign fighter logistics network." The official said the US had taken action because Syria has not stopped the flow of foreign fighters across the border into Iraq. While US forces have had considerable success in shutting down the "rat lines" in Iraq with help from Iraq and governments in North Africa, the Syrian part of the network has been out of reach, he said. "The one piece of the puzzle we have not been showing success on is the nexus in Syria," the official said. "We are taking matters into our own hands."
Ninety percent of the foreign fighters in Iraq enter through Syria, and foreign fighters toting cash have been al-Qaeda in Iraq's chief source of income, according to U.S. intelligence.
Bloomberg noted that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last month said that Syria had reduced the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, but that US-Syria relations still had "a long way to go."
The Guardian reported that while Syria-US relations remain prickly, Damascus has been taking a more moderate tack in its ties with Lebanon, Israel, and the EU.
Late last year the then-US commander, General David Petraeus, praised Syria's cooperation in reducing violence in Iraq. But Syria has since refused to restart intelligence sharing with the US until Washington recognizes its assistance by returning an ambassador to Damascus. In recent months Syria has established diplomatic relations with Lebanon and held several rounds of indirect talks with Israel, with Turkey acting as broker. In July, President [Bashar] Assad was invited to an EU summit in Paris.
On a Los Angeles Times blog, Tony Perry wrote that the US raid occurred just a few miles from a former American military base. The US turned over the base to the Iraqis this month. Was the weekend raid a way for the U.S. to warn the insurgents, and their Syrian cohorts, that although the U.S. is retreating from the border, it is still on watch and able to strike? Writing in The Times, James Hider said the raid may have been in part a warning to Damascus. While it is a secular regime, Syria has allowed extreme Islamist groups to operate from its territory, using them both as an internal political pressure valve and to tie down US forces inside Iraq. US commanders may have calculated that a cross-border raid was tactically necessary to tackle Islamist extremists using Syrian territory, and the attack also sent a tough strategic message to Syria that it is not inviolate and must choose carefully whom it supports.
Josh Landis, codirector of the Center for Middle East Studies University of Oklahoma, wrote on his blog Syria Comment that with the raid, the Bush administration may have been giving Syria a parting shot for its unwillingness to comply with intelligence-sharing and other US demands. The Bush administration seems to be ratcheting up action against Syria during its last days in power… White House analysts may assume that it can have a 'freebee' – taking a bit of personal revenge on Syria without the US paying a price. Damascus may just have to write it off as a good bye salute from its friends in Washington.
Posted by Rico at 11:38
26 October 2008
CNet News has the story of yet another 'advance' in terrorism:
The U.S. intelligence community is investigating micro-blogging tool Twitter as a possible tool for terrorists to coordinate attacks, according to a purported draft Army intelligence report posted on the Web. The report, presented by the 304th Military Intelligence Battalion and posted to the Federation of the American Scientists Web site, examines the possible ways terrorists could use mobile and Web technologies such as the Global Positioning System, digital maps, and Twitter mashups to plan and execute terrorist attacks.Rico says any technology, no matter how benign, can be bent to evil purposes...
The presentation, which was first presented earlier this month, was reported Friday by Wired magazine's Noah Shachtman. A chapter titled Potential for Terrorist Use of Twitter, presents general introductory information on Twitter and how it works; the report describes how it was used to report details of a recent earthquake in Los Angeles and by activists at the Republican National Convention.
"Twitter has also become a social activism tool for socialists, human rights groups, communists, vegetarians, anarchists, religious communities, atheists, political enthusiasts, hacktivists, and others to communicate with each other and to send messages to broader audiences," the report said.
Posted by Rico at 18:26
The BBC has a story by Jonathan Marcus about Syria's problems (as if we cared):
Syria has said American troops carried out a raid inside Syria along the Iraqi border, killing eight people - if the claims are true then this will be the first military incursion by the US into Syrian territory from Iraq. But its timing is curious, coming right at the end of the Bush administration's period of office and at a moment when many of America's European allies - like Britain and France - are trying to broaden their ties with Damascus. Whatever the local military factors involved in this US operation, it would be unthinkable to imagine that an incursion into Syria would not require a policy decision at a high-level. The movement of insurgents and foreign fighters from Syria into Iraq has long been a bone of contention between Damascus and Washington. The US argument has always been that the Syrians are not doing enough to control the border. The Syrians have always countered that they are unfairly being blamed for turmoil inside Iraq that is not of their making. Quite apart from their differences over Iraq, Washington sees Syria as unhelpful in Lebanon and as far too friendly with Iran. While there have been relatively high-level contacts between the two governments - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meeting the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly just a few weeks ago - they have hardly generated any warmth. With the Bush administration on the way out, this US military incursion may represent something of a parting shot against the Syrians.Rico says this may also be another spurious claim by the easily-injured Syrians...
Posted by Rico at 18:22
CNN has a story by Dana Bash, Peter Hamby, and John King about Sarah Palin going 'rogue':
With just ten days until Election Day, long-brewing tensions between GOP vice presidential candidate Governor Sarah Palin and key aides to Senator John McCain have become so intense, they are spilling out in public.Rico says robocalls are 'irritating'? How about 'pissed me off so much I won't vote for your candidate'?
Several McCain advisers have suggested to CNN that they have become increasingly frustrated with what one aide described as Palin "going rogue." A Palin associate, however, said the candidate is simply trying to "bust free" of what she believes was a damaging and mismanaged roll-out. McCain sources say Palin has gone off-message several times, and they privately wonder whether the incidents were deliberate. They cited an instance in which she labeled robocalls -- recorded messages often used to attack a candidate's opponent -- "irritating" even as the campaign defended their use. Also, they pointed to her telling reporters she disagreed with the campaign's decision to pull out of Michigan.
A second McCain source says she appears to be looking out for herself more than the McCain campaign. "She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone," said this McCain adviser. "She has no relationships of trust with any of us, her family, or anyone else. Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only themselves, as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom."
Tensions like those within the McCain-Palin campaign are not unusual; vice presidential candidates also have a history of butting heads with the top of the ticket. John Edwards and his inner circle repeatedly questioned Sen. John Kerry's strategy in 2004, and Kerry loyalists repeatedly aired in public their view that Edwards would not play the traditional attack dog role with relish because he wanted to protect his future political interests. Even in a winning campaign like Bill Clinton's, some of Al Gore's aides in 1992 and again in 1996 questioned how Gore was being scheduled for campaign events. Jack Kemp's aides distrusted the Bob Dole camp and vice versa, and Dan Quayle loyalists had a list of gripes remarkably similar to those now being aired by Gov. Palin's aides.
With the presidential race in its final days and polls suggesting that McCain's chances of pulling out a win are growing slim, Palin may be looking after her own future. "She's no longer playing for 2008; she's playing 2012," Democratic pollster Peter Hart said."
Posted by Rico at 14:30
The San Jose Mercury News has the story:
Three small earthquakes struck in Santa Clara County on Saturday, according to the US Geological Survey. The most recent temblor struck at 11:40 p.m. and had a preliminary magnitude of 2.3 with an epicenter about 6 miles northeast of San Jose, according to the USGS, which did not report the depth of the epicenter. Two earthquakes earlier Saturday morning struck 10 miles north of Morgan Hill and 15 miles east-southeast of San Jose. The first earthquake, with a 2.9 magnitude, struck at about 5 a.m., with an epicenter 4.2 miles deep. The second one struck at about 6:25 a.m., had a preliminary magnitude of 2.0. and had an epicenter about 4 miles deep.Rico says batten down the hatches...
Posted by Rico at 14:24
The AP has a report of two 'minor' earthquakes off Eureka and Santa Rosa in Northern California:
The U.S. Geological Survey says in a preliminary report that the first quake had a magnitude of 5.1. It struck at 2:27 a.m. Sunday about 41 miles southwest of Eureka and 208 miles northwest of Sacramento at a depth of 11.5 miles. The second was a magnitude 4.1 quake that struck one minute later farther south, about 40 miles west of Santa Rosa and 74 miles northwest of San Francisco at a depth of about 3 miles.Rico says he remembers the 'big one' back in '89, and hopes these aren't precursors...
Posted by Rico at 09:18
David Ivanovich at the Houston Chronicle asked the question, then answered it:
Three months ago, crude had rocketed to a record $147 a barrel because investors were confident the world's thirst for oil would only continue to grow. Now, with the credit markets stuck in deep-freeze and economies around the globe tumbling into recession, world oil demand has flat-lined. The price of crude has dropped by more than half since the summer.Rico says he's doing his part; he hasn't driven an inch in two years...
Houston oil industry executives are warning of lower profits, oil field services and equipment are showing early signs of softening, and OPEC oil ministers are slashing production for fear of a price collapse. "The boom is not dead," declares Kevin Book, an oil analyst with FBR Capital Markets. "But it may be less of a bang, and more of a whimper." Economic activity is slowing. Motorists, with memories of $4-a-gallon gasoline still fresh, are parking their SUVs. And oil demand is growing at its slowest pace in years. In fact, some analysts believe oil demand could fall next year for the first time in a generation.
Institutional investors and other speculators, who had waded into oil commodities and helped drive up prices to unheard-of heights, have largely fled the scene. And now oil analysts are left to ponder just how low oil prices can go — perhaps $50 a barrel by the end of next year, suggests Deutsche Bank's Adam Sieminski.
Faced with such prospects, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed Friday to cut its production quotas by 1.5 million barrels a day, but crude still dropped $3.39 to close at $64.15 a barrel on the New York Mercantile. If the OPEC members' adherence to previous agreements is any guide, the announced production cut will likely be smaller, Sieminski says. But with today's gloomy economic climate, OPEC would have been better off doing nothing, argues Leo Drollas, chief economist for the Centre for Global Energy Studies, a London-based oil consulting firm founded by one-time Saudi Oil Minister Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani. "Put the light out, hide behind the sofa, and hope for the best," Drollas said, because doing otherwise could prolong an economic downturn that will affect OPEC as well. "You're part of the world economy," he said. "You're not on planet Zong, looking down at the earthlings having trouble."
Posted by Rico at 09:13
25 October 2008
Wired has a story by Brian Chen about Apple's plan to eat Silicon Valley:
Apple CEO Steve Jobs suggested that the cash-rich computer and phone maker might be in a good position to start snapping up struggling tech companies. During Apple's earnings call Tuesday, Steve Jobs proudly reported that Apple had $25 billion "safely in the bank", and zero debt. More interestingly, he said he saw a bright side to the economic meltdown. "This downturn may also present some extraordinary opportunities for companies that have the cash to take advantage of it," Jobs said. The obvious opportunity given the country's state of financial ruin is for Apple to swoop in on smaller companies while they're vulnerable and cheap. But with the iPhone netting $4.6 billion in revenue this quarter, making Apple the world's third-largest mobile supplier, it's difficult to imagine what exactly Apple would need to acquire.Rico says he'd love to see what Apple would come up with if they owned General Motors, but that's not gonna happen. Also, with all that cash sitting there, they better hope their own stock price doesn't get low enough that they become a takeover target...
The company is flush with cash, has a solid lock on the suppliers and wireless carriers it depends on, and has plenty of talent on its payroll. Plus, many of the obvious acquisition targets on the market now (such as Dell or Yahoo) are stumbling commodity vendors with no clear direction and a dubious track record of innovation, especially recently, not exactly Apple's kind of companies.
So if Apple is going to make acquisitions, where is it likely to focus its attention in the coming year?
Wired spoke to three financial analysts who were each stumped by the question. In the past, the vast majority of Apple acquisitions have been software-related. And, given the huge success of not only the iPhone but Apple's popular MacBook line as well, it doesn't appear the corporation needs to absorb any of the smaller companies that provide hardware components. Here's a rundown of some possibilities.
Apple markets its computers as ideal for creative users, and a vast number use Macs to run Adobe software. But Adobe's market capitalization currently stands at $13.3 billion, half of Apple's piggy bank. Besides, Apple historically acquires smaller companies that they can still influence to fit their own vision, and Adobe's far too mature for that.
A much smaller company that Apple could target is Synaptics, which manufactures the touch pads for iPods. Synaptics also develops touchpads for an iPod competitor, the Creative Zen, so theoretically Apple could absorb Synaptics to save some money on parts while squashing any chance of competition. But with Apple's grip on the digital music market with iTunes and the already tremendous success of its iPod, this also appears to be an unnecessary investment.
"Who?" You know, the set-top TV box/digital-movie service that's competing with Apple TV and which won a Best of Test 2007 designation from Wired. If vulnerable's what Apple is going for, Vudu would qualify: the company laid off about 20 of its 100-person staff in August. To give Vudu credit, the company offers about 5,000 movie titles thanks to having partnerships with every major studio and 18 independents. Apple's iTunes Store offers only about 1,000 movie titles and only deals with major studios. Then again, Vudu's partnerships probably wouldn't transfer over if Apple acquired the startup.
iPhone app developers
Let's think even smaller. Jobs did emphasize during the quarterly earnings call that Apple has "some of the most talented employees" in the world. Perhaps Apple could hire an independent developer who's making big bucks off iPhone's App Store to code some apps for them? Steve Demeter springs to mind: He made $250,000 off his iPhone game Trism in just two months. However, I've spoken to Demeter a number of times, and he's extremely passionate about his work; I'd imagine he'd like to fly solo so long as he's still making big bucks.
The Wild Blue Yonder
Here are some wacky ideas for companies that Apple could buy with a little more than the spare change it finds in the couch cushions:
Cray ($115M), in case Apple wants to corner the market for creative supercomputer users.
Alcoa ($3B), for all that shiny aluminum showing up in the new MacBooks.
Seagate ($3B), in case the company feels like reinventing the hard drive.
General Motors ($3B), in case Jobs wants to reinvent the car.
Posted by Rico at 18:57
Wired has the story by Priya Ganapati of the next space tourist, none other than Esther Dyson:
If you have a couple million dollars, are a technology visionary, and wonder what your next challenge will be, consider a chance to take a spin around the earth.Rico says he won't be able to afford to go in his lifetime, but he'll deal with the disappointment...
Technology heavyweights are fast queuing up for an opportunity to blast off into space. Following in the steps of former Microsoft executive Charles Simonyi and video games developer Richard Garriott, Silicon Valley luminary Esther Dyson is the latest to start training for a space flight.
Dyson, who is an investor in Space Adventures, a company that aims to open space flight for private citizens, will not be flying anytime soon, but will be training as a backup for Simonyi who will be heading on his second space trip next year.
"The training is going to be exciting, wonderful, and horrible," she said at the Singularity Summit conference in San Jose. "I am going in with some trepidation because I don’t know what’s really going to happen. But at the same time I wanted a change."
Dyson will be part of a small elite group. Simonyi, who led the development of key Microsoft Office applications, became the fifth space tourist when he took his first space flight on 7 April 2007, on board the Soyuz TMA-10 along with two Russian cosmonauts. Following a successful ten-day trip, Simonyi signed up for a second flight for next year.
On Friday, game developer Garriott returned from a twelve-day visit to the International Space Station as a working tourist.
Dyson will be piggybacking on Simonyi's upcoming trip for her training. "The experience Space Adventures sold was not just Charles' ride on the Soyuz rocket, but also the entire ground experience for some 50 of his friends," she wrote in a Flickr note. "Space travel is today accessible only if you have the millions," she told audiences at the conference. While Dyson may not have the $1 billion net worth estimated for Simonyi, she is an industry visionary.
Posted by Rico at 18:52