Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Philippine police rescue 1,600 geckos in warehouse (AP)

MANILA, Philippines ? An official says police have rescued more than 1,600 geckos in a southern Philippine warehouse they suspect would have been smuggled to Asian countries.

The Philippines has expressed alarm over the growing trade in the wall-climbing lizards. They are used as aphrodisiacs or traditional medicine for asthma, AIDS, cancer, tuberculosis and impotence in countries like China, South Korea and Malaysia.

An 11-ounce (300-gram) gecko reportedly sells for at least 50,000 pesos ($1,160).

Police Senior Supt. Albert Ferro said Wednesday the export of exotic reptiles like geckos is prohibited. Police are preparing criminal complaints against six people who kept the geckos in a warehouse in General Santos city where some lizards have died in boxes.


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Science & the Public: Germs? persistence: Nothing to sneeze at

One study finds flu viruses can survive in the open for months

Web edition : Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

Years ago, I read (probably in Science News) that viruses can?t survive long outside their hosts. That implied any surface onto which a sneezed-out germ found itself ? such as the arm of a chair, kitchen counter or car-door handle ? would effectively decontaminate itself within hours to a day. A pair of new flu papers now indicates that although many germs will die within hours, none of us should count on it. Given the right environment, viruses can remain infectious ? potentially for many weeks, according to one of the studies.

Its subjects may well qualify for the Guinness Book of Records. But that study is hardly the first to establish that viruses can live on surfaces for more than a few days.

A 2008 Swiss paper in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, for instance, quantified the infectious lifetime of flu bugs on banknotes. Three days was no biggie, it found, if the germs had been deposited in high enough concentrations. But its really disturbing news: The bugs? survival could be almost sextupled ? as in extended to 17 days ? if high concentrations had landed on the money along with some respiratory mucus. And that?s exactly the environment to expect if someone sneezed directly onto a dollar bill or a drippy-nosed toddler had been handling the currency.

Viruses don?t like being naked because they risk drying out. But how quickly that happens remains poorly quantified, Jane Greatorex of Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge, England, and her colleagues point out in the Nov. 22 PLoS ONE. So they decided to investigate the issue, using two strains of H1N1, or swine flu, that had been isolated from people.

They swabbed all sorts of fabrics and hard surfaces (from wood to plastic and metal) and then went back hours later to look for viable virus. Throughout at least a day, genetic material from the virus persisted on all surfaces ? except the wood (especially unsealed pine), where virtually all evidence of the virus disappeared within a few hours.

The germs? disease-spreading potential disappeared more rapidly than did their genetic traces. The only household surface from which the researchers confirmed live virus 9 hours into their experiment was stainless steel.?These new?data are important, Greatorex?s team argues, because they point to the unreliability of using genetic residues ? what had been a common survey technique ? as a gauge of viral infectivity.

Virologist Am?lie Dublineau of the Pasteur Institute in Paris and her colleagues offer related, but far more disturbing, data in the Nov. 23 PLoS ONE. They applied H1N1 bugs ? both the pandemic strain that traveled around the world in 2009 and a more conventional laboratory strain ? onto glass surfaces and into water whose salinities varied between that of freshwater and the super-salty concentrations encountered in the Dead Sea. The researchers also varied incubation temperatures for both the wet and dry conditions: from a chilly 4 degrees Celsius (which is about the same temperature as the inside of a refrigerator), up to a toasty 35 ?C (or 95 degrees Fahrenheit).

Concentrations of viable flu bugs tended to wane as temperatures and salinity rose.

Germs also dried out promptly in the glass trials ? typically within a day. Yet viable germs remained on glass for up to a week at the highest temperature, and for up to 66 days at 4 ?C.

Water proved more conducive to virus survival. During the warmest trial, germs remained infectious for a day in even Dead Sea salt concentrations. Take the temperature down to 4? and cut the salt levels back to freshwater or low-salt conditions and the bugs remained live and infectious for ?at least 200 days,? the virologists report. In one instance, live virus was still extractable after 595 days, observes coauthor Jean-Claude Manuguerra.

And that?s not an estimate, he emphasizes. ?Our paper is the first one giving data on the long term survival of the virus ? not from calculated data, but from observed data.?

His team also showed that compared to the lab strain they tested, the new H1N1 pandemic strain from 2009 proved much tougher at managing the environmental stresses they threw at it. ?Did this play a role in its fabulous capacity to transmit,? he asks? ?We don't know!?

Perhaps the most intriguing data from the Paris team?s new study was what happened when the virus dried out. Conventional wisdom would argue that a desiccated virus is a dead germ. And Manuguerra concedes that as the virus dried out, the share of dangerous bugs diminished. ?However,? he adds, even once they were fully dry, ?there was still a very significant amount of viable virus left? ? and this dried virus ?remained infectious for an extended period of time.? He knows because his group later resuscitated the virus by plugging it into a growth medium.

Although the Greatorex team?s investigation of flu?s persistence ?came up with sort of the expected answer, this new paper [by the Pasteur team] is tough,? says J. Owen Hendley of the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville. ?I?m not sure I?m ready to accept that influenza virus lasts longer than a day,? he says. Then again, he concedes, methods used by the French team show??It?s a serious piece of work. And I can?t see any holes in it. So?it makes me concider the possibility that it might be right."

Bottom line, he says: ?I?m eager for someone to reproduce this work.?

Found in: Biology, Biomedicine, Environment and Science & Society


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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Best Buy a winner as holiday weekend sales surge (Reuters)

NEW YORK (Reuters) ? U.S. retailers racked up a record $52.4 billion in sales over the Thanksgiving weekend, a 16.4 percent jump from a year ago, as early hours and attractive promotions brought out more shoppers, an industry trade group said on Sunday.

Among the early winners after the traditional start of the holiday shopping season was Best Buy Co Inc, a reversal from 2010 when the electronics retailer's erroneous bet on 3D televisions led to a disappointing season.

Best Buy drew in shoppers by being one of the companies that opened its stores at midnight Thanksgiving night, and unlike in 2010, it focused more on having lower prices for big TVs and other popular items.

"Last year, they weren't as responsive with their pricing as they needed to be. We are seeing a different set of behaviors from them this time around," said Lawrence Creatura, a portfolio manager at Federated Clover Investment Advisors.

Overall, a record 226 million shoppers visited stores or online shopping sites from Thursday through Sunday, up from 212 million last year, according to a survey from retail industry trade group the National Retail Federation. The survey was conducted by online research firm BIGresearch.

The number of shoppers and the amount of spending surprised analysts who had expected sales to be tempered by a 9 percent unemployment rate, high costs for gasoline and concerns about fiscal uncertainty in Europe.

But it is not at all certain that retailers will be able to keep the momentum going for the rest of the season.

"One swallow does not a holiday season make. After the deepest recession in decades, the solid Black Friday weekend is welcome news, but we're only in the second quarter of a long playoff game," said Craig Johnson, president of consulting firm Customer Growth Partners.

The holiday shopping season that traditionally kicks off on Black Friday -- the biggest day of the year for retailers -- is closely watched by investors as consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of the U.S. economy.

The National Retail Federation forecast a 2.8 percent increase in sales for the November-to-December holiday season, down from the 5.2 percent increase in the same period last year.

Many retailers opened at midnight or earlier on Thanksgiving, pulling in younger people who were willing to stay up late for deals on electronics and toys instead of getting up before dawn on Friday.

"Consumers have finite cash. If you can be the retailer who gets that cash first, you are likely to be more successful in the holiday selling season," Creatura said.


Aside from Best Buy, analysts and investors also named Macy's Inc and Wal-Mart Stores Inc among those that were strong starters.

"Best Buy's success is partially due to locking in compelling exclusive deals, better than Amazon's, and having unique in-store-only offers forcing the visit," Credit Suisse analyst Gary Balter said.

Lee Johnson, 46, shopping at a mall in El Segundo, California, bought a computer at Best Buy on Sunday.

He said online shopping is usually a better idea, but he needed the computer for an employee who is starting tomorrow.

"I just didn't have time."

Fifty million Americans visited online retail sites on Black Friday, representing an increase of 35 percent from a year ago, and online retail sales in the United States on Black Friday jumped 26 percent this year, comScore data showed.

Each of the top five retail websites saw double-digit gains in visitors versus last year, led by Wal-Mart ranked second, followed by Best Buy, Target and Apple, comScore said.

" once again led the pack, with 50 percent more visitors than any other retailer, while also showing the highest growth rate versus last year," comScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni said.

Amazon has used "every method at hand, old and new to promote their business this holiday season so far," WSL Strategic Retail CEO Wendy Liebmann said, referring to the online chain's promotions in print, online and circulars.

About 122.9 million Americans plan to shop on Cyber Monday this year, up from the 106.9 million who shopped on Cyber Monday in 2010, NRF Vice President Ellen Davis said on Sunday, citing a survey conducted by BIGresearch.

Retailers that opened late or held the line on promotions failed to impress.

"Office supply seemed among the least busy as they opened later and had fewer high-profile deals than in years past," Balter said.

Retailers Gap Inc and Sears also "need to step up," Customer Growth Partners' Johnson said, adding that he worries the two chains may be too late already as the "horse is out of the barn."

"We would be most cautious on Sears due to their cash flow and serious appliance competition," Balter said.

(Reporting by Dhanya Skariachan in NEW YORK, Alistair Barr in SAN FRANCISCO and Lisa Baertlein in LOS ANGELES; Editing by Brad Dorfman, Maureen Bavdek, Diane Craft and Vinu Pilakkott)

(This version supercedes an earlier correction to fix the style for the spelling of comScore from ComScore. An earlier correction fixed the year and spelling of the National Retail Federation and BIGresearch in fourth paragraph. The errors were also in an earlier version of the story.)


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Monday, November 28, 2011

Featured Advertiser (Washington Post)

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There's No Good Answer When It Comes to Student Loans (The Atlantic Wire)

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TechCrunch Cribs: Iovox Is Rocking The Voice World, Literally [TCTV]

Screen Shot 2011-11-25 at 17.39.46Iovox is a startup specialising in something known as VaaS (Voice as a Service). Their telephony platform allows companies to build services on the telephone network that do real-world, heavy-lifting style jobs which normally require call centres. Companies which have taken on the service include News International and many others. I went over to their West London offices (yes, not all startups in London are in the East, incredibly), to check out the legendary guitar playing skills of CEO Ryan Gallagher in our TechCrunch Europe version of TC Cribs. Maybe next time we should do a duet.


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'Twilight' keeps shining with $42M second weekend

(AP) ? The latest "Twilight" movie has plenty of daylight left with a second-straight win at the weekend box office.

"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn ? Part 1" took in $42 million domestically over the three-day weekend and $62.3 million in the five-day Thanksgiving boom time from Wednesday to Sunday. That raised its domestic total to $221.3 million, while the Summit Entertainment release added $71.5 million overseas to lift the international total to $268 million and the worldwide take to $489.3 million.

Debuting at No. 2 was Disney's family flick "The Muppets," with $29.5 million for the three-day weekend and $42 million over the five-day holiday haul.

Three other family films rounded out the top-five: the Warner Bros. sequel "Happy Feet Two" at No. 3 with a three-day total of $13.4 million and $18.4 million for five days; Sony's animated comedy "Arthur Christmas" at No. 4 with $12.7 million for three days and $17 million for five days; and Paramount's epic adventure "Hugo" at No. 5 with $11.4 million for three days and $15.4 million for five days.

Between "Breaking Dawn" and the blitz of family films, analysts thought Hollywood had a shot at record revenue over Thanksgiving, one of the year's busiest weekends at movie theaters. But viewers did not come in anywhere close to record numbers.

"I was pretty surprised by this. I just thought this was the perfect combination of films in the marketplace," said Paul Dergarabedian, analyst for box-office tracker "Maybe there was just too much out there."

Domestic revenue totaled $234 million from Wednesday to Sunday, well below the $273 million record set two years ago, when "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" led the Thanksgiving weekend, according to Receipts also fell short of last Thanksgiving's $264 million haul, when "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" finished on top.

Studio executives concede it's growing harder to lure fans into theaters given all the portable games, devices and other electronics people have to fill up their entertainment time. A so-so Thanksgiving on a weekend with such a good variety of movies could be a sign that Hollywood simply has to live with diminished expectations.

"I don't know that choice is ever a bad thing, and in terms of a weekend for families, this is one of the best," said Dave Hollis, head of distribution for Disney, which brought "The Muppets" back to the big-screen after a 12-year absence. "The challenge is breaking through and being relevant and meaningful and fresh enough to take the more finicky customers and have them choose you."

Disney reported that "The Muppets" drew a good mix of families and couples without children who fondly remember Kermit, Miss Piggy and the rest of the gang on "The Muppet Show." The film stars Jason Segel and Amy Adams as fans helping to reunite the Muppets for a telethon to save their decaying studio.

"Breaking Dawn" was holding close to the pattern set by "New Moon" two years ago, though domestic revenues were off slightly. Factoring in higher ticket prices since "New Moon," the audience shrank even further for "Breaking Dawn."

"I think the audience has changed a bit. Everybody's grown a little older, and I guess we lose a few of our patrons to age," said Richie Fay, head of distribution for Summit.

With no big new releases coming next weekend, though, "Breaking Dawn" has a shot at making up some ground, Fay said.

"Happy Feet Two" has failed to live up to its Academy Award-winning predecessor, a blockbuster that took in nearly $200 million domestically. The sequel about dancing penguins has managed just $43.8 million since opening Nov. 18, a 10-day total that barely matches the opening-weekend gross of the 2006 original.

"Arthur Christmas," from the British animation unit Aardman that made "Chicken Run" and the "Wallace and Gromit" films, has long-haul potential because of its good reviews and holiday story line. The voice cast includes James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie and Jim Broadbent in a Christmas Eve romp about a child's present that falls through the cracks in Santa Claus' high-tech delivery operation.

"To have the one picture that really is kind of carrying the torch as a Christmas picture really bodes well for the future," said Rory Bruer, head of distribution for Sony.

Distributor Paramount has similar long-term hopes for Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," which also has great reviews. Based on a children's book, "Hugo" follows the adventures of an orphan boy who tends the clocks in a Paris train station and becomes caught up in unraveling a mystery that connects a surly old man (Ben Kingsley) and a mechanical automaton the youth is trying to repair.

Paramount scaled back "Hugo" from a full wide release over Thanksgiving, opening it in 1,277 theaters, about a third the number for most other top movies. The studio plans to roll the film out more gradually, spreading its marketing budget over the coming weeks to capitalize on the critical word of mouth and potential awards buzz leading up to the Jan. 24 Oscar nominations.

Critics have praised "Hugo" for Scorsese's dazzling use of 3-D. Unlike 3-D fatigue that set in for some other recent movies, whose 3-D business dipped below half of total revenues, "Hugo" audiences have been willing to pay an extra few dollars to see it in three dimensions. About 75 percent of the film's revenue came from 3-D screenings, according to Paramount.

"People are reading the reviews that say, 'You've got to see it in 3-D,' and they're going out and voting with their dollars," said Don Harris, head of distribution at Paramount.

In narrower release, the Marilyn Monroe drama "My Week with Marilyn" opened solidly with a $1.8 million weekend and $2.1 million since opening Wednesday. The Weinstein Co. release stars Michelle Williams as Monroe during her tumultuous time filming Laurence Olivier's "The Prince and the Showgirl."

Playing in 244 theaters, "My Week with Marilyn" had a weekend average of $7,266 a cinema, compared with a $10,330 average in 4,066 locations for "Breaking Dawn."

Another Weinstein release, the black-and-white silent film "The Artist," had a big opening in limited release with a three-day haul of $210,414 in just four New York City and Los Angeles theaters. That gave the film an average of $52,604 a theater.

"The Artist" traces the fall of a silent-film star (Jean Dujardin) and the rise of a new screen sensation (Berenice Bejo) as talking pictures take over in the 1920s and '30s. The acclaimed film gradually expands to nationwide release during the buildup to the Oscar nominations.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

1. "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn ? Part 1," $42 million ($71.5 million international).

2. "The Muppets," $29.5 million ($1.6 million international).

3. "Happy Feet Two," $13.4 million ($10 million international).

4. "Arthur Christmas," $12.7 million ($11.9 million international).

5. "Hugo," $11.4 million.

6. "Jack and Jill," $10.3 million.

7. "Immortals," $8.8 million ($8 million international).

8. "Puss in Boots," $7.5 million ($9 million international).

9. "Tower Heist," $7.3 million ($7.3 million international).

10. "The Descendants," $7.2 million.


Estimated weekend ticket sales at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada) for films distributed overseas by Hollywood studios, according to Rentrak:

1. "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn ? Part 1," $71.5 million.

2. "Arthur Christmas," $11.9 million.

3. "The Adventures of Tintin," $11.5 million.

4. "Happy Feet Two," $10 million.

5. "Puss in Boots," $9 million.

6. "Immortals," $8 million.

7. "Tower Heist," $7.3 million.

8. "In Time," $6 million.

9. "Real Steel," $5.1 million.

10. "Moneyball," $3.3 million.




Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.

Associated Press


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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Next Stop Mars! Huge NASA Rover Launches Toward Red Planet (

This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. EST.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. ? NASA has launched its next Mars rover, kicking off a long-awaited mission to investigate whether the Red Planet could ever have hosted microbial life.

The car-size Curiosity rover blasted off atop its Atlas 5 rocket today (Nov. 26) at 10:02 a.m. EST (1502 GMT), streaking into a cloudy sky above Cape Canaveral Air Force Station here. The huge robot's next stop is Mars, though the 354-million-mile (570-million-kilometer) journey will take 8 1/2 months.

Joy Crisp, a deputy project scientist for the rover at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., called the liftoff "spectacular."

"This feels great," she said as she watched the rocket lift off from Cape Canaveral. [Photos: Curiosity Rover Launches to Mars]

Pamela Conrad, deputy principal investigator for MSL at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said, "Every milestone feels like such a relief."

NASA expected around 13,500 people to watch the liftoff from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, with many more viewing from surrounding areas, setting a record for the number of spectators watching an unmanned launch.

"It's a beautiful day," Conrad added. "The sun's out, and all these people came out to watch."

The work Curiosity does when it finally arrives should revolutionize our understanding of the Red Planet and pave the way for future efforts to hunt for potential Martian life, researchers said.

"It is absolutely a feat of engineering, and it will bring science like nobody's ever expected," Doug McCuistion, head of NASA's Mars exploration program, said of Curiosity. "I can't even imagine the discoveries that we're going to come up with."

A long road to launch

Curiosity's cruise to Mars may be less challenging than its long and bumpy trek to the launch pad, which took nearly a decade.

NASA began planning Curiosity's mission ? which is officially known as the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) ? back in 2003. The rover was originally scheduled to blast off in 2009, but it wasn't ready in time.

Launch windows for Mars-bound spacecraft are based on favorable alignments between Earth and the Red Planet, and they open up just once every two years. So the MSL team had to wait until 2011.

That two-year slip helped boost the mission's overall cost by 56 percent, to its current $2.5 billion. But today's successful launch likely chased away a lot of the bad feelings still lingering after the delay and cost overruns.

"I think you could visibly see the team morale improve ? the team grinned more, the team smiled more ? as the rover and the vehicle came closer, and more and more together here when we were at Kennedy [Space Center]" preparing for liftoff, MSL project manager Pete Theisinger of JPL said a few days before launch.

A rover behemoth

Curiosity is a beast of a rover. At 1 ton, it weighs five times more than each of the last two rovers NASA sent to Mars, the golf-cart-size twins Spirit and Opportunity, which landed in January 2004 to search for signs of past water activity.

While Spirit and Opportunity each carried five science instruments, Curiosity sports 10, including a rock-zapping laser and equipment designed to identify organic compounds ? carbon-based molecules that are the building blocks of life as we know it.

Some of these instruments sit at the end of Curiosity's five-jointed, 7-foot-long (2.1-meter) robotic arm, which by itself is nearly half as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity.

The arm also wields a 2-inch (5-centimeter) drill, allowing Curiosity to take samples from deep inside Martian rocks. No previous Red Planet rover has been able to do this, researchers say.

"We have an incredible rover," said MSL deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada of JPL. "It's the biggest and most capable scientific explorer we've ever sent to the surface of another planet."

Assessing Martian habitability

Curiosity is due to arrive at Mars in early August 2012, touching down at a 100-mile-wide (160-km) crater called Gale.

While the rover's launch was dramatic, its landing will be one for the record books, if all goes well. A rocket-powered sky crane will lower the huge robot down on cables ? a maneuver never tried before in the history of planetary exploration. [Video: Curiosity's Peculiar Landing]

A giant mound of sediment rises 3 miles (5 km) into the Martian air from Gale Crater's center. The layers in this mountain appear to preserve about one billion years of Martian history. Curiosity will study these different layers, gaining an in-depth understanding of past and present Martian environments and their potential to harbor life.

Life as we know it depends on liquid water. So the rover will likely spend a lot of time poking around near the mound's base, where Mars-orbiting spacecraft have spotted minerals that form in the presence of water, such as clays and sulfates.

"Going layer by layer, we can do the main goal of this mission, which is to search for habitable environments, " Vasavada said. "Were any of those time periods in early Mars history time periods that could have supported microbial life?"

But if Curiosity climbs higher, its observations could shed light on Mars' shift from relatively warm and wet long ago to cold, dry and dusty today, researchers said.

"We want to understand those transitions, so that's why we're headed there [to Gale]," said Bethany Ehlmann of JPL and Caltech in Pasadena.

Setting the stage for life detection

Curiosity isn't designed to search for Martian life. In fact, if the red dirt of Gale Crater does harbor microbes, the rover will almost certainly drive right over them unawares.

But MSL is a key bridge to future efforts that could actively hunt down possible Martian lifeforms, researchers said. Curiosity's work should help later missions determine where ? and when ? to look.

"We don't really detect life per se," Vasavada said. "We set the stage for that life detection by figuring out which time periods in early Mars history were the most likely to have supported life and even preserved evidence of that for us today."

You can follow senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter: @michaeldwall. Follow for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.


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Filipino police arrest 4 suspected AT&T hackers

Four people have been arrested in the Philippines for allegedly hacking into AT&T customers' phones as part of a plan to funnel money to a Saudi-based terror group, according to police.

The Philippine Criminal Investigation and Detection Group said it worked with the FBI to arrest the suspects last week. The hackers, according to investigators, worked for a group that helped finance a deadly 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India.

AT&T's systems weren't compromised but some of its customers were targeted, spokeswoman Jan Rasmussen said Saturday. AT&T cooperated in the investigation with the FBI, she said.

AT&T wrote off some fraudulent charges on customers' bills, but Rasmussen wouldn't say how much. Philippine police put the alleged hacking cost to AT&T at $2 million.

Last Tuesday, AT&T said that hackers unsuccessfully attempted to link mobile numbers with online customer accounts, but it wouldn't say on Saturday if that incident was linked to the arrests of the four people in the Philippines.

The hackers were working on commission for a terrorist group linked to Muhammad Zamir, according to the Philippine police. Zamir, a Pakistani, was arrested in Italy in 2007, where he was running a call center that collected money from callers but then routed the calls through hacked phone lines. He also allegedly sold international access codes for long distance calls that were gathered by Filipino hackers.

Since then, police said, Zamir's group has been taken over by a Saudi national. Philippine police didn't name the group, but India has blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant organization, for the Mumbai attacks. Three years ago Saturday, 10 Pakistan-based gunmen laid siege to India's financial hub, killing 166 people.

Associated Press


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This Week in Climate News (Powerlineblog)

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Saturday, November 26, 2011


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The Evolution of the Enterprise: From the Revolutionary War to Star Trek [Military]

Today is the 50th anniversary of the USS Enterprise CVN-65, the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier. Her first crucial role was in the Cuban Missile Crisis blockade, as part of the 2nd Fleet, in October 1962. More »


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AT&T To Press: We Withdrew Our Merger Application First

attmoThis morning, AT&T issued a formal statement on the withdrawal of its application from the FCC regarding its merger with T-Mobile. The company had previously agreed to pay a $4 billion pre-tax charge in the case that its $39 billion takeover of T-Mobile failed to go through, $3 billion of which would go to Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile and another $1 billion going to the book value of spectrum access. Yesterday, on Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S., AT&T released a statement announcing its intention to withdraw its request from the FCC. Today's statement is meant to clear up misconceptions around its withdrawal request, namely that the FCC must approve it.


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NBC apologizes to Bachmann for Fallon song choice (AP)

ST. PAUL, Minn. ? GOP Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann received an apology from an NBC executive after an off-color song was played during her appearance on Jimmy Fallon's "Late Night," her spokeswoman said late Wednesday.

The Minnesota congresswoman received a personal letter from NBC's vice president for late night programming, Doug Vaughan, a day after she appeared on the show. As Bachmann walked onstage, the show's band had played a snippet of a 1985 Fishbone song entitled "Lyin' Ass B----."

Vaughan wrote that the incident was "not only unfortunate but also unacceptable," Bachmann spokeswoman Alice Stewart told The Associated Press. She said Vaughn offered his sincerest apologies and said the band had been "severely reprimanded."

Fallon also apologized to Bachmann when they spoke earlier Wednesday, she said. He'd tweeted earlier, saying he was "so sorry about the intro mess."

"He was extremely nice and friendly and offered his apology, and she accepted it," Stewart said, adding that the comedian said he was unaware the band planned to play the song. "It's just unfortunate that someone had to do something so disrespectful."

Bachmann lashed out earlier Wednesday at NBC for not apologizing or taking immediate disciplinary action. In her first comments on the flap, Bachmann said on the Fox News Channel that the Fallon show band displayed sexism and bias by playing the song.

"This is clearly a form of bias on the part of the Hollywood entertainment elite," Bachmann said. She added, "This wouldn't be tolerated if this was Michelle Obama. It shouldn't be tolerated if it's a conservative woman either."

She went further on a national radio conservative radio show hosted by Michael Medved, calling the incident "inappropriate, outrageous and disrespectful."

On Fox, Bachmann expressed surprise that she's heard nothing from the TV network. She suggested that discipline for the show's band, The Roots, was in order. She said she believed Fallon's comments to be sincere.

One of Bachmann's congressional colleagues, New York Democrat Nita Lowey, had called on NBC to apologize for its "insulting and inappropriate" treatment of its guest.

An NBC spokeswoman didn't return a phone message from The Associated Press.

The Roots' bandleader, Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, has said the song was a "tongue-in-cheek and spur-of-the-moment decision."

Bachmann, who is lagging in presidential polls, has spent the week promoting her new autobiography in national television interviews.


AP Television Writer David Bauder in New York and Associated Press writer Erin Gartner in Chicago contributed to this report.


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Friday, November 25, 2011

Ask and Answer Questions About Black Friday [Help Yourself]

Ask and Answer Questions About Black FridayEvery day we're on the lookout for ways to make your work easier and your life better, but Lifehacker readers are smart, insightful folks with all kinds of expertise to share, and we want to give everyone regular access to that exceptional hive mind. Help Yourself is a daily thread where readers can ask and answer questions about tech, productivity, life hacks, and whatever else you need help with.

It is almost time for America's favorite consumer holiday, and every year the crowds are bigger, the stores open earlier, and the deals seem better. Do you go for the crack-of-dawn expedition to the mall, or do you prefer to stay home with some leftovers and try to snag some online deals? Ask and answer questions about Black Friday shopping and if it is all worth while in the comments.


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The Mind's Hidden Switches

Science TalkScience Talk | Mind & Brain

Eric Nestler, director of the Friedman Brain Institute at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City talks about his article in the December issue of Scientific American magazine, on epigenetics and human behavior, called Hidden Switches In The Mind.

More Science Talk

Eric Nestler, director of the Friedman Brain Institute at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City talks about his article in the December issue of Scientific American magazine, on epigenetics and human behavior, called Hidden Switches In The Mind.? ?


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Thursday, November 24, 2011

2011 Holiday Gift Guide: Laptops Are A Geek?s Best Friend

giftguide11-bug3When it comes to gift-giving, there are a few presents that siimply go above and beyond. Getting a first car on your sixteenth birthday (if you're so lucky) is one of those moments, and some young couples are even lucky enough to get a house as a wedding present. But after a house and a car, a brand new laptop is probably the best gift you can get. We've compiled a list of notebooks ranging in price from $839 to starting points of $1,999, so there should be something here for everyone. Without any further ado, here are some of our reccomendations if you're looking to get your loved one a new notebook.


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Earth's core deprived of oxygen

ScienceDaily (Nov. 23, 2011) ? The composition of Earth's core remains a mystery. Scientists know that the liquid outer core consists mainly of iron, but it is believed that small amounts of some other elements are present as well. Oxygen is the most abundant element in the planet, so it is not unreasonable to expect oxygen might be one of the dominant "light elements" in the core. However, new research from a team including Carnegie's Yingwei Fei shows that oxygen does not have a major presence in the outer core. This has major implications for our understanding of the period when Earth formed through the accretion of dust and clumps of matter.

Their work is published Nov. 24 in Nature.

According to current models, in addition to large amounts of iron, Earth's liquid outer core contains small amounts of so-called light elements, possibly sulfur, oxygen, silicon, carbon, or hydrogen. In this research, Fei, from Carnegie's Geophysical Laboratory, worked with Chinese colleagues, including lead author Haijun Huang from China's Wuhan University of Technology, now a visiting scientist at Carnegie. The team provides new experimental data that narrow down the identity of the light elements present in Earth's outer core.

With increasing depth inside Earth, the pressure and heat also increase. As a result, materials act differently than they do on the surface. At Earth's center are a liquid outer core and a solid inner core. The light elements are thought to play an important role in driving the convection of the liquid outer core, which generates Earth's magnetic field.

Scientists know the variations in density and speed of sound as a function of depth in the core from seismic observations, but to date it has been difficult to measure these properties in proposed iron alloys at core pressures and temperatures in the laboratory.

"We can't sample the core directly, so we have to learn about it through improved laboratory experiments combined with modeling and seismic data," Fei said.

High-speed impacts can generate shock waves that raise the temperature and pressure of materials simultaneously, leading to melting of materials at pressures corresponding to those in the outer core. The team carried out shock-wave experiments on core materials, mixtures of iron, sulfur, and oxygen. They shocked these materials to the liquid state and measured their density and speed of sound traveling through them under conditions directly comparable to those of the liquid outer core.

By comparing their data with observations, they conclude that oxygen cannot be a major light element component of Earth's outer core, because experiments on oxygen-rich materials do not align with geophysical observations. This supports recent models of core differentiation in early Earth under more 'reduced' (less oxidized) environments, leading to a core that is poor in oxygen.

"The research revealed a powerful way to decipher the identity of the light elements in the core. Further research should focus on the potential presence of elements such as silicon in the outer core," Fei said.

Portions of this work were supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities, and the National Basic Research of China, as well as the National Science Foundation and the Carnegie Institution for Science.

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Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Carnegie Institution.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:

  1. Haijun Huang, Yingwei Fei, Lingcang Cai, Fuqian Jing, Xiaojun Hu, Hongsen Xie, Lianmeng Zhang, Zizheng Gong. Evidence for an oxygen-depleted liquid outer core of the Earth. Nature, 2011; 479 (7374): 513 DOI: 10.1038/nature10621

Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.


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Xbox Live Users Scammed in Phishing Attack (NewsFactor)

Bringing back memories of the Sony PlayStation hack that compromised thousands of gamer accounts, some British Microsoft Xbox Live users have been scammed in a phishing attack. Although Microsoft insists its network has not been hacked, the phishers have nonetheless fooled some gamers into disclosing credit-card information.

The Sun, a paper in the U.K., first reported that online crooks hacked into thousands of Xbox Live accounts to steal millions of dollars. The paper said the average catch was 100 British pounds, or a bit over $150 -- but that many suffered losses of more than 200 pounds.

"Xbox Live has not been hacked. Microsoft can confirm that there has been no breach to the security of our Xbox Live service," Microsoft said in a statement. "In this case, a number of Xbox Live members appear to have recently been victim of malicious 'phishing' scams."

Microsoft's Response

News reports suggest some Xbox Live users received e-mails tricking them into visiting "spoofed" Web sites and entering their personal information, including their credit-card numbers. Microsoft said it consistently takes measures to protect Xbox Live against ever-changing threats, and listed three current initiatives. Those initiatives sound like a lesson in basic Internet security 101.

For example, Microsoft is warning people against opening unsolicited e-mails because the messages may contain spyware or other malware that can access personal information on their computer without their knowledge or permission. Microsoft is also reminding all customers that they should be very careful to keep all personal information secure whenever online and never supply e-mail addresses, passwords or credit card information to strangers.

Finally, Microsoft said it is working closely with Xbox Live users who have been in touch with the company to investigate and/or resolve any unauthorized changes to their accounts resulting from phishing scams.

Back To Internet Basics

"It looks like these phishers convinced gamers that they were visiting an Xbox site and got the users to give up IDs and passwords and their credit card numbers," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group. "The bad guys got enough information to actually charge the credit card, then pulled in small amounts of money over a long period of time."

News reports have suggested the phishers convinced gamers to enter the information in exchange for reward points. Enderle expects most credit card companies will indemnify the victims if they dispute the charges.

"This story points to the typical warning for anyone using the Internet: If someone is representing themselves as the vendor, they already have your password and ID. They don't have to ask you for it," Enderle said. "So it should be a red flag if anybody asks you for both your password or ID. Never provide it, even if the site looks to be safe."


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Apple, Microsoft Reported to Include NFC in 2012 Smartphones

CES is coming up soon, and we've got to deal with the obligatory wave of speculation that precedes the slew of new products we'll see in January. Today's rumor du jour? Apple and Microsoft may both begin shipping NFC-capable phones beginning in 2012.


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Around the Web?

Happy Monday! Kick off Thanksgiving week with today’s links: Children who are read to by their parents score better on tests ? The New York Times French president Nicolas Sarkozy compares breastfeeding to slavery ? Hello Smuckers recalls chunky peanut butter for possible salmonella contamination ? The toy every child will love ? and [...]


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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Carrier IQ withdraws 'misguided' cease-and-desist letter, apologizes to security advocate TrevE


Well, that was quick. Carrier IQ just sent out a press statement saying it's withdrawn its cease-and desist letter to Trevor Eckhart, who recently detailed how the company's action worked. Said Carrier IQ:

"Our action was misguided and we are deeply sorry for any concern or trouble that our letter may have caused Mr. Eckhart. We sincerely appreciate and respect EFF’s work on his behalf, and share their commitment to protecting free speech in a rapidly changing technological world."

Looks like the Electronic Frontier Foundation's backing of Eckhart paid off, the lawyers have done their thing, and the security and privacy advocate known as TrevE won't be pursued for thousands of dollars of fines after all.

That doesn't change the fact that the Carrier IQ software remains on a number of phones, and many of you aren't crazy about having a hidden background app report how you use your phone back to the manufacturer -- even if you do agree to it up front -- and that's certainly an argument that needs to continue.

We've got the full press release after the break.

read more


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FCC chairman asks for judicial review of AT&T T-Mobile merger, AT&T responds

image courtesy ctrlZstudio

The FCC chariman today recommended the $39 billion merger of AT&T and T-Mobile be sent for an official review by an administrative law judge.  Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski suggested this course of action to fellow commissioners, citing that the FCC found the deal "would significantly diminish competition and lead to massive job losses."  Genachowski's order still requires the approval of a majority of the commissioners, and if approved would extend the review of the merger beyond AT&T's hopes to have things all wrapped-up at the FCC early in 2012.  Of course, AT&T is none too happy, stating:

"The FCC’s action today is disappointing. It is yet another example of a government agency acting to prevent billions in new investment and the creation of many thousands of new jobs at a time when the US economy desperately needs both."

If you'll allow a bit of editorial comment, I'm a happy T-Mobile customer.  I don't want to change anything about my service from T-Mobile, and am concerned that I will lose the legendary customer support T-Mobile offers, as well as gaining an additional $100 or so attached to my monthly bill.  I'm also concerned that Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile's parent company no longer wants to retain control of the small U.S. carrier because of the huge financial drain that comes with.  I worry what will happen either way -- having AT&T as my carrier is my rock, and having DT let T-Mobile die is my hard place, and I'm smack dab in the middle.  Either case has me getting cell service from AT&T, unless the government has a contingency plan for T-Mobile should the merger fail to pass.  Hopefully, the fellows in Washington have a plan to serve the consumer's best interests, but I'm skeptical.  Unless another company like Google or Apple steps in and buys T-Mobile, our future looks shaky either way.  For now, I, and 33 million others, just have to wait and see.

More: Reuters; BusinessWire


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'al-Qaida sympathizer' accused of NYC bomb plots (AP)

NEW YORK ? An "al-Qaida sympathizer" accused of plotting to bomb police and post offices in New York City as well as U.S. troops returning home remained in police custody after an arraignment Sunday on numerous terrorism-related charges.

Jose Pimentel of Manhattan was described by Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a news conference announcing Pimentel's arrest as "a 27-year-old al-Qaida sympathizer" who was motivated by terrorist propaganda and resentment of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said police had to move quickly to arrest Pimentel on Saturday because he was ready to carry out his plan.

"He was in fact putting this bomb together," Kelly said. "He was drilling holes and it would have been not appropriate for us to let him walk out the door with that bomb."

Ten years after 9/11, New York remains a prime terrorism target. Bloomberg said at least 14 terrorist plots, including the latest alleged scheme, have targeted the city since the Sept. 11 attacks. No attack has been successful, however. Pakistani immigrant Faisal Shahzad is serving a life sentence for trying to detonate a car bomb in Times Square in May 2010.

Kelly said Sunday that Pimentel was energized and motivated to carry out his plan by the Sept. 30 killing of al-Qaida's U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

"He decided to build the bomb August of this year, but clearly he jacked up his speed after the elimination of al-Awlaki," Kelly said.

A U.S. citizen originally from the Dominican Republic, Pimentel was "plotting to bomb police patrol cars and also postal facilities as well as targeted members of our armed services returning from abroad," Bloomberg said.

New York police had him under surveillance for at least a year and were working with a confidential informant; no injury to anyone or damage to property is alleged, Kelly said. In addition, authorities have no evidence that Pimentel was working with anyone else, the mayor said.

"He appears to be a total lone wolf," the mayor said. "He was not part of a larger conspiracy emanating from abroad."

At Pimentel's arraignment, his lawyer Joseph Zablocki said his client's behavior leading up to the arrest was not that of a conspirator trying to conceal some violent scheme. Zablocki said Pimentel was public about his activities and was not trying to hide anything.

"I don't believe that this case is nearly as strong as the people believe," Zablocki said. "He (Pimentel) has this very public online profile. ... This is not the way you go about committing a terrorist attack."

Pimentel, also known as Muhammad Yusuf, was denied bail and remained in custody. The bearded, bespectacled man wore a black T-shirt and black drawstring pants and smiled at times during the proceeding. His mother and brother attended the arraignment, Zablocki said.

Pimentel is accused of having an explosive device Saturday when he was arrested, one he planned to use against others and property to terrorize the public. The charges accuse him of conspiracy going back at least to October 2010, and include first-degree criminal possession of a weapon as a crime of terrorism, and soliciting support for a terrorist act.

Bloomberg said at the news conference that Pimentel represents the type of threat FBI Director Robert Mueller has warned about as U.S. forces erode the ability of terrorists to carry out large scale attacks.

"This is just another example of New York City because we are an iconic city ... this is a city that people would want to take away our freedoms gravitate to and focus on," Bloomberg said.

Kelly said a confidential informant had numerous conversations with Pimentel on Sept. 7 in which he expressed interest in building small bombs and targeting banks, government and police buildings.

Pimentel also posted on his website and on blogs his support of al-Qaida and belief in jihad, and promoted an online magazine article that described in detail how to make a bomb, Kelly said.

Among his Internet postings, the commissioner said, was an article that states: "People have to understand that America and its allies are all legitimate targets in warfare."

The New York Police Department's Intelligence Division was involved in the arrest. Kelly said Pimentel spent most of his years in Manhattan and lived about five years in Schenectady. He said police in the Albany area tipped New York City police off to Pimentel's activities.

Asked why federal authorities were not involved in the case, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said there was communication with them but his office felt that given the timeline "it was appropriate to proceed under state charges."

About 1,000 of the city's roughly 35,000 officers are assigned each day to counterterrorism operations. The NYPD also sends officers overseas to report on how other cities deal with terrorism. Through federal grants and city funding, the NYPD has spent millions of dollars on technology to outfit the department with the latest tools ? from portable radiation detectors to the network of hundreds of cameras that can track suspicious activity.

Alexis Smith, 22, who lives in an apartment in the same building as Pimentel, said she was shocked that he was a suspect in a terrorist plot. "He was always very courteous to us," she said, adding that Pimentel helped her carry groceries and luggage into the building.

"It's nice to know he was only working alone," she said.


Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz and Colleen Long and AP video journalist David R. Martin contributed to this report from New York. AP writer Samantha Gross also contributed to this report.


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