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    Wednesday, May 28, 2008

    Reuters - Is oil windfall a curse for poor countries?

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    Is oil windfall a curse for poor countries?

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 9:5PM UTC

    By Ed Stoddard - Analysis

    DALLAS (Reuters) - Red-hot oil prices are a blessing for big energy companies but often prove a curse for poor oil-producing countries.

    Exxon Mobil Corp and other energy giants traditionally use good times as an occasion to make prudent investments with their cash. But oil-rich countries that are poor -- and often poorly run -- tend to squander their windfall profits on dubious projects or have them stolen by corrupt officials.

    So when the inevitable price bust occurs, developing countries are ill-prepared.

    "The oil majors have many decades of experience in smoothing out their revenues and investing the money during the fat years to prepare for the lean years," said UCLA political scientist Michael Ross.

    Exxon, which was holding its annual meeting on Wednesday, enjoyed full-year earnings last year of $40.61 billion.

    State coffers in oil-producing countries like Angola are also overflowing but many lack the transparency of publicly listed Exxon. Many have neither the capacity to handle such an income surge nor the will to spend it in an equitable manner.

    "New oil producers especially are largely unprepared for revenues of this scale ... oil-producing countries today are being hit with a tsunami of cash, and the danger is that they will squander it just like they squandered the surpluses of the 1970s," Ross, a noted expert in the field, told Reuters.

    The new oil club includes African nations such as Equatorial Guinea, Chad and Sudan.

    Grounds for optimism are scant. Equatorial Guinea has risen in a few short years to become sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest crude exporter after Nigeria and Angola.

    Yet most of its half-million people live in grinding poverty, and income disparities are glaring. Equatorial Guinea stands out as its small population means that oil cash could actually make a meaningful impact on the lives of its people.

    President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has been in office since he overthrew his uncle in a coup in 1979, and human rights groups say he tolerates little dissent. The country was ranked as the tenth-most-corrupt in the world last year by Berlin-based watchdog Transparency International in a 180-nation survey.

    Angola has been accused of graft on a grand scale while many of its people are among the world's poorest. According to the International Monetary Fund it could not account for at least $4.2 billion in oil revenue between 1997 and 2002.

    "When you have a situation with little fiscal transparency in the context of high oil prices, you have problems. But Angola is doing better now, it is publishing details of what it's paid by the different oil companies," said Razia Khan, the Africa economist for Standard Chartered.

    "But the criticism is that that data is only out with a considerable lag," she added.

    Oil prices on Wednesday rose to near $130 per barrel, not far from the U.S. crude record high of $135.09 reached last week. Oil prices have doubled in the last year as speculators pile into commodities and as demand soars in emerging economies.

    OIL, GUNS AND BUTTER

    Red-hot oil prices strengthen the hand of repressive governments that can buy more guns and that seldom give much thought to the "butter" side of expenditure.

    They can also grease the wheels of conflict as the stakes in the game are so much higher. The militant attacks in Nigeria's impoverished but oil-soaked Niger Delta which have helped keep prices on the boil are an example of this trend.

    A botched coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea a few years ago is another. In a commentary in the current issue of "Foreign Affairs," Ross writes that oil-producing states today host about a third of the world's civil wars, up from one-fifth in 1992.

    Rivers State in Nigeria's Niger Delta is often held up as a prime example. Elections in 2003 and 2007 were overwhelmingly won by the country's ruling party but widely dismissed by outside observers as farces.

    "The spoils of controlling political office in the Delta are higher now than they've ever been, especially because so little has been done to prevent public officials from stealing the money they are accountable for," said Chris Albin-Lackey, the senior African researcher at Human Rights Watch.

    "It really seems that the primary consequence of increasing revenues going into government coffers has been increasingly violent and corrupt struggles for political power," he said.

    Many developing countries also simply lack the capacity and technical expertise to deal with such a sudden flow of revenue and would have trouble allocating it efficiently even with the political will to do so.

    "There are several studies which show that the national oil companies are much more inefficient in terms of how they spend or invest their money because they are not market-driven companies," said Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

    "But some have matured over time such as Petrobras in Brazil, which is an outstanding company," he told Reuters.

    (Editing by Matthew Lewis)

    Reuters - Next Microsoft operating system has touch controls

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    Next Microsoft operating system has touch controls

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 7:23AM UTC

    By Eric Auchard

    CARLSBAD, California (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp plans to give users of the next version of its Windows operating system touch screen controls as one option for controlling the software, its top executives said on Tuesday.

    Chairman Bill Gates and Chief Executive Steve Ballmer showed off new Windows features based on software it calls "multi-touch" that will be part of Windows 7, the next version of Windows, which Ballmer said was due out in late 2009.

    The ability to use touch to give users fingertip control of their screens could help revolutionize how computer desktops and mobile phones are controlled and would be an alternative to existing mice, keyboard and pen-based user controls.

    During a joint interview that kicked off the Wall Street Journal's three-day D: All Things Digital conference, an annual gathering of the computer industry elite taking place north of San Diego, Ballmer said touch screen controls was one example of how Microsoft would improve on existing Windows software.

    Microsoft is seeking to one-up Apple Inc, which made touch-screen software central to the success of its iPhone mobile device, which combines computer, phone and Web features and has sold around 6 million units in its first 11 months.

    After more than a decade of slow development, Gates said new ways of interacting with computers other than keyboards and mice have matured to the point where they are ready to go mainstream.

    "We are at an interesting juncture where almost all of the interaction is with the computer and mouse, today, and, over the years to come, the role of speech, vision, ink, all of those will become huge," Gates said.

    He was referring to technologies that gives users the ability to control computers with voice commands, detect and sort different kinds of images and use electronic ink instead of typing for computer input.

    SURFACE

    Multi-touch software builds on existing capabilities Microsoft has introduced in recent years including Surface, for interacting with large tabletop computer displays, TouchWall for mounted screens and Tablet PCs for touch-screen notebooks.

    In a demonstration of touch-screen capabilities to be offered in Windows 7, Microsoft showed a new application called "Touchable Paint" that lets a user paint with their fingers, as well as software to organize photos or navigate maps by touch.

    "It is not about complete replacement of the mouse," Julie Larson-Green, Microsoft's corporate vice president in charge of Windows Experience Program Management, said in a first-time demonstration of multi-touch features to run inside Windows 7.

    Ballmer said Microsoft is trying to learn from the reaction to Windows Vista, the latest version of its operating system, which was introduced in January 2007 but faced initial criticism for being incompatible with many older applications.

    He said Microsoft has sold 150 million copies of Vista, up from 140 million the company reported it had sold a month ago.

    "When you read the customer research, the No. 1 people found jarring is that we changed the user interface," Ballmer said. "People take a while to get used to it."

    He said Microsoft had learned lessons about making dramatic changes in the way users interact with new versions of Windows. Conference co-host Walter Mossberg asked Ballmer whether Microsoft was done changing the user interface.

    "We will polish it," Ballmer replied. "We will change it, but there are ways to change it and there are times to do it."

    Vista followed five years after the previous Windows upgrade and was beset by delays due to the complexity of updating a piece of software with some 50 million lines of code that runs on more than 90 percent of the world's computers.

    After the problems of releasing Vista in a timely manner, Ballmer pledged to never again wait so long between releases of its Windows operating system. Microsoft has said it expected to release the new operating system code-named Windows 7 around three years after the early 2007 release of Windows Vista.

    Ballmer acknowledged that Microsoft considered Apple a formidable competitor. But he said the two companies' audiences were vastly different in scale, with Apple supplying around 10 million computers this year versus the roughly 290 million machines which PC makers will sell running Microsoft Windows.

    "Whether Apple has a PC with touch in it to market first, we'll see," Ballmer said.

    (Additional reporting by Daisuke Wakabayashi in Seattle; editing by Sue Thomas)

    Saturday, May 17, 2008

    CNN - Ted Kennedy rushed to hospital

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    Ted Kennedy rushed to hospital


    Sen. Edward Kennedy was rushed to a hospital in Massachusetts Saturday morning, a well-informed, prominent Democratic source in that state told CNN.

    Kennedy was transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston after spending less than an hour in the Cape Cod Hospital emergency room, a spokesman for the Cape Cod facility told CNN.

    David Reilly said Kennedy was admitted to the Cape Cod emergency room around 9 a.m. ET. Massachusetts General said it had no information on Kennedy.

    The source said the 76-year-old senator had "symptoms of a stroke" at the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis.

    Kennedy had surgery in October to clear his carotid artery in hopes of preventing a stroke. Colleagues said he had recovered quickly and was working energetically recently.

    He suffers chronic back pain from injuries suffered in a plane crash in 1964.

    Kennedy has represented Massachusetts in the Senate since 1962. He is one of only six senators in U.S. history to serve more than 40 years. He is known as a liberal champion of social issues such as health care, family leave, and the minimum wage.

    He ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1980. He has endorsed Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for the 2008 nomination.

    Kennedy is the youngest of nine children in the famous family of Joseph and Rose Kennedy. His oldest brother, Joe, died in World War II; two other brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert Kennedy, were both assassinated in the 1960s.

    Wednesday, May 14, 2008

    Angelina. Jolie

    My bumps, my lovely lady bumps

    Reuters - Angelina Jolie confirms she's having twins

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    Angelina Jolie confirms she's having twins

    Wednesday, May 14, 2008 8:27PM UTC

    CANNES, France (Reuters) - Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie said in a television interview on Wednesday that she is expecting twins with actor Brad Pitt, the Hollywood couple's fifth and sixth children.

    Jolie, being interviewed at the Cannes film festival alongside comic actor Jack Black for the syndicated entertainment program "Access Hollywood," acknowledged that she was having twins after Black made reference to them.

    "Yeah, yeah, we've confirmed that already," Jolie, 32, said, according to a transcript provided by the show. "Well, Jack's just confirmed it actually."

    Excerpts of the interview, conducted by a reporter for NBC's "Today" show to promote the animated film "Kung Fu Panda," featuring characters voiced by Jolie and Black, was set to air on "Access Hollywood" on Wednesday night.

    The full interview will air on Thursday on "Today."

    Jolie and Pitt, 44, together have adopted 3-year-old daughter Zahara, 6-year-old son Maddox and 4-year-old son Pax. They also have a biological daughter, 22-month-old Shiloh.

    Jolie won an Academy Award as best supporting actress for her role in the 1999 film "Girl, Interrupted."

    Reuters/Nielsen

    Reuters - Craigslist sues eBay, alleges corporate spy plan

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    Craigslist sues eBay, alleges corporate spy plan

    Wednesday, May 14, 2008 1:29PM UTC

    By Eric Auchard

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Online classifieds leader Craigslist.com filed a countersuit on Tuesday against business rival eBay Inc, alleging eBay used its minority stake in Craigslist to steal its corporate trade secrets.

    In a lawsuit filed in California Superior Court in San Francisco, Craigslist challenged allegations in an eBay suit filed in Delaware state court in April that accused Craigslist of discriminating against eBay as a shareholder.

    EBay's suit in Delaware Chancery Court charged Craigslist had used "clandestine meetings" to dilute eBay's 28.4 percent stake in Craigslist to 24.85, or less than a quarter of the company.

    In addition to unfair competition and fraudulent business claims, the countersuit accuses eBay of copyright infringement and using misleading advertising on Google Inc to run ads for its rival Kijiji site that appeared to be Craigslist ads.

    The lawsuit demands that eBay restore all shares of Craigslist owned by eBay or for the court to require eBay to divest its holdings in Craigslist. The suit asks eBay to disgorge profits tied to the business and for punitive damages.

    EBay spokeswoman Kim Rubey responded to Craigslist's lawsuit against eBay, saying: "We regret that Craigslist felt compelled to resort to unfounded and unsubstantiated claims in order to divert attention from actions by Craigslist's board that unfairly diluted our minority interest."

    EBay, the world leader in online auctions and payment services, took a minority ownership stake in Craigslist nearly four years ago as part of a strategy to buy up classified advertising services both in the United States and Europe.

    In 2004, eBay began to expand into the market through the acquisition of online classified businesses Marktplaats and later, LoQuo and Gumtree. In 2005, eBay launched its own free online classifieds site named Kijiji in nearly a dozen markets in Europe and Asia. A year ago, it entered the United States.

    Craigslist and eBay grew out of the same early rush to create Web businesses in Silicon Valley in the mid-1990s.

    But their paths quickly diverged as eBay went on to dominate online auction markets, becoming a multibillion company, while Craigslist stayed true to its uncommercial ethic by not charging for most of its local listings.

    Craigslist operates with only a few dozen employees. Its headquarters is located in a modest, century-old Victorian house located in a residential neighborhood of San Francisco. It relies on volunteers to run sites in 567 cities worldwide.

    They compete directly in the United States and a dozen other countries, with Kijiji tailoring its ads to young families in contrast to Craigslist's open flea-market style.

    Craigslist's complaint alleges a plot by San Jose, California-based eBay to use its position as a minority shareholder and its position on the board to pressure Craigslist into a full-scale acquisition deal by eBay.

    Barring that, Craigslist argues eBay used its position to gather competitive information that led to the launch of eBay's rival classifieds business. It charges eBay code-named this its "Craigslist killer" in internal strategy discussions.

    "In the months leading up to the launch of its competing Kijiji site ... eBay used its shareholder status to plant on Craigslist's board of directors the individual responsible for launching and/or operating Kijiji," the latest suit alleges.

    It also alleges eBay used its position on the Craigslist board to pressure the company to provide it with key details of its expansion plans and operating performance.

    "Using the pretext that the information was necessary for Craigslist board-related matters, eBay made constant demands for confidential information in excess of what was required for that purpose," Craigslist alleges.

    Craigslist has until Monday to respond to eBay's original lawsuit that seeks to protect its minority shareholder rights.

    Rubey quoted from Craigslist's own complaint to suggest that both parties recognized that the right of the other to compete with one another. However, the Craigslist lawsuit says eBay would relinquish some rights if it chose to compete with Craigslist on online job listings, its sole source of revenue.

    The Craigslist complaint can be found at http://blog.craigslist.org/2008/05/unlawful-and-unfair/.

    (Editing by Tim Dobbyn and Andre Grenon)

    Reuters - King Conan pillages before online gaming debut

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    King Conan pillages before online gaming debut

    Wednesday, May 14, 2008 2:46PM UTC

    By Aasa Christine Stoltz

    OSLO, May 14 - King Conan wins a bloody final battle against a menacing mix of barbarians, assassins and sorcerers in the hills above Oslo before retreating to his virtual home where a million online gamers await him.

    With real swords, metal and leather body armor and fake blood, Norwegian gaming company Funcom launched its "Age of Conan" Internet role-playing game with a recreation of the famed Barbarian King's brutal world.

    Guests and more than 100 journalists found themselves in an ancient village, surrounded by sword-wielding warriors, soldiers on horses and leather-clad women firing arrows.

    In "Age of Conan", players enter the world of Hyboria to live, fight and explore its dark nature, wary of cruel gods and mythical creatures lurking around every corner.

    All Hyboria residents are actual people signed up to the game, taking advantage of a new technology which enables massive multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPG).

    The world is based on the works of author Robert Howard, whose fictional fighter in an ancient world was brought to life on the silver screen by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1982 film "Conan the Barbarian".

    Funcom said that over a million fans have signed up for the test phase of the game, which boasts realistic graphics and original music.

    "We believe this represents the largest ever beta (test phase) sign-up figure in the history of this genre of games," Funcom said.

    Since the start of the year, Age of Conan had more than five million unique visitors with a total of over 70 million page views, Funcom said, citing data from Google.

    "I am really ready to give birth to this thing," game developer Gaute Godager said. "What you have today is something bigger than what we ever dreamed of having," said Godager.

    Age of Conan gives players numerous character development options and customizes skills, abilities and deadly spells to ensure that no two characters are exactly the same.

    The massive player-versus-player combat system allows warfare on an epic proportion. Players can also hire themselves out as mercenaries and battle for pay.

    "We have spent over $20 million over four years and had 200 people working on this project," Funcom's product manager Erling Ellingsen told Reuters.

    "This is in line with the biggest Norwegian film productions, if not bigger," he said on the eve of the launch in North America on May 20. The game will launch in Europe three days later.

    Reuters - IBM to offer business intelligence via BlackBerry

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    IBM to offer business intelligence via BlackBerry

    Wednesday, May 14, 2008 6:3PM UTC

    BOSTON (Reuters) - IBM said on Wednesday it has started selling software that lets customers access its Cognos business intelligence software via BlackBerry mobile devices.

    The device maker, Research in Motion is encouraging businesses to create software specifically for the BlackBerry so that it can boost usage beyond the e-mail, messaging, calendar and phone services for which it is best known.

    The Cognos program, which sells at a list price of $300 per user, allows customers to view real-time analytics on the state of their business on their BlackBerrys.

    The computing giant has also introduced programs that allow BlackBerry users to quickly locate and communicate with colleagues with expertise in specific business areas.

    A third new product from IBM allows users to access personalized content from their corporate websites via the BlackBerry, IBM said.

    Armonk, New York-based IBM acquired the business intelligence programs in January with its purchase of Canada's Cognos for about $4.9 billion.

    (Reporting by Jim Finkle; Editing by Brian Moss)

    Reuters - GPS grows as a crime-fighting tool in U.S

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    GPS grows as a crime-fighting tool in U.S

    Wednesday, May 14, 2008 2:30PM UTC

    By Jason Szep

    BOSTON (Reuters) - It was just after 10 p.m. when William Cotter, wearing a belt full of ammunition, burst into the home of his estranged wife, Dorothy, shooting her in the back with a sawed-off shot gun before taking his own life.

    Just five days earlier, a court had ordered him to stay away from his wife after decades of drunken violence and she was carrying a panic button linked to the local police station, in Amesbury, Massachusetts. But it wasn't enough to save her on the night of March 26, 2002.

    Fast-forward six years. Electronic surveillance technology is changing the way authorities in the United States monitor repeat offenders. Its advocates say the new technology could have saved Dorothy's life. Its detractors fear a widening breach of civil liberties and an illusory sense of protection.

    Coast to coast, authorities are expanding electronic monitoring to fight crime -- moving beyond its early use in tracking movements of sex offenders to include gang members who have been released on probation, people accused of repeated violence against women and even truant students at schools.

    At the heart of the surveillance is a technology best-known for helping people on the road: the global positioning system.

    Other countries are watching closely. GPS monitoring is already established in parts of Europe but applied more narrowly, and it's growing fast in Latin America, said Jeff Durski, spokesman for iSECUREtrac Corp, based in Omaha, Nebraska, which manufactures the devices and leases them to police and courts.

    Massachusetts, one of the first states to employ it in 2006, now has about 700 people fitted with electronic bracelets that send signals via satellite to computer servers if they go places they shouldn't -- so-called "exclusion zones."

    The Massachusetts law, which allows judges to impose electronic monitoring as a condition of a restraining order, has become a model for states such as Illinois and Oklahoma.

    The Oklahoma Senate voted 47-0 in April to enlist GPS technology to protect victims of domestic violence. The Illinois House of Representatives unanimously passed similar surveillance legislation last month.

    Part of the appeal is money. GPS is a cost-effective alternative to prison, said Paul Lucci, deputy commissioner of the Massachusetts Probation Service, pointing to a chart taped to his office wall showing a state-wide surge in use of GPS -- mostly to track sex offenders but also for others.

    "These people probably should be in jail but the cost of incarceration can be as much as $30,000 or $40,000 a year. The GPS costs about $3,400 a year," he said.

    "I think it's good on both sides. It is a device to protect the public. Although we can't guarantee anyone's safety, it provides an extra level of supervision on somebody. On the other side, for a defense attorney, it is in lieu of incarceration," said Lucci.

    DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

    The Massachusetts law was inspired in part by Cotter's death and other cases of repeated abuse in a country where authorities say more than 1,000 women are murdered each year by intimate partners. It alerts police whenever an offender enters a restricted zone such as near a woman's home or office.

    "It's more than just slapping a GPS on a guy. You have to really have an intelligent coordinated approach to it and then it really can save lives," said Diane Rosenfeld, a professor at Harvard Law School who helped draft the Massachusetts law.

    The Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, a women's shelter which in 2006 began piloting the GPS program in Newburyport, a Massachusetts city north of Boston, has a high success rate -- none of the eight men fitted with GPS have violated protective orders while wearing the bracelets.

    Kelly Dunne, associate director at the center, said Dorothy Cotter's murder highlighted several major problems. A judge, for example, released her husband without bail less than a week after he violated a restraining order and threatened to kill her. Five days later, he murdered her.

    "As a result of that homicide, we now identify high-risk perpetrators as early as possible," she said. "In some cases the judge orders GPS," she said.

    STRETCHED PRISONS

    Authorities see it as an alternative to overflowing prisons in a country with the world's highest incarceration rate.

    The number of people in U.S. prisons has risen eight-fold since 1970 to 2.2 million people -- nearly a fourth of the world's total, according to the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group.

    North Carolina's eastern Pitt County, a rural tobacco-growing region of 138,690 people, adopted the technology in late 2005 to relieve overcrowded jails by freeing more accused batterers on bond and tracking them with GPS before they go to trial. It was expanded last year to four more counties.

    In a measure of success, police dispatchers receive fewer calls involving the same person when an offender wears a GPS bracelet. Pitt County's recidivism rate for domestic violence fell from 36 percent in 2004 to 14 percent this year, said Sgt. John Guard of local sheriff's domestic violence unit.

    But once batterers finish the program and go off GPS, the rate shot back up to around 40 percent, he added.

    "It may help in the short term pre-trial. But post-trial, it's not. That tells me there are other things we have to do to ensure the safety of the victims," he said.

    There are other concerns. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Linfield warned a Harvard Law School panel in February that GPS may offer only a "high tech illusion of safety" that fails to do more to protect women than traditional restraining orders, according to the law school's newspaper, The Record.

    "We don't ever say to anyone that this will save your life," said Barry Bryant, deputy director of the Governor's Crime Commission in North Carolina.

    "It doesn't really guarantee much because the truth is it's real time. If someone has entered a zone where they shouldn't be, can you get there before they do something violent? I don't know. But it's an added measure of safety."

    He said police, not the court, mostly determine who wears the surveillance bracelets in North Carolina -- a nuance that raises civil liberties concerns.

    "This should be done by independent judicial officials, not by police officers whose job is to investigate, not to mete out justice," said Barry Steinhardt, head of the American Civil Liberties Union's technology program in Washington.

    "You want to protect the victims of domestic violence but there has to be a fair process."

    (Reporting by Jason Szep; Editing by Eddie Evans)

    Reuters - Nokia sees half of cellphones with GPS in 2010-12

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    Nokia sees half of cellphones with GPS in 2010-12

    Wednesday, May 14, 2008 8:51AM UTC

    By Eric Auchard

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Nokia <NOK1V.HE> plans to add navigation to half of the phones it sells within a few years to find new revenue streams amid decreasing handset prices, a senior official at the world's top cellphone maker said.

    Michael Halbherr, the head of Nokia's location-based activities, told Reuters he remains comfortable with Nokia's year-old goal for seeing up to 50 percent of its phones equipped with global positioning system (GPS) chips in 2010 to 2012.

    "We are planning to ship 35 million GPS units this year," Halbherr said, adding "and many more location-enabled phones that use cell-towers to orient themselves on the map".

    "You will see few 'E' or 'N' Series phones without GPS," he said.

    Last year Nokia sold 437 million phones, and it expects the volume to grow more than 10 percent this year. It sold 38 million phones in its multimedia range "N Series" and some 7 million "E Series" business phones.

    GPS chips use orbiting satellites to pinpoint the whereabouts of a phone user, thereby enabling a host of location-based services. SiRF Technology Holdings Inc <SIRF.O> is the world's largest maker of GPS chips.

    Last October, when unveiling an $8.1 billion offer for U.S. based digital map supplier Navteq <NVT.N>, Nokia said it would have tens of navigation-enabled phones on the market by end-2008.

    It sells five models with built-in GPS and has unveiled four more which will ship in the coming months.

    Halbherr said his company's GPS phone strategy goes far beyond the phones themselves.

    It's part of a comprehensive strategy to make location-enabled, context-aware phones available across its product line, he said.

    Beyond phones specially equipped with location-finding technology, all Nokia phones stand to benefit as GPS phone users move about and effectively update Nokia Maps in real time for other phone users.

    "Location will ultimately be in every device," Halbherr declared, not just the half of phones with special GPS chips.

    In addition to GPS chips, Nokia's strategy involves pushing Wi-Fi enabled devices that use local wireless network antennas to achieve more or less the same location-awareness in these devices. Even phones without GPS or Wi-Fi can use local cellphone towers to identify their position on maps, he noted.

    Nokia Maps, first introduced in early 2006, will come out with a version 2.0 for phones worldwide later this month.

    Halbherr mocks the current rush by Internet companies such as Google <GOOG.O>, Yahoo <YHOO.O> and Microsoft <MSFT.O> to deliver all their services as centralized, Web-based services over the network, rather than using the growing powers of the device in users' hands.

    "I believe memory and computation speed will grow faster than bandwidth," he said. "I am not a believer in cloud computing."

    "All the American navigation solutions are basically server based, which overloads the network and degrades the consumer experience," Halbherr said, referring to both Internet map services and companies specializing in car navigation.

    (Reporting by Eric Auchard; Additional reporting by Tarmo Virki in Helsinki, editing by Will Waterman)

    Monday, May 12, 2008

    Reuters - RIM's BlackBerry Bold aims at business users

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    RIM's BlackBerry Bold aims at business users

    Monday, May 12, 2008 6:37PM UTC

    By Wojtek Dabrowski

    TORONTO (Reuters) - Research In Motion Ltd is launching a new high-end version of the BlackBerry aimed at its core base of business users, but it hopes the sleek new smartphone will also catch on with the broader retail market.

    Shares of RIM jumped on Monday, climbing C$8.76, or 6.6 percent, to C$142.11 on the Toronto Stock Exchange. On Nasdaq, the stock was up $8.84, or 6.7 percent, at $141.61.

    The BlackBerry Bold, as the new smartphone is called, is the first BlackBerry to support high-speed HSDPA cellular networks and comes with integrated GPS, Wi-Fi and a host of multimedia features.

    "It's really a step up in function in many core aspects of the system," RIM Co-CEO Jim Balsillie said in an interview.

    The smartphone rolls out globally this summer and will cost between $300 and $400, he said. AT&T will be its lead carrier in the United States.

    Citi Investment Research analyst Jim Suva wrote in a note to clients that the timing of the launch of the third-generation smartphone was ahead of his expectations. Third generation, or 3G, essentially refers to advanced and high-speed wireless services.

    "We had expected a 3G device later this year," he wrote. "We estimate the Bold could increase RIM's quarterly shipments by 200,000 to 400,000."

    While Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM hopes the Bold will entice corporate users to upgrade the handsets they currently use, Balsillie said he "wouldn't be surprised if it gets picked up by the consumer."

    The device will be a test of whether the shaky U.S. economy is making corporations less willing to spend on new wireless hardware. Some analysts have expressed concern that companies will delay upgrades or cut back on spending on items such as the BlackBerry.

    RIM helped dispel such worries last month when it delivered a higher fourth-quarter profit and a robust outlook.

    UBS analyst Jeffrey Fan wrote in a note to clients he expects the company to launch between three or four new devices this year.

    "We believe RIM's broadening portfolio should widen its appeal to the mass market," he wrote.

    The Bold features the most vivid display ever on a BlackBerry, a 2-megapixel camera with video recording capability, and a media player for watching movies and managing music collections.

    This isn't the first time a BlackBerry has been loaded with multimedia features to catch the eye of the retail customer. RIM has actively worked at diversifying its client base away from the executives, lawyers and other professionals who use the BlackBerry for sending secure wireless e-mail.

    More than a third of RIM's 14 million subscribers are now classified as nongovernment and noncorporate.

    The company has also rolled out customer-oriented applications such as Facebook software specifically designed for the BlackBerry. Last month, RIM said downloads of the application had topped the 1 million mark.

    And in a separate announcement on Monday, RIM and Microsoft said they will provide Microsoft Windows Live services such as instant messaging and e-mail on the BlackBerry.

    Its pursuit of consumers has put RIM in increasingly direct competition with devices such as Apple's iPhone, which target the broad retail market.

    Still, Balsillie said the Bold is aimed first and foremost at the business, or enterprise, audience.

    "It's pretty fair to say that the Bold does quite a job for cementing our leadership in the (enterprise) side," he said. "We understand our roots and we understand the priority there."

    RIM also announced that, along with Royal Bank of Canada and Thomson Reuters, it will launch a $150 million venture capital fund that will invest in applications and services for the BlackBerry and other mobile platforms.

    ($1=$1.00 Canadian)

    (Reporting by Wojtek Dabrowski; editing by Peter Galloway)

    CNN - China: Quake death toll jumps past 7,600

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    China: Quake death toll jumps past 7,600


    More than 7,600 people have been killed by Monday's powerful earthquake in just one affected region of central China, the Chinese government said.

    State-run news agency Xinhua said the official toll had risen to 7,651 in Sichuan Province.

    In addition, at least 48 people were killed in the northwest Gansu Province, Xinhua said.

    Authorities had earlier said they believed about 10,000 people were injured in Beichuan County in the northeastern part of the province.

    The Sichuan provincial disaster relief headquarters said 80 percent of the buildings collapsed in the Beichuan Qiang Autonomous County after the 7.8-magnitude quake, Xinhua reported.

    Several hundred students were also feared to be buried in collapsed school buildings, the agency said.

    China's Seismological Bureau said the earthquake had affected more than half the country's provinces and municipalities.

    President George W. Bush released a statement saying the United States "stands ready to help in any way possible."

    "I am particularly saddened by the number of students and children affected by this tragedy," Bush said.

    In Sichuan's Shifang city, the quake buried hundreds of people in two collapsed chemical plants, and more than 80 tons of ammonia leaked out, Xinhua said.

    The local government evacuated 6,000 civilians from the area after homes and factories were also destroyed.

    The quake was "felt in most parts of China," Xinhua reported, with the confirmed casualties in the provinces and municipality of Sichuan, Gansu, Chongqing and Yunnan.

    Xinhua said several schools collapsed, at least partially, in the quake.

    At one, as many as 900 students were feared buried. At least 50 bodies have been pulled from the rubble at the high school in the Juyuan Township of Dujiangyan City in Wenchuan County.

    "Some buried teenagers were struggling to break loose from underneath the ruins while others were crying out for help," Xinhua reported.

    "Grieved parents watched as five cranes were excavating at the site and an ambulance was waiting.

    "An unknown number of students were also reported buried after buildings collapsed at five other schools in the province's Deyang City."

    One person was killed in Santai County, in the city of Mianyang, when a water tower fell, the news agency reported.

    A provincial government spokesman said they feared more dead and injured in collapsed houses in Dujiangyan City, Xinhua reported.

    The news agency also quoted a driver for the seismological bureau saying he saw "rows of houses collapsed" in Dujiangyan.

    Chinese President Hu Jintao immediately ordered an all-out effort to help victims of the earthquakes, Xinhua reported. It said Premier Wen Jiabao would go there to direct the rescue work.

    Bonnie Thie, the country director the Peace Corps, was on a university campus in Chengdu about 100 km from the epicenter, in the eastern part of China's Sichuan province, when the first quake hit.

    "You could see the ground shaking," Thie told CNN.

    The shaking "went on for what seemed like a very long time," she said.

    "This is a very dangerous earthquake," said Bruce Presgrave, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

    The quake had the potential to cause major damage because of its strength and proximity to major population centers, he said.

    In addition, the earthquake was relatively shallow, Presgrave said, and those kinds of quakes tend to do more damage near the epicenter than deeper ones.

    An earthquake with 7.5 magnitude in the northern Chinese city of Tangshan killed 255,000 people in 1976 -- the greatest death toll from an earthquake in the last four centuries and the second greatest in recorded history, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

    Tangshan is roughly 1,600 km from Chengdu, the nearest major city to the epicenter of Monday's quake.

    After the first quake struck Monday, the ground shook as far away as Beijing, which is 1,500 km from the epicenter.

    They felt "a very quiet rolling sensation" that lasted for about a minute, according to CNN correspondent John Vause.

    "Our building began to sway," he said.

    Thousands of people were evacuated from Beijing high-rises immediately after the earthquake.

    At least six more earthquakes -- measuring between 4.0 and 6.0 magnitudes -- happened nearby over the three hours after the initial quake at at 2:28 p.m. local time (0728 GMT), the USGS reported.

    A spokesman for the Beijing Olympic Committee said no Olympic venues were affected by the earthquake. The massive Three Gorges Dam -- roughly 600 km east of the epicenter -- was not damaged, a spokesman said.

    The earthquake was also felt in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Taiwan, and as far away as Hanoi, Vietnam, and Bangkok, Thailand, according to the Hong Kong-based Mandarin-language channel Phoenix TV.

    CNN - Report: 3,000 feared dead in China quake

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    Report: 3,000 feared dead in China quake


    At least 3,000 people are feared dead in Monday's earthquake in China's Sichuan Province, state-run news agency Xinhua said.

    Citing local officials, Xinhua said at least 3,000 were thought to be dead in Beichuan County, part of Sichuan Province.

    Earlier, Xinhua had said at least 107 people died in the 7.8-magnitude quake that rocked central China and left several hundred students feared buried in collapsed school buildings.

    The quake was "felt in most parts of China," Xinhua reported, with the confirmed casualties in the provinces and municipality of Sichuan, Gansu, Chongqing and Yunnan.

    Xinhua said several schools collapsed, at least partially, in the quake.

    At one, as many as 900 students were feared buried.

    "Some buried teenagers were struggling to break loose from underneath the ruins while others were crying out for help," Xinhua reported.

    "Grieved parents watched as five cranes were excavating at the site and an ambulance was waiting."

    Among the 107 dead were 55 in Sichuan Province, where 600 people were also injured, Xinhua said.

    One person was killed in Santai County, in the city of Mianyang, when a water tower fell, the news agency reported.

    Xinhua did not detail where the 107 deaths occurred, although it reported earlier that four students were killed and 110 hurt when a middle school building collapsed in Juyuan Township of Dujiangyan City, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) southeast of the epicenter.

    Another person was killed when a water tower fell in the city of Mianyang, the news agency reported.

    A provincial government spokesman said they feared more dead and injured in collapsed houses in Dujiangyan City in Wenchuan County, Xinhua reported.

    The news agency also quoted a driver for the seismological bureau saying he saw "rows of houses collapsed" in Dujiangyan.

    Chinese President Hu Jintao immediately ordered an all-out effort to help victims of the earthquakes, Xinhua reported. It said Premier Wen Jiabao would go there to direct the rescue work.

    Bonnie Thie, the country director the Peace Corps, was on a university campus in Chengdu about 60 miles from the epicenter, in the eastern part of China's Sichuan province, when the first quake hit.

    "You could see the ground shaking," Thie told CNN.

    The shaking "went on for what seemed like a very long time," she said.

    "This is a very dangerous earthquake," said Bruce Presgrave, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

    The quake had the potential to cause major damage because of its strength and proximity to major population centers, he said.

    In addition, the earthquake was relatively shallow, Presgrave said, and those kinds of quakes tend to do more damage near the epicenter than deeper ones.

    An earthquake with 7.5 magnitude in the northern Chinese city of Tangshan killed 255,000 people in 1976 -- the greatest death toll from an earthquake in the last four centuries and the second greatest in recorded history, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

    Tangshan is roughly 995 miles (1,600 km) from Chengdu, the nearest major city to the epicenter of Monday's quake.

    After the first quake struck Monday, the ground shook as far away as Beijing, which is 950 miles (1,528 km) from the epicenter.

    They felt "a very quiet rolling sensation" that lasted for about a minute, according to CNN correspondent John Vause.

    "Our building began to sway," he said.

    Thousands of people were evacuated from Beijing high-rises immediately after the earthquake.

    At least six more earthquakes -- measuring between 4.0 and 6.0 magnitudes -- happened nearby over the three hours after the initial quake at at 2:28 p.m. local time (0728 GMT, 0228 ET), the USGS reported.

    A spokesman for the Beijing Olympic Committee said no Olympic venues were affected by the earthquake. The massive Three Gorges Dam -- roughly 400 miles east of the epicenter -- was not damaged, a spokesman said.

    The earthquake was also felt in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Taiwan, and as far away as Hanoi, Vietnam, and Bangkok, Thailand, according to the Hong Kong-based Mandarin-language channel Phoenix TV.

    Friday, May 9, 2008

    Reuters - Oliver Stone movie on Bush set for October release

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    Oliver Stone movie on Bush set for October release

    Friday, May 09, 2008 9:18PM UTC

    By Steve Gorman

    LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Director Oliver Stone has landed a distribution deal with independent studio Lionsgate to get an upcoming film about President George W. Bush into U.S. theaters in October, shortly before the presidential election.

    The political biography, to be called "W" and featuring "No Country for Old Men" star Josh Brolin as Bush, is slated to begin shooting in Louisiana on Monday, Lionsgate said on Friday.

    Lionsgate is the distributor behind director Michael Moore's commercially successful political documentaries "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "Sicko."

    The film will open on October 17 in North America, said Lionsgate, which also will distribute the movie in Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

    Brolin's father James Brolin, who is married to leading Hollywood Democratic activist Barbra Streisand, played another two-term Republican president in the controversial TV movie "The Reagans" in 2003.

    In addition to Brolin, the film stars Elizabeth Banks ("Seabiscuit") as first lady Laura Bush; James Cromwell ("The Queen") as former President George H.W. Bush; and Ellen Burstyn ("Requiem for a Dream") as his wife, Barbara Bush.

    Rounding out the cast are Thandie Newton ("Crash") as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Jeffrey Wright ("Syriana") as former Secretary of State Colin Powell; Scott Glenn ("The Bourne Ultimatum") as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; and Ioan Gruffud ("Fantastic Four") as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

    Still to be cast are the roles of Vice President Dick Cheney and former White House political adviser Karl Rove.

    "Despite a meteoric, almost illogical rise to power, and a tremendous influence on the world, we don't really know much about Mr. Bush beyond the controlled images we've been allowed to see on TV," Stone said in a statement. "This movie's taking a bold stab at looking behind that curtain."

    Stone's earlier political movies included "Nixon" and a highly controversial film about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, "JFK," both of which earned him Oscar nominations. He won Oscars for directing Vietnam War dramas "Platoon" and "Born on the Fourth of July."

    But he suggested in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly magazine that his big-screen take on Bush may be more comical than those movies.

    "This movie can be funnier because Bush is funny," he was quoted as saying. "He's awkward and goofy and makes faces all the time. He's not your average president. So let's have some fun with it."

    (Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and David Storey)

    Reuters - R. Kelly on trial for child pornography charges

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    R. Kelly on trial for child pornography charges

    Friday, May 09, 2008 6:50PM UTC

    By Andrew Stern

    CHICAGO (Reuters) - Six years after he was charged with videotaping himself having sex with an underage girl, R&B superstar R. Kelly went on trial on Friday, with his alleged victim prepared to deny she is the person on the tape.

    Kelly has been charged with 14 counts of videotaping, producing or soliciting child pornography. Prosecutors argue he knew, or should have known, the girl was a teenaged minor.

    If convicted of all charges, the 41-year-old performer, whose given name is Robert Kelly, could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

    As Kelly arrived at the Cook County Criminal Courthouse, fans cheered and critics waved signs and called the prolific songwriter, singer and producer a pedophile.

    Judge Vincent Gaughan rejected a request from Kelly's lawyers to delay the trial because of recent publicity. The proceeding, already postponed numerous times, is expected to last up to seven weeks, with jury selection continuing Monday.

    Prosecutors say the lurid 26-minute tape was made between January 1998 and November 2000 when the girl was 13 or 14.

    The alleged victim, who is now in her 20s, has denied she is the girl on the tape and could testify in Kelly's defense, according to court records. Kelly's lawyers have argued it is not him on the tape either.

    In a 2003 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Kelly said he was no pedophile, saying: "I've always loved women. ... But I don't have a bag with little suckers in it, hiding behind some tree talking about, 'Come here, little girl.' Not me."

    The story came to light in early 2002 when the Chicago Sun-Times turned over to police a copy of the widely bootlegged videotape.

    The Chicago Sun-Times and the Tribune both reported last week another woman would testify that she and the girl had engaged in sex together with Kelly, and will identify her as the person on the tape, which will likely be played in court.

    The accusations prompted some radio stations to stop playing Kelly's songs, but it didn't derail his career. He has earned millions from concert tours and album sales while being free on $750,000 bond.

    After singing for change on Chicago subway platforms, Kelly shot to fame in the early 1990s with rhythm and blues hits like "Sex Me" and "Bump n' Grind."

    The carnality of his early lyrics gave way to wholesomeness with the 1996 single "I Believe I Can Fly," which earned Kelly three Grammy Awards. He has received 20 other Grammy nominations.

    The Chicago-born singer produced "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number" for young protege Aaliyah in 1994. The pair married, but Aaliyah, then 15, and her parents had the marriage annulled. She died in a plane crash in 2001.

    He later married a dancer and has three children.

    Reuters/Nielsen

    Reuters - "Sopranos" creator signs deal for first film

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    "Sopranos" creator signs deal for first film

    Thursday, May 08, 2008 10:9PM UTC

    By Steve Gorman

    LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - David Chase, creator of the acclaimed TV mob drama "The Sopranos," has signed a deal with Paramount Pictures to write, produce and direct his first feature film, the studio said on Thursday.

    Adhering to the kind of mystery surrounding some of Chase's past work, the studio offered no details of the project except to describe it as "an original drama," and a spokesman said the film was not an adaptation of "The Sopranos."

    Chase, 52, has a long-standing relationship with Paramount Studios chairman Brad Grey, who was his producing partner on "The Sopranos" and occasionally played himself on the series.

    The show, which ended a six-season run in June 2007 with its famously ambiguous blackout finale, earned Chase two Emmys as best drama series and two others for his writing on the show.

    Centered on the fictional life of a conflicted New Jersey mob boss, played by James Gandolfini, the HBO series was regarded by many critics as the finest drama ever to air on U.S. television.

    "David is one of the great storytellers of our time, and his debut as a filmmaker is both highly anticipated and long overdue," Grey said in a statement issued by the Viacom Inc-owned studio.

    A spokesman said a time table for the film's production and release have not been set.

    Chase's television career spans three decades and includes work on such series as "The Rockford Files," "I'll Fly Away," "Northern Exposure" and the made-for-TV movie "Off the Minnesota Strip."

    Reuters/Nielsen

    Reuters - Paper is passe for tech-savvy South Koreans

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    Paper is passe for tech-savvy South Koreans

    Friday, May 09, 2008 11:50AM UTC

    SEOUL (Reuters Life!) - Young, tech-savvy South Koreans are making coupon clipping a thing of the past and turning to their mobile phones instead.

    Some of the fastest-growing mobile phone services in the country let retailers send discount coupons and users send gift certificates for anything from lattes to movie tickets through their handsets.

    The merchandise vouchers have a barcode embedded in the message. Users show the coupon on the screen and retailers scan the barcode to apply the discount.

    "People can actually receive products from places just by showing their phones," Ryu Mina, a spokeswoman with mobile service provider SK Telecom.

    She said people may forget their coupons but always carry their cell phones.

    SK Telecom rolled out a service a little more than a year ago called a "gifticon" that allows users to send gift vouchers for items such as convenience store merchandise and pizzas via mobile phones. The sender is billed for the cost of the goods.

    South Korean companies started sending coupons via text messages about six years ago, but the service never caught on because most users saw the messages as spam and deleted them.

    The main users of the new coupon service with the embedded barcodes are usually in their 20s and younger and often use Internet functions on their mobile phones for communication, according the industry sources.

    (Reporting by Lee Jiyeon, writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Valerie Lee)

    Reuters - Academic says gadgets threaten Internet's future

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    Academic says gadgets threaten Internet's future

    Thursday, May 08, 2008 12:27PM UTC

    By Peter Griffiths

    LONDON (Reuters) - The rise of gadgets like the iPhone, Blackberry and Xbox threatens to unravel the decades of innovation that helped to build the Internet, a leading academic has warned in a new book.

    Professor Jonathan Zittrain says the latest must-have devices are sealed, "sterile" boxes that stifle creativity and turn consumers into passive users of technology.

    Unlike home computers, new Internet-enabled gadgets don't lend themselves to the sort of tinkering and collaboration that leads to technological advances, he says.

    The mix of gadgets, over-regulation and Internet security fears could destroy the old system where mainstream technology could be "influenced, even revolutionized, out of left field".

    "I don't want to see a two-tier world where only the experts can survive ... and the non-experts are stuck between something they don't understand and something that limits them," Zittrain told Reuters in an interview.

    Zittrain, professor of Internet governance and regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University, says the Internet's simple, open architecture is key to its enormous success and also its flaws.

    Amateur enthusiasts have come up with scores of new ideas by tinkering with the Internet on home computers. However, hackers have caused huge disruption by exploiting its loose structure.

    Zittrain contrasts one of the first mass-produced home computers, the Apple II from the 1970s, with Apple's latest gadget, the iPhone. He says the iPhone is typical of what he calls "tethered appliances".

    "They are appliances in that they are easy to use, while not easy to tinker with," he writes. "They are tethered because it is easy to for their vendors to change them from afar, long after the devices have left warehouses and showrooms."

    They are a world away from the "generative Internet", a term Zittrain uses to describe the open, creative, innovative approach that helped build the Internet.

    The rise of viruses and fraud has also led to tighter controls on PCs, particularly those in schools, universities, offices and public places, Zittrain says.

    People are often blocked from experimenting with shared computers and their input is severely limited.

    There is still time to save the Internet, he believes, although the answer lies in social rather than technological changes.

    Society should resist more regulation and place its trust in the Internet's users. The success of Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia written and edited by its readers, shows how self-governance can work.

    Internet users should see themselves as "netizens", active participants in the online world rather than passive consumers.

    "The community itself exercises a form of self-restraint and policing," he said. "You see it in Britain when you try to jump a queue, you see it on Wikipedia when a page is vandalised.

    "The challenge to the technologists is to build technologies to let people of good faith help without having to devote their lives to it."

    * The Future of the Internet and How To Stop It, http://futureoftheinternet.org , is published by Penguin.

    (Editing by Steve Addison)

    Reuters - Kick the oil habit and make your own ethanol

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    Kick the oil habit and make your own ethanol

    Friday, May 09, 2008 5:19PM UTC

    By Timothy Gardner

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - A new company hopes drivers will kick the oil habit by brewing ethanol at home that won't spike food prices.

    E-Fuel Corp unveiled on Thursday the "MicroFueler" touting it as the world's first machine that allows homeowners to make their own ethanol and pump the brew directly into their cars.

    The portable unit that sells for $10,000 resembles a gasoline station pump and nozzle -- minus the slot for a credit card, or the digital "SALE" numbers that whir ever faster at retail pumps as global demand pushes fuel prices to record levels.

    Instead of tapping gasoline from an underground tank, the pump's back end plugs into home power and water supplies to make ethanol for as little as $1 a gallon (3.8 liters), according to E-Fuel.

    The company says one of the machine's top selling points is its sweet tooth. It ferments fuel from sugar, the price of which is historically cheap as global supplies are glutted.

    That means it avoids the Achilles heel of today's U.S. ethanol system -- reliance on corn -- which has been blamed for helping to spike global food prices.

    "There's no mother in America crying that their kids aren't getting enough sugar," Tom Quinn, CEO and founder of E-Fuel said in an interview.

    Regular table sugar alone is too expensive, so E-Fuels says it will link customers to cheaper surplus supplies, including inedible sugar from Mexico that sells at a fraction of the price. It also hopes to get users to help pay for feedstock by selling carbon credits for using the machine, since making ethanol from sugar emits fewer greenhouse gases than making it from corn.

    "We will break the traditional ethanol system," said Quinn a California computer and computer games inventor, who has bankrolled the company with what he calls "millions, but not multimillion" of dollars.

    He said despite the steep upfront costs, the machines will pay for themselves quickly. For a two-car family that drives about 34,500 miles a year, the MicroFueler will pay for itself in less than two years, assuming average gasoline prices of $3.60 per gallon, the company said. The unit makes up to 35 gallons (132 liters) of 100 percent ethanol per week.

    Others are not so sure that the MicroFueler is a good investment.

    "I doubt it will work," said David Pimental, a professor at Cornell University who has studied the economics of ethanol for decades. He said the history of the fuel has been one of moving to greater and greater scales to increase the efficiencies of making the fuel.

    E-Fuel says the machine is efficient in a way that big ethanol plants aren't because it removes water from the fuel with special fine filters that reduce the fuel costs of distilling the water out.

    (Reporting by Timothy Gardner, editing by Marguerita Choy)

    Thursday, May 8, 2008

    CNN - The pictures that horrified America

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    The pictures that horrified America


    World War II was over, but as the 1940s gave way to the 1950s, a new evil lurked in the land.

    It attracted a youthful audience -- boys, mostly -- who fell victim to its colorful images, dripping in red, and gave money to its purveyors.

    Authorities took notice. The United States had a new menace, they said, one whose name started with "c" and whose first syllable rhymed with "bomb."

    Comic books.

    "The country was fixated on this," said David Hajdu, author of the recently released "The Ten-Cent Plague" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), a history of the era.

    These weren't just any comic books, the ones filled with the derring-do of superheroes. These had names such as "Tales from the Crypt," "Shock SuspenStories" and "Justice Traps the Guilty," and they told stories of crime and horror. Their cover images included alluring women (often in low-cut outfits), decaying corpses and spooky, murky swamps.

    Hajdu, who wrote "Positively Fourth Street" about the early-'60s folk music scene, observes that when we think of postwar pop-cultural rebellion, what comes to mind is rock 'n' roll and Marlon Brando. But comic books, he notes, came first. Hundreds of millions sold every month, at 10 cents a throw.

    "Everybody read comic books. They were the most popular form of entertainment in America," he said.

    The fact that such entertainment was primarily aimed at children and teens raised the ire of authorities, including social scientists, newspaper columnists and political leaders. These works, they believed, were causing crime and degeneracy. They had to be stopped.

    Towns hosted bonfires to rid themselves of comics; congressional hearings about the issue helped burnish the image of Tennessee's Estes Kefauver, who had led hearings against organized crime.

    Comic books had been attracting concern since they were introduced in the 1930s -- and superheroes weren't immune. Figures such as children's author Sterling North and a Catholic bishop, John Francis Noll, protested the medium as glorifying crime and corrupting youngsters. The fervor dulled during World War II but came back with a vengeance afterwards as news focused on an alleged increase in juvenile delinquency.

    The anti-comics movement really caught fire with the work of psychiatrist Frederic Wertham, who wrote a book, "Seduction of the Innocent," linking comics with delinquency. Sidebar: Were comics that violent?

    In recent decades, Wertham has become a figure of mockery for his theories (he called the relationship between Batman and Robin "like a wish-dream of two homosexuals living together"), but Hajdu says he wasn't a cardboard villain. He was committed to working with minorities -- he ran a free clinic in Harlem -- and he genuinely cared about young people.

    "He was misguided and used utterly fallacious methods, but what he was getting at was understandable," Hajdu said, though adding that "he did much more harm than good."

    Among Wertham's adversaries was William M. Gaines, son of comics pioneer Max Gaines and the owner of EC Comics. Thanks to a staff of innovative writers and artists -- including Al Feldstein, Harvey Kurtzman, Wally Wood, Will Elder and Jack Davis -- and a deep investment in the crime and horror genres, Gaines revived a moribund EC, making it one of the business's most successful companies. Its titles, including "Crypt" and "SuspenStories," were both graphic and groundbreaking.

    "EC Comics out-bloodied them all but also used social commentary and had a lighter quality of gruesome art," said Bill Svitavsky, a history professor at Florida's Rollins College who teaches a course on American graphic publishing with his colleague Julian Chambliss.

    "EC had statements about racism and conformity to small-town values," Chambliss said. Many of EC's staffers, he observes, were World War II veterans who'd seen their share of violence, and their art -- if graphic -- gave their stories the ring of truth. (Author Grant Geissman put together a collection of EC's work, "Foul Play!" (HarperDesign), in 2005.)

    However, the keepers of the boundaries pushed back, Svitavsky says. In those Red Scare times, "Adults were fearful [of works that questioned the establishment.] ... Comic books were believed to be an underestimated, unpatriotic tool to get at kids."

    The children, Hajdu says, illustrated the tension of the times. Some had tried to hide their collections; others had energetically taken part in comic-book burnings. He interviewed many of them, now grown-ups in their 60s or 70s. "It was harrowing to listen to them," he said.

    The issues came to a head at the subcommittee hearings on juvenile delinquency, which began in late 1953. Among the witnesses were Gaines and Wertham, who "looked as if he had come straight from doing scientific work," Hajdu writes. The comics' fate was sealed when Gaines, in televised testimony, attempted to defend a "Crime SuspenStories" cover, depicting the hand of a killer clutching a woman's severed head, as "good taste." Audiences were shocked; opinion leaders raged.

    A comics publishers' association put together the Comics Code Authority, which banned the words "horror" and "terror" from comic books. Sales plunged, dozens of artists lost their jobs, and comic books didn't make a comeback for years.

    "Everybody was cautious in the '60s," noted Ron Goulart, author of "Good Girl Art," a history of female images in comic books. He credits the horror-crime scare with "probably help[ing] resurrect superheroes," particularly the new breed created by Marvel Comics in the '60s.

    The horror and crime books were also reflective of a changing world. Film historians have observed that the heyday of film noir was in the late '40s, and it wasn't long before Brando, James Dean, Elvis Presley and many others were busting boundaries in other genres.

    Gaines was a part of that, Hajdu observes. There was one comic, a humor book, he had protected. He made it a magazine to save it from the Comics Code Authority and refused to accept advertising.

    In time, the magazine became one of the most influential publications of the 20th century, inspiring generations to question authority and mocking the pieties of politics, religion and popular culture.

    It was called Mad.

    Wednesday, May 7, 2008

    Reuters - Cannabis classification to be tightened

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    Cannabis classification to be tightened

    Wednesday, May 07, 2008 6:11PM UTC

    By Tim Castle

    LONDON (Reuters) - Cannabis will be raised to a class B drug with a maximum five year jail term for users, the government said on Wednesday, rejecting a recommendation from its own drugs advisers to leave the classification unchanged.

    Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the decision had been made because of concern, particularly amongst the public, about the "alarming" use of skunk, a stronger strain of the narcotic which now dominates the market.

    "I want it to be clearly understood that this powerful form of cannabis is an illegal and harmful drug," Smith told parliament, vowing the change would be backed by crackdowns on cannabis farms.

    "There is a compelling case for us to act now, rather than risk the future health of young people."

    Her announcement followed the publication of a report by the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) which said there was insufficient evidence to regrade cannabis to the more serious class B.

    "After careful scrutiny of the available evidence, the ACMD considers -- based on its harmfulness to individuals and society -- that cannabis should remain a class C substance," said Chairman Michael Rawlins.

    Prime Minster Gordon Brown had been widely expected to ignore the advice because of fears over the mental health effects of skunk.

    Last month Brown said he wanted to send a strong message that use of the drug was "unacceptable".

    Cannabis was downgraded to Class C -- which includes substances such as anabolic steroids -- on the ACMD's advice in January 2004.

    That meant possession of the drug was treated largely as a non-arrestable offence.

    Under the tighter class B rules, which put cannabis on a par with amphetamines and barbiturates, users face up to five years' jail and suppliers a maximum of 14 years.

    Proponents of a tougher drugs policy said its Class C status ignored cannabis's potential health impacts.

    Mental health criminal lawyer Grahame Stowe, a partner at law firm Grahame Stowe Bateson, said reclassification of cannabis is long overdue.

    "Those of us who work in the criminal and mental health spheres of the legal industry are acutely aware of the danger cannabis poses and the long-term damage it causes," the lawyer, who has 35 years' experience, said in a statement.

    "Reclassification is the only way to address this problem and make concrete progress on tackling cannabis use."

    The ACMD was asked by Brown shortly after he took office last June to review the drug's classification and it reported to ministers last week.

    Going against the council's advice is controversial given it plays a major role in drugs policy, but Brown was also likely come under fire from those who said drugs policy was too soft if he decided to keep the narcotic in Class C.

    Wednesday's move was welcomed by police and the Conservative party, although it condemned the government for the original decision to downgrade the drug, saying it had increased the size of the cannabis market.

    (Additional reporting by Michael Holden and Katherine Baldwin; Editing by Steve Addison)

    Reuters - BT launches BlackBerry-style device with broadband

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    BT launches BlackBerry-style device with broadband

    Wednesday, May 07, 2008 1:27PM UTC

    LONDON (Reuters) - BT Group signaled its return to the mobile market on Wednesday by launching a BlackBerry-style smart-phone as part of its broadband deal for users to surf the Web and make calls when not at home.

    "Communications services are converging, and it is clear that customers want consistent access to the things that matter not only at home, but in the palm of their hands wherever they are," said Consumer managing director John Petter.

    BT, a former monopoly and Britain's dominant fixed-line operator, is among the few large telecom groups in Europe not to own a mobile network after it demerged its mobile operation in 2001.

    Consumers will have a choice of two smart phones from Taiwan-based High Tech Computer Corp (HTC) which will connect to the Internet at broadband speeds and provide cheaper calls when in a WiFi hotspot.

    The BlackBerry email device was originally popular with business executives but it is increasingly attracting a wider consumer market. Consumers are also moving to mobile networks and away from landlines to make their calls.

    (Reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by Louise Ireland)

    Reuters - Clinton gives herself loan, vows to fight on

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    Clinton gives herself loan, vows to fight on

    Wednesday, May 07, 2008 9:19PM UTC

    By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Barack Obama took a commanding lead in the Democratic presidential race on Wednesday, but Hillary Clinton said she would fight on after loaning her campaign $6.4 million to keep it alive.

    Obama's big win in North Carolina and Clinton's slim victory in Indiana widened his advantage in their battle for the right to face Republican John McCain in the November presidential election with just six contests remaining.

    The results left the cash-strapped Clinton campaign with few opportunities to halt Obama's march to the nomination. But the New York senator remained defiant.

    "I'm staying in this race until there is a nominee," Clinton told reporters after a campaign rally in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, which holds the next contest on Tuesday.

    Clinton dipped into her personal fortune again in the past month to try to keep pace with Obama, putting $5 million into her campaign chest on April 11 and $1.4 million over the past week, aides said. It was the second time she used her own money to fund her White House bid.

    "It's a sign of my commitment to this campaign," Clinton said of the loans.

    She said she would fight on to contests in West Virginia, and in Oregon and Kentucky on May 20, but Obama aides said he was closing in on the nomination.

    "We believe we are going to be the nominee of this party," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters. He said the campaign would begin to look ahead when possible to a general election campaign against McCain.

    "We obviously still have a lot of votes to fight for," he said. "We're going to do the things we can in our off-hours to be ready."

    Obama's 14-point victory in North Carolina was a dramatic rebound from a difficult campaign stretch that began last month with a big loss in Pennsylvania and was prolonged by the controversy over racially charged comments by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

    With just 217 delegates at stake in the final six contests, Clinton has no realistic chance to overtake Obama's lead in pledged delegates who will help pick the nominee at the August convention. It is also almost impossible for her to catch him in popular votes won in the state-by-state battle for the nomination that began in January.

    An MSNBC count showed Tuesday's results expanded the Illinois senator's delegate edge by 12. He has 1,844 delegates to Clinton's 1,695 -- leaving him about 200 short of the 2,025 needed to clinch the nomination.

    SUPERDELEGATES TO WEIGH IN?

    But neither can win without help from superdelegates -- nearly 800 party insiders and officials who are free to back any candidate. Tuesday's results undermined Clinton's argument that she has the best chance to beat McCain in November.

    More than 250 superdelegates remain uncommitted. If the majority begin to move toward Obama they could quickly settle the race. Some Obama backers hoped the movement starts soon.

    "It's now time for the superdelegates to begin bringing this process to a close," said Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, an Obama supporter.

    Four superdelegates endorsed Obama on Wednesday, including George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee who switched his allegiance from Clinton to Obama.

    "It's time for us to unite and get ready for the fall campaign," he told Reuters from his South Dakota home. He said he informed Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton.

    "He just wanted me to know that he thinks that Hillary has made a great race and it's up to her to decide when she leaves. And I don't argue with that," McGovern said.

    Another superdelegate, U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina, endorsed Clinton. She was scheduled to meet on Wednesday with other superdelegates on Capitol Hill before an evening fundraiser in Washington.

    Obama, 46, took the day off at home in Chicago.

    Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, an Obama supporter, said Clinton should not be rushed out of the race.

    "I think it would be inappropriate, awkward and wrong for any of us to tell Sen. Clinton when it is time for the race to be over," she said.

    Clinton won Indiana by fewer than 23,000 votes out of more than 1.25 million cast, taking the state by 51 percent to 49 percent. She had hoped to win by a bigger margin.

    At her victory rally on Tuesday in Indianapolis, the 60-year-old former first lady asked for campaign donations.

    Clinton still hopes to find a way to seat delegates from Michigan and Florida, where she won contests in January that are not recognized by the national party because of a dispute over their timing.

    (Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Steve Holland and Thomas Ferraro; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

    (To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at http:/blogs.reuters.com/trail08/ )

    CNN - U.S. envoy: Myanmar deaths may top 100,000

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    U.S. envoy: Myanmar deaths may top 100,000


    The death toll from the cyclone that ravaged the Irrawaddy delta in Myanmar may exceed 100,000, the senior U.S. diplomat in the military-ruled country said Wednesday.

    "The information we are receiving indicates over 100,000 deaths," said the U.S. charge d'affaires in Yangon, Shari Villarosa.

    The U.S. figure is almost five times the 22,000 the Myanmar government has estimated.

    The U.S. estimate is based on data from an international non-governmental organization, Villarosa said without naming the group. She called the situation in Myanmar "more and more horrendous."

    "I think most of the damage was caused by these 12-foot storm surges," she said.

    Villarosa also said that about 95 percent of the buildings in the delta region were destroyed when Cyclone Nargis battered the area late Friday into Saturday.

    Based on the same data, 70,000 people are missing in the Irrawaddy Delta, which has a population of nearly 6 million people, Villarosa said. The official Myanmar government figure for the missing is 41,000.

    Villarosa said, "I can only assume that the longer the delay, the more victims that are created."

    Little aid has reached the area since Nargis hit, and on Wednesday, crowds of hungry survivors stormed reopened shops in the devastated Irrawaddy delta.

    The United Nations urged the military junta to grant visas to international relief workers amid estimates of 1 million homeless.

    A United Nations official said that nearly 2,000 square miles (5,000 square km) of the hard-hit delta are still underwater.

    Charity workers have gathered at Myanmar's embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, with vehicles, emergency food supplies and medicine, waiting for their visa requests to be approved.

    "We need this to move much faster," said John Holmes, U.N. humanitarian chief, after reading a statement from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

    There were reports of "civil unrest" in the worst-hit areas where people are scrambling for limited food supplies, a U.N. spokesman said.

    In the flood-soaked Irrawaddy delta townships, U.N. assessment teams observed "large crowds gathering around shops -- the few that were open -- literally fighting over the chance to buy what food was available," World Food Program spokesman Paul Risley said Wednesday from Bangkok.

    There were also also reports of price gouging in urban areas around Yangon, Myanmar's largest city and former capital.

    "There were long lines of people trying to buy what food was available, even at those higher prices," Risley said.

    The delta, Myanmar's rice-growing heartland, has been devastated by Cyclone Nargis, threatening long-term food shortages for survivors, experts said.

    "We can't delay on this; this is a huge disaster, and the longer [Myanmar] waits, the worse it's going to become," International Rescue Committee spokesman Gregory Beck said.

    The Rome, Italy-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that five states hit hardest by Saturday's cyclone produce 65 percent of the country's rice, The Associated Press reported.

    "There is likely going to be incredible shortages in the next 18 to 24 months," Sean Turnell, an economist specializing in Myanmar at Australia's Macquarie University, told AP.

    Holmes said 24 countries had pledged financial support, with a total of $30 million expected in aid.

    The WFP, which has started feeding the estimated million homeless, said there were immediate concerns about salvaging harvested rice in the flooded Irrawaddy delta.

    The cyclone battered the country with winds of 240 kph (150 mph) and 3.5-meter (11.48 feet) storm surges.

    Damage was also extensive in the country's largest city, Yangon. Much of the former capital is without power and littered with debris and fallen trees.

    CNN's Dan Rivers, the first Western journalist into the devastated town of Bogalay, said Wednesday that it was difficult to find the words to describe the level of destruction.

    "Ninety percent of the houses have been flattened. ... The help that these people are getting seems to be pretty much nonexistent, from what we've seen."

    He saw members of Myanmar's army clearing roads but handing out little food or medicine.

    "There has been scant help, really. I think we saw one or two Red Cross vehicles in the entire time we were driving," Rivers said of his travels over a 12-hour period.

    Hundreds of World Vision staff are in Myanmar with limited supplies, according to spokesman James East.

    Tons of supplies have been readied in Dubai and can be brought in quickly once clearance is given.

    "Even when aid comes in, it's going to be a logistical nightmare to get it out to the remote delta region," East said.

    However, Yangon is almost back to normal, World Vision health adviser Dr. Kyi Minn said. Roads have been cleared of debris, and electricity and potable water are available.

    The Myanmar Red Cross has been handing out relief supplies, such as drinking water, plastic sheeting, clothing, insecticide-treated bed nets to help prevent malaria, and kitchen items, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

    The United States has pledged $3.25 million and offered to send Navy ships to the region to help relief efforts -- if Myanmar's government agrees.

    The U.S. military has flown six cargo helicopters onto a Thai airbase as Washington awaits permission to go into the south Asian country, two senior military officials told CNN's Barbara Starr.

    Other countries and world bodies including Britain, Japan, the European Union, China, India, Thailand, Australia, Canada and Bangladesh have also pitched in.

    Based on a satellite map made available by the U.N., the storm's damage was concentrated over a 30,000-square-kilometer area along the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Martaban coastlines, home to nearly a quarter of Myanmar's 57 million people.

    Reuters - "Grand Theft Auto" first week sales top $500 million

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    "Grand Theft Auto" first week sales top $500 million

    Wednesday, May 07, 2008 12:15PM UTC

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - Take-Two Interactive Software Inc <TTWO.O> scored more than $500 million in global sales of criminal action game "Grand Theft Auto 4" in its first week, marking what it said on Wednesday is one of the most lucrative entertainment events in history.

    The interactive software publisher, which is facing a takeover offer from rival Electronic Arts Inc <ERTS.O>, said it sold about 3.6 million units globally at its debut on April 29, and some 6 million units in total in the week.

    Retail chains such as GameStop Corp <GME.N> and Best Buy Co Inc <BBY.N> took advance orders for weeks of GTA 4, which has been lavished with near-universal accolades.

    The first-week sales of Grand Theft Auto, a game hailed as a brutal and satirical masterpiece equal to films like "The Godfather," beat the $400 million scored by last year's "Halo 3" from Microsoft Corp <MSFT.O>.

    "Grand Theft Auto IV's first week performance represents the largest launch in the history of interactive entertainment, and we believe these retail sales levels surpass any movie or music launch to date," said Strauss Zelnick, chairman of Take-Two, in a statement.

    Made by Take-Two's Rockstar studio, the game casts players as an Eastern European immigrant who runs drugs, shoots cops and beats up prostitutes after falling in with a crime syndicate -- stuff that has drawn fire from family groups and politicians.

    Take-Two shares closed on Tuesday at $26.35 on Nasdaq, higher than EA's offer price of $25.74 per share. Take-Two management has rejected EA's offer as too low and has suggested that it might start discussions once the game was launched.

    (Reporting by Franklin Paul; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

    Tuesday, May 6, 2008

    Reuters - "Grand Theft Auto" publisher sues over pulled ads

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    "Grand Theft Auto" publisher sues over pulled ads

    Monday, May 05, 2008 9:57PM UTC

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - The publisher of the controversial "Grand Theft Auto 4" video game sued the Chicago Transit Authority on Monday, accusing it of pulling ads promoting the blockbuster without explanation.

    The video game's publisher Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. sued the transit authority in Manhattan federal court for violating its free speech and contractual rights, saying it pulled its posters within days of the ads first appearing on April 22.

    Take Two accused the authority and its sales agent, Titan Outdoor LLC, of violating a $300,000 (150,000 pounds) ad campaign agreement that included running "Grand Theft Auto 4" poster ads on the sides of buses and transit display spaces throughout the Chicago transit system scheduled for six weeks between April and June.

    The suit seeks an order for the transit authority to run the ads as well as monetary damages of at least $300,000.

    The advertisements were removed following a report by a Fox News affiliate that questioned why the ad was allowed to run after a wave of violent crimes in Chicago, the suit said.

    Past "Grand Theft Auto" games have been criticized for depicting violence including beatings, carjackings, drive-by shootings, drunk driving and prostitution.

    Representatives of the Chicago Transit Authority were not immediately available for comment.

    (Reporting by Christine Kearney, editing by Daniel Trotta and Todd Eastham)

    Reuters - Verizon joins another undersea cable network

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    Verizon joins another undersea cable network

    Tuesday, May 06, 2008 7:42PM UTC

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - Verizon Communications Inc's business
    unit said on Tuesday it would help build an undersea cable
    connecting Europe, the Middle East and India to expand its
    global network to support Internet traffic.

    Verizon Business, the No. 2 U.S. phone company's unit in
    charge of corporate clients, said it joined a consortium of 16
    companies to build a 9,000 mile (15,000 km) optical cable
    system linking the three continents.

    The network, named the Europe India Gateway, is due to be
    completed in 2010 and cost more than $700 million (350 million
    pounds). Verizon Business did not disclose how much it would
    pay.

    Verizon Business is involved in more than 67 submarine
    cables worldwide, and the Europe India Gateway is its third
    major project in the last four years.

    It has been boosting investment in such advanced cable
    networks to provide more stable voice connections and faster
    Internet services for global corporate clients.

    (Reporting by Ritsuko Ando, Editing by Toni Reinhold)

    Reuters - Marvel plans "Iron Man" sequel

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    Marvel plans "Iron Man" sequel

    Tuesday, May 06, 2008 4:13PM UTC

    By Steve Gorman

    LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Buoyed by the blockbuster success of "Iron Man" over the weekend, Marvel Studios on Monday announced plans for a string of superhero properties, including an "Iron Man" sequel set for April 2010.

    "Iron Man 2" will be followed in June 2010 by the big-screen adaptation of another of Marvel's popular comic book characters, "Thor," the mighty, hammer-wielding hero based on the Nordic god of the same name, the company said.

    "Captain America" and "The Avengers" are next in line for the summer of 2011.

    The nearly $99 million (50.1 million pound) opening weekend of "Iron Man," Marvel's first fully self-financed production, gave Hollywood's summer movie season a solid start and set the stage for a robust earnings report from the studio's corporate parent, Marvel Entertainment.

    Drawing largely favourable reviews, "Iron Man" stars Robert Downey Jr. as billionaire industrialist and playboy Tony Stark, who wrestles with a mid-life crisis as he invents a high-tech suit of armour that transforms him into a superhero.

    Kevin Feige, head of production for Marvel Studios, said Downey would return in the sequel as part of his three-picture deal for the franchise. Feige said the gifted actor deserved much of the credit for the film's broad appeal.

    "It's great to see a sold-out audience that you know is made up of comic book fans and people who had never read an 'Iron Man' comic in their life," he said.

    Marvel shares soared nearly 10 percent on Monday as the company reported first-quarter profits above market estimates and raised its 2008 financial outlook.

    Costing about $150 million to make, "Iron Man" was distributed by Viacom's Paramount Pictures studio, which footed the $75 million marketing bill for the movie and received a flat fee for its efforts.

    The same arrangement will apply for "Iron Man 2" and an upcoming film based on "Captain America," the iconic crime-fighter created in 1941.

    That film, now titled "The First Avenger: Captain America," is slated for release in May 2011, to be followed by "The Avengers," based on a team of Marvel heroes that has included Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, in July of that year.

    'IRON MAN' PROVES BOX OFFICE METTLE

    An adaptation of Marvel's "Ant-Man" character also is in development. But with the coveted summer movie release dates for 2009 already well booked by other studios, Marvel has no self-produced films scheduled to open next year.

    Instead, the company said it would "focus its attention on maximizing the success of an 'Iron Man' sequel and the launch of 'Thor' in the summer of 2010."

    The final Friday-through-Sunday tally for "Iron Man" came to $98.6 million, down slightly from the $100 million-plus studio estimate reported on Sunday.

    That still easily exceeded the debut weekends of sequels to two other hit Marvel franchises -- "Spider-Man 2" and "X2: X-Men United" ($88.2 million and $85.6 million, respectively).

    "Iron Man" also ranks as the second-biggest domestic debut ever for a non-sequel movie, a record set by the first "Spider-Man" with $114.8 million in May 2002. "Spider-Man 3" stands as the top movie opening of all time -- $151 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales its first weekend in May 2007.

    "Iron Man" also proved its international mettle, grossing nearly $97 million from overseas openings in 57 foreign markets and claiming the No. 1 box office spot in most of those.

    The very next Marvel film slated for release is "The Incredible Hulk," headed to theatres next month as a remake based on the oversized, green brute originally brought to the big screen in a 2003 commercial dud directed by Ang Lee.

    Universal Pictures, an NBC Universal unit controlled by General Electric, will distribute the new film, as it did the first "Hulk."

    (Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Osterman)

    CNN - Bush to Myanmar: 'Let us help'

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    Bush to Myanmar: 'Let us help'


    President Bush joined a chorus of international leaders urging Myanmar's reclusive military government to allow the flow of aid after a disastrous weekend cyclone killed tens of thousands of people.

    "Let the United States come and help you," Bush exhorted the junta on Tuesday.

    The death toll has risen to more than 22,000, Myanmar state radio and opposition sources said Tuesday, and has left much of the country without electricity, communications and transportation.

    The cyclone is the deadliest natural disaster to hit Myanmar -- also known as Burma -- in recorded history, according to a U.N.-funded disaster database that includes figures from the past century.

    "The situation is very bad and not getting better," Shari Villarosa, the top U.S. diplomat in Myanmar, told CNN Tuesday.

    Many in the international community want to help but are still waiting for the Myanmar government to grant their relief teams entry into the country, Villarosa said.

    The U.S. Embassy in Myanmar issued a "disaster declaration" in the country and authorized the release of $250,000 for cyclone relief efforts, Deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

    "The United States has made an initial aid contribution, but we want to do a lot more," Bush said at the White House.

    "We are prepared to move U.S. Navy assets to help find those who have lost their lives, to help find the missing, and help stabilize the situation.

    "But in order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country," Bush said.

    The U.S. Navy is making preparations to respond to any requests for assistance, U.S. military officials said. The Navy has calculated it would take its nearest ships four days to get to the affected area.

    Now that the commercial airport in Yangon has reopened, other aid could be brought in by military air transport.

    Myanmar's military junta is subject to international sanctions. Its most famous pro-democracy activist, Aung San Suu Kyi, is under house arrest.

    Bush's statement on Myanmar came as he signed legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to Suu Kyi "in recognition of her courageous and unwavering commitment to peace, nonviolence, human rights, and democracy in Burma."

    A key United Nations agency said Tuesday that simply getting visas for aid workers to enter Myanmar is the greatest challenge facing international aid organizations trying to bring relief into the cyclone-ravaged country.

    Visas are only available through the foreign ministry in Yangon, the United Nations Joint Logistics Center said in a statement.

    The government of Myanmar has not officially endorsed international assistance, the UNJLC added, but said Myanmar "is willing to accept international assistance, preferably bilateral, government to government."

    Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama said Tuesday Thailand is sending supplies and $100,000 in aid.

    The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it has released 200,000 Swiss francs (about $190,000) to help with the aftermath of the storm.

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