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Showing posts with label World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label World. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

NJ vet gets back dog tag he lost in World War II

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey man has been reunited with the dog tag he lost in France during World War II.

Ninety-year-old Willie Wilkins served in 1944 in the Army's Quartermaster Graves Registration Units, where his job was to retrieve the dead bodies of American soldiers.

The Newark resident on Wednesday received the relic from a woman who tracked him down.

Anne-Marie Crespo found the dog tag in 2001 while digging near an olive tree in her backyard in France. She thought the soldier was dead, but a neighbor urged her to try to find the tag's owner.

Crespo contacted the French government, which got in touch with the U.S. Army. It contacted Wilkins' daughter, Carol.

Carol Wilkins says it's a miracle her father got his dog tag back.


Via Yahoo News!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Women's World Cup kicks off in Germany (The Christian Science Monitor)

Berlin – When host country Germany faces Canada tonight in the second match of the 2011 Women’s World Cup, they'll be playing in front of a sold-out crowd of 70,000 at Berlin’s Olympic stadium.

World soccer's governing body FIFA and Germany's national soccer associations hope that the sixth edition of the tournament will boost the popularity of a sport that is constantly a€“ and often unfavorably a€“ compared to the mena€™s version.

Sixteen teams compete over a course of four weeks. Reigning champion Germany and the US, both two-time winners of the cup, are favorites to win the trophy again, but there are a number of other contenders.

MONITOR QUIZ: Weekly news quiz for June 19-25, 2011

Brazil lays claim to Marta, who many consider the world's best player. Norway, which took the title in 1995, has played a solid qualifying round, and everyone agrees that the two Asian teams – Japan and North Korea – could pose a serious threat.

Canada have yet to beat the Germans in nine previous games, but coach Carolina Morace is optimistic for the opening match. “The Germans could suffer stage fright, particularly given all the supporters who’ll be there to encourage them,” Ms. Morace told reporters. “If we play well in the opening match, anything is possible.”

The Canadian coach may have a point when she reinterprets the home advantage as a possible burden.

German team faces pressure to performGermany’s female soccer players are expected to repeat nothing less than the “summer fairly-tale of 2006” when the country hosted the men’s cup and the whole nation was entranced by the performance of the German team – and by the newly-found ability to exhibit national pride without restraint.

Suddenly, it was perfectly OK to fix the German flag to the car antenna or to paint one’s face black, red, and yellow – acts that previously would have been frowned upon as an embarrassing display of a nationalism, unbecoming for a country with Germany’s violent past.

The German women's squad may find it hard to raise this kind of excitement.

Name one player, just oneIn a nation-wide poll this week more than half of those questioned could not name a single player on the national team.

This must be frustrating for someone like record forward Birgit Prinz, who has played 212 caps for Germany (her debut was in 1994 against Canada), scored 128 goals, and is taking part in her fifth World Cup. Compare that to her counterpart on the men’s team, Miroslav Klose, who is one year her junior, has played 109 caps, and scored 61 goals. Mr. Klose has an estimated annual income of 7 million euros ($10 million), Ms. Prinz makes about 130,000 euros ($185,000).

“We hope that this tournament gives the decisive boost for women soccer’s professionalization,” says Steffi Jones, former German player and currently president of the 2011 World Cup’s organization committee. “I want female players to be able to live off their sport, and not be forced to have a day job.”

This may be far off in a country that does not have a professional women soccer’s league yet.

Until 1970, Germany’s soccer association explicitly banned women from playing, arguing that soccer “as a combative sport is fundamentally alien to the female nature,” and that the “display of the female body violates etiquette and decency.”

MONITOR QUIZ: Weekly news quiz for June 19-25, 2011


Yahoo! News

Sunday, June 26, 2011

World Bank to take stock as Egypt scraps IMF loan (Reuters)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The World Bank said on Sunday it would have to take stock of plans to lend to Egypt after the International Monetary Fund confirmed the authorities no longer wanted an IMF-backed loan program.

Egyptian Finance Minister Samir Radwan said on Saturday Egypt would not borrow from the World Bank and the IMF after revising its budget and cutting the deficit target to 8.6 percent of gross domestic product from 11 percent.

A World Bank spokesperson said it was not informed of the decision.

"As far as we are aware these discussions are ongoing and we have heard nothing from the government to suggest the contrary," a World Bank spokesperson said.

"If there is no IMF program, we will have to take stock," the spokesperson added.

The IMF said Egypt had scrapped plans for a $3 billion IMF loan agreed last month. The World Bank and other international donors usually look to the IMF as a seal of approval to lend to governments.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick said on May 24 the poverty-fighting institution would make available $4.5 billion over the next 24 months for Egypt. The funding included $1 billion this year in budget support and another $1 billion next year to help cover a huge budget shortfall after the economy was plunged into turmoil by mass protests that drove Hosni Mubarak from office on February 11.

The World Bank program was also aimed at improving transparency and boosting employment, which were part of demands of the protesters.

Radwan said Qatar had provided Egypt with $500 million for budgetary support in the past week, and Saudi Arabia had offered a similar amount.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; editing by Anthony Boadle)


Yahoo! News

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Egypt says will not need IMF, World Bank funds (Reuters)

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt will not borrow from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund after revising its budget and cutting the forecast deficit, even though a loan had been agreed, Finance Minister Samir Radwan said Saturday.

The 2011/12 deficit in the first draft budget was forecast at 11 percent of gross domestic product, but was revised to 8.6 percent because of a national dialogue and the ruling army council's concerns about debt levels, the minister told Reuters.

"So we do not need to go at this stage to the Bank and the Fund," Radwan said, adding Egypt, which had borrowed from the IMF under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, still had the "best relations" with the two U.S.-based institutions.

Despite the budget revisions, the government said it still expected growth of 3.0-3.5 percent, in line with previous forecasts, which some economists said could prove optimistic.

Egypt this month agreed on a $3-billion, 12-month standby loan facility from the IMF, which Cairo had said came with more lenient terms than usually associated with such lending.

The IMF and World Bank had been among a range of foreign countries and bodies to offer funds to Egypt to help cover a big budget shortfall after the economy was plunged into turmoil by the mass protests that drove Mubarak from office on February 11.

Egypt's cabinet had approved on June 1 a budget for 2011/12 that increased spending by a quarter to create jobs and help the poor. That was revised in a new draft announced Wednesday that included raising income tax and reducing fuel subsidies.

Gulf Arab states are among those who offered support.

Radwan said Qatar had provided $500 million for budgetary support in the past week. "That is a gift," he said, when asked if there were any conditions attached to the Qatari cash.

He said Saudi Arabia had earlier offered a similar amount.

The minister said the first draft of the budget, which forecast a deficit of about 170 billion Egyptian pounds, was discussed with activists, writers, the business community, trade unions and non-government organizations.

ARMY CONCERN

"As a result of this dialogue and given the concern of the military council not to have huge debts for the government that comes after the election, the deficit was reduced to 134 billion pounds, equivalent to 8.6 percent of GDP," Radwan said.

"The result is we didn't need outside finance. We are covering the largest part from local sources and we are waiting for outside support to come in," he said.

"If we had gone with the other package, we would have needed to go (to the IMF)," the minister said, adding the new budget would not go back on a commitment to social justice.

Protesters who rallied against Mubarak demanded political freedoms and an end to what they saw as a system of rule from which a rich elite benefited at the expense of the poor.

On the budget plans, Radwan said: "The program is our program, so there is no conditionality (from others). It is just a changed program."

Asked whether Egypt might return to the international markets with a new Eurobond, he said: "I don't rule out anything. Once the budget is approved, finalized, then I start looking at the details about the financing.

In the latest budget, the government sees spending up 14.7 percent at 490.6 billion pounds in the 12 months starting in July, down from an estimate of 514.5 billion pounds given when a draft budget was shown to the media on June 1.

Radwan said the budget had partly been reduced by raising income tax from a 20 percent flat rate to 25 percent on firms and individuals earning more than 10 million pounds. Profits above that figure would be taxed in the new band.

"I consulted with the business community, and they said they are willing to pay that. That is why I didn't raise it to more than 25 percent, because beyond that we would be back to where we were before (several years ago) when income tax was 40 percent and there was very little tax collection," he said.

Cigarette tax would rise to 50 percent from 40 percent.

"Then we started opening the subsidies file. We are not, repeat not, touching subsides on food or butagaz for the poor," he said, adding fuel subsidies for industries and others would be reduced.

Egypt's subsidy bill had been running at about 137 billion pounds with about 99 billion pounds of that spent on fuel subsidies, he said without giving the period. He said the fuel subsidy bill would now be reduced by 7.5 billion pounds.

In a bid to help industry cope with the change, he said the government would help brick-making factories switch from diesel to natural gas and would then remove the fuel subsidy.

Extra revenue would also come from revising gas export prices, he said adding such revisions had already been agreed with Jordan and Spain. Egypt also exports to Israel.

He said the military council had to approve the new draft budget, but did not foresee any hitch.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)


Yahoo! News

Friday, June 24, 2011

U.S. has unfamiliar role in World Cup

The legendary Mia Hamm, right, handed over the scoring duties for the U.S. women's soccer team to Abby Wambach in 2004.U.S. team built a tradition as top women's program in the world
Women's World Cup begins Sunday in Germany, with the host nation the clear favorite
Experts say other nations have caught up in ability and strategy
U.S. making changes to improve youth programs, develop more skilled players

(CNN) -- Mia Hamm had a warning for U.S. soccer as she and others from the golden generation of women's players neared the end of their careers.

Just after the 2003 World Cup, when the United States surprisingly lost to Germany in the semifinals, the normally quiet striker spoke out, saying it was time to take notice of how a lot of other nations were getting much better quickly.

"What I was feeling was that I hoped that all of us -- as players, as a federation, as coaches -- that we don't sit there and use our success to hinder our development," Hamm said recently during an conference call where ESPN announcers previewed this year's Women's World Cup, which begins Sunday. "We needed to continue to recommit ourselves to be better every day."

In the days of Hamm, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain, the list of favorites for a major tournament always started with the U.S. And then you could add Norway and China.

The United States won the first World Cup in 1991, and the team's memorable moment came in 1999 when 40 million people watched on television as Chastain ripped home a penalty kick to beat China in the Cup final, then famously ripped off her jersey in celebration.

Women's soccer -- well, at least in the U.S. -- was at its pinnacle. Hamm, who retired in 2004, was doing commercials with Michael Jordan, and thousands of young screaming fans were coming to matches. Everyone expected the United States to win everything and win with flair.

But the success of the American women was helping to make women's soccer more popular around the world. More nations started putting money into their teams.

And while Germany, the host nation, is a clear favorite to win this World Cup, Hamm and Foudy (ESPN's lead analyst for the tournament) said there are more countries with a chance to get to the final.

"The tournament field is as deep as it has ever been," said Foudy, a former U.S. captain. "It's nice to see the women's game continue to grow and get better."

The world catches up

There was a stigma about the daughters around the world playing the macho game of soccer. That's kind of been erased now.
--Tony DiCicco, former U.S. coach

The U.S. team goes into the World Cup as the No. 1 team in the FIFA (due to its record over the past eight years) and as winners of the 2008 Olympic crown. It has one of the best goal scorers (Abby Wambach) and the best goal keeper (Hope Solo).

But most observers said they think that two-time defending champion Germany should win on its home soil. If not, Brazil, led by five-time world player of the year Marta, is the second favorite.

The rest of the soccer world has caught up.

"For years there was a stigma about the daughters around the world playing the macho game of soccer," said former U.S. coach Tony DiCicco. "That's kind of been erased now. Just as American parents always wanted for their daughters' ... first introduction to team sports (to be) in soccer, that's happening around the world."

What's happening in other countries is that women's teams are drawing better athletes to the game and girls who are growing up with soccer as their No. 1 sport are no longer castigated by men, he said. And living in a soccer culture gives those female players an advantage.

They also play in a different system than most places in the United States. Teenagers in many other soccer countries often play for a club, rising in the ranks playing with and against older players, where talent defines the club someone plays for rather than age. In the United States, players are segregated by the year they were born.

"I call it the 'Under Syndrome,' " DiCicco said. "We have U15, U16, even (college-age teams) with Under-21. And you're only going to learn so much in your age group."

As many good players, but not as many great

Long-time college coach John Daly agrees.

He said he has to do more coaching with today's players.

"They get rushed (through the youth system)," he said by phone while standing between fields at a tournament where he was scouting potential players for William & Mary. "We place too much emphasis on winning and not enough on playing."

Daly, an Irishman who has been at the Virginia college since 1984, said that he and other coaches at the tournament were discussing the quality of the players. They all agreed, he said, that while there were a lot more good players to watch, the great ones are harder to find.

"There just aren't any standout players, the kind that make you say, "Who is that No. 4?' " he said.

It's a sentiment that Grant Wahl, a senior writer who covers soccer at Sports Illustrated, echoed. He pointed out that if you chose an all-star team of the best players in the world in 1999, the U.S. would have at least half the players. Now, it'd be just two.

"Talent-wise, the U.S. is not producing -- and you can argue never really has produced -- truly imaginative, creative players on any regular basis," he said, by phone from Houston where he was covering the men's Gold Cup tournament.

Sports Illustrated: Grant Wahl on soccer

The United States still leads the world in number of female players. About 4.9 million played soccer in 2010, according to a survey by the National Sporting Goods Association. (That figure is down from 5.8 million in 2005.)

There are more than 300 NCAA teams. College players tend to be good athletes with good skills, experts said.

But the next great world player, most of them agree, is 17-year-old Yoreli Rincon of Colombia, which has never been known for women's soccer.

The future star for the U.S. team might be 21-year-old Alex Morgan, a top substitute for this squad.

Changes at the top

Wahl noted that it was interesting how the U.S. federation hired a foreign coach, Pia Sundhage.

"After the 2007 World Cup, they went out and got a Swedish coach who was known in her playing days as being a skillful technical player," he said. "And one of her main goals over the past four years has been to increase the skills of the U.S. players and to select players that are not just about athleticism but can play better soccer."

In January, the federation also hired former coach April Heinrichs to oversee its youth program and Jill Ellis, one of Daly's former players and most recently coach at UCLA, to develop standards for the national teams for younger players.

It is the first time the U.S. has had a technical director and development director for its women's programs.

"Everyone's committed to making sure that we continue to give these young soccer players and our women's national team the best opportunities to be successful," said Hamm, who is a member of the U.S. Soccer Federation's task force to improve the women's game.

Professional league surviving -- barely

All of the players on the U.S. team, and about a dozen on the other 15 squads in the Women's World Cup finals, play in the U.S. league, Women's Professional Soccer. It has six teams, all on the East Coast, and average attendance was about 3,600 in 2010, according to Sports Business Daily.

Sports marketing expert Larry DeGaris said that while the league is "challenged," it has a much better chance to succeed than its predecessor, WUSA, which folded after three seasons.

"The WPS is still kind of finding its way, but its business plan is much more grass roots than WUSA and a much better fit," the University of Indianapolis professor said. "I don't think it will go away."

He said he's "bullish" on the future, saying that the league needs not to rely on the attendance of the casual fan who watches games once every four years, but its best customers.

"And women's soccer has some really good ones," he said.

The challenge for the league is to get more media exposure, he said, which in turn will lead to more corporate support.

Would winning be an upset?

The Germans have only lost three times since 2009, all to the United States. The Americans, whose first match is Tuesday against North Korea, have been inconsistent at times, needing a playoff win to qualify for the World Cup finals.

The U.S. lost to Mexico, Sweden (which is in its group) and dark horse England -- just in the past eight months.

Thirteen team members are World Cup rookies, but still experts said they think that with Solo in goal and Wambach as a scoring threat, the U.S. has a good chance.

"The U.S. has had some great games and then some that were sub-par," DiCicco said. "They need to have a World Cup where every game they are playing at their peak.

"And if they do that I think they have a great chance of winning. They just haven't shown that normal consistent excellence that U.S. teams have been known for."

Sports Illustrated: U.S. women's soccer team searching for their own legacy


CNN

'Pottermore' Secrets Revealed: J.K. Rowling's New Site is E-Book Meets Interactive World (Time.com)

Gulping gargoyles! Just when it seemed the Harry Potter franchise was finally avada kedavra-ed, J.K. Rowling has launched the website "Pottermore" to continue the story of the young boy wizard. (See what she's doing with the wordplay there?)

The site, which Rowling launched via YouTube, will sell her seven Potter novels as e-books and audiobooks in several different languages. It will also reveal background details on characters and settings Rowling says she's been "hoarding for years."

Fans will have 18,000 words of new Harry Potter content to devour in a matter of hours. Meanwhile, Rowling has deftly cornered the market on proceeds from the sale of her books online, without having to pay Apple or Amazon one galleon.

(LIST: Top 10 Movies Based on Kids' Books)

The site launches on July 31 (Mr. Potter's birthday), when one million fans can compete in an online challenge to gain early access. Pottermore opens its gates to the masses for free on October 1, 2011.

But what is the site like? Those hoping for a sophisticated first-person odyssey may be disappointed. Pottermore isn't a game: it's a series of illustrated environments, themed around "moments" from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (material from the other novels will be added with time). The primary attraction for Potterphiles is access to arcana Rowling's been squirreling away in her attic. Want to know why Harry's uncle is called Vernon Dursley? Or learn about Prof. Minerva McGonagal's early heartbreak? You can find it on the site, although you may have to click around a bit to uncover the hidden treasures.

Users start out at Privet Drive, where they can explore Harry's cupboard under the stairs (replete with scampering spiders) before moving on to Platform 9 ?, the Hogwarts Express, Diagon Alley and Gringotts. Each new witch or wizard gets a personalized trunk (where they can store their chocolate frog cards), 175 galleons and a Hogwarts shopping list (don't forget your crystal phials!) Then they're directed to Ollivander's, where they are asked a series of questions (eye color? Favorite artifact?) in order that their wand can choose them.

(PHOTOS: The Harry Potter Theme Park)

With personalized wand in hand, users continue on to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry itself, where, wearing the sorting hat, they are sorted into a House via a unique series of character testing questions written by Rowling herself. Some test the super-ego: would you snitch on a fellow wizard pupil who used a cheating quill? Others probe the id: which do you choose, forests or rivers? (Those who are not placed in Gryffindor get access to special material from The Sorcerer's Stone as compensation.) Once ensconsed in a house common room, users can read the secret lore of Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff, meet housemates, and earn housepoints through wizard duels and mixing potions to compete for the House Cup.

While the environments do have some animated features (Scabbers lurking behind the cabin curtains in the Hogwarts Express, owls and ravens flying about), Pottermore is no World of Warcraft. Rowling wanted to keep the emphasis firmly on reading and the "literary experience," which is why Pottermore's environments are more like digitized pop-up books than a graphic adventure game. (While the environments share some similarities to the films, they are not based on them. And there are no avatars.)

Rowling is also encouraging user contributions to Pottermore. Users can jabber on the site about the benefits of dragon heartstring vs. Thestral tail hair wand cores to their heart's delight. Fans can even submit art.

Given the boxes of material gathering dust in her house, Rowling hasn't ruled out the possibility of creating a Harry Potter encyclopedia. She says she has "no plans" for another Harry Potter book. From now on, Harry Potter will live in the digital age. Talk about magic.

LIST: Top 10 British Invasions

View this article on Time.com

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Skinny Dippers Strip Down for World Record Attempt (Time.com)

More than 400 people bared it all for the record books.

Sunday morning off the coast of Wales, it was a sea of skin as hundreds ran into the chilly waters. The 400 people gathered on a secluded beach on the country's southwest coast to vie for the world record.

Setting aside their clothes - and their embarrassment - attendees from all over the world gathered to take part in the 7 a.m. skinny dip. The early meeting time at the hidden Rhossili beach was chosen to make the clothes-free swimmers feel more comfortable as organizers hoped to keep away gawkers.

(PHOTOS: Star Gazing on the French Riviera.)

The massive skinny dip was more than meets the eye, though. The swimmers, laughing and splashing in the frigid water, were helping to raise money for the Marie Curie Cancer Care charity. To break the record, bathers had to wade into the water up to their waists and endure for 10 minutes.

The event has yet to be verified by Guinness, but organizers believe they've broken the previous world record of 250 skinny-dippers. That's one record that's sure to bare some attention.

(VIDEO: Surfing Dogs Ride the Waves.)

View this article on Time.com

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

G20 urged to deliver pledges for world hunger (OneWorld.net)

June 19 (OneWorld.net) - Evidence continues to emerge that the release of international donor funds to support global food security is matching neither the scale of the promises nor the urgency of the situation.

According to its June report, grants have been awarded to a total of 12 developing countries by the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), a key multilateral fund established to support national hunger plans by G20 leaders at the Pittsburgh summit in 2009.

But 20 countries have been turned away, according to Lael Brainard, under-secretary for international affairs at the US Treasury. And GAFSP administrators say that new proposals must remain on hold, "pending availability of funding."

Only six of the richer countries, together with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have so far made pledges to GAFSP. The total of $925 million includes offers from Spain and Ireland whose economies are facing exceptional difficulties.

Lael Brainard has emerged as a cheerleader for GAFSP fundraising. "Without swift support from the rest of the G8 and the G20, the global fight against hunger could be put at great risk," she wrote in the UK Guardian last week.

This is a bold position for the under-secretary to adopt because the current gap between funds received by GAFSP and funds promised is almost entirely attributable to the US. Of $475 million pledged, only $167 million has been approved by Congress.

Ms Brainard did acknowledge the embarrassment in a recent speech at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs. "Without greater progress on our pledge, it is difficult for the United States to convince other development partners to contribute. That's why it will be critical for Congress to fund the Administration's request of $308 million in FY2012," she said.

This funding tension comes at a time of rising concern about hunger and malnutrition in developing countries. Escalating global prices of staple grains combined with persistent extreme weather conditions in vulnerable regions have driven an additional 44 million people into poverty, according to the World Bank.

Fearing a possible repeat of the 2008 food crisis, agriculture ministers from the G20 group of countries will assemble for an unprecedented meeting in Paris on Monday.

Recent days have witnessed a deluge of advice from international development agencies on action that ministers should take to protect global food security in general and the poor in particular.

Top favourite is a curb on speculative trading of food commodities. In its role as G20 chair, the French government is known to be sympathetic to this call but may be forced to rule the matter as the business of finance rather than agriculture ministers.

Shenggen Fan, Director General of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, is amongst those who have published advice on food security. But he prefers not to lose sight of the underlying financial imperative.

"Before the international community issues any new recommendations, they first need to make good on previous commitments," he says, referring to the 2009 pledge by G8 leaders to raise an additional $20 billion for agriculture in poor countries. Less than a quarter of this amount has been disbursed, according to the G8 accountability report published last month.

Ethiopia is a key country to monitor for progress on agriculture. Already seriously affected by the drought in the Horn of Africa, the country has over 10 million people in need of food assistance.

For longer term development of its farming sector, Ethiopia is one of the fortunate few countries to be funded by the GAFSP program. The grant totals $51.5 million.

But this figure may only scratch the surface. Ethiopia's Policy and Investment Framework, its ten-year plan for agriculture, estimates the funding gap that will have to be sought from international donors. It totals $6.2 billion.

* More Information:

Food Security in Ethiopia, a OneWorld briefing


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Monday, June 6, 2011

Charlotte: 'When the world flipped'

Charlotte, North Carolina -- No. 2 U.S. financial town -- still struggling after '08 crisisSome neighborhoods made strides toward recovery; local theater got creativeCharlotte grew by a third in the past decade, according to the U.S. CensusCity leaders trying to attract diversity of industries; energy industry may offer that
Editor's note: This summer, CNN's Defining America project will be traveling the country with the CNN Express to explore the stories behind the data and demographics. This week, CNN brings you coverage from North Carolina.


Charlotte, North Carolina (CNN) -- When residents of the city nicknamed "Banktown" talk about the whipsaw economic changes of the past decade, they often refer to "before" and "after."


The "before" was Charlotte in 2007. The No. 2 banking capital outside Wall Street was flush with money from the nation's real estate spending spree.


The mood was as high as the city's sparkling new skyline. Recently constructed skyscrapers,costing hundreds of billions of dollars vaulted from the city's center. Charlotteans were thrilled to be awash in the mortgage industry's free-flowing cash.


"They were spending money, they were buying houses," said longtime Charlotte realtor Gaye Law. "Some were buying art work, vacation homes, decorating their houses, buying cars, boats... people were eating out."


With unemployment at a minuscule 4.2%, the city had engineered a light rail public transit line, a modern public transportation center and a multi-million dollar indoor sports arena. Restaurants and retail moved in. Museums built new spaces .The plan was to transform the city into a savvy center of the modern South.


Then there's the "after."


Development frozen. Home sales at a virtual standstill. Food banks and charities pinched. Retirees -- they came to Carolina in droves for mild seasons, year-round recreation and comfortable living quarters -- asking friends and relatives for financial help.


Wall Street bailouts, buyouts, and bankruptcies were hastily negotiated in Washington and had a quick impact here.


In the last four months of 2008, the Charlotte area lost more than 3,000 financial jobs. Unemployment jumped to 6.6% starting in 2008, then 8%. By February of 2011, the number reached its terrible peak: 12.9%, even higher than the national rate of 9.7% at the time.


At the grocery store, the coffee shop, on the street, people with jobs describe themselves as "blessed." Residents still seem stunned when they compare the town now to its former go-go economy.


"It just absolutely knocked our socks off," Law said. "People started losing jobs. People's credit was over extended. People were scared of what was going to happen, and a lot of things just sort of stopped."

Charlotte's spectacular skyline has grown rapidly since 2000.

What happened between before and after was "when the world flipped."


The city with so many plans saw many of them dashed. For the first time in years, the city was forced to catch its breath and look at how it had changed.


Since the smackdown of the 2008 financial crisis, the city has been humbled. It's more cautious, but wiser, business leaders said.


In the "after," Charlotteans native and new learned hard lessons about how life can change instantly, how to adapt, and how to rethink the future for their boom town.


For most, the situation was unprecedented. It demanded a grave choice: pack it up or get creative.


Grave choices


Decades ago, Charlotte began transforming its North Davidson neighborhood from empty textile mills, blight, drugs and prostitution to a thriving enclave of funky condos, homes, galleries, bistros and shops.


Its colorful murals, glowing neon signs and al fresco dining became a Charlotte cultural experience. The buzz around the corner of North Davidson and 36th Street got so loud that the locals gave it a new name:NoDa.


In 1997, local developers refurbished a 1940s movie house to create The Neighborhood Theatre, which quickly established itself as a community anchor. Visitors saw an eclectic range of acts from the latest newgrass band to funkmaster George Clinton.


But when the hammer fell, people stopped going out, triggering the shutdown of restaurants and clubs. Attendance at Neighborhood Theatre sunk.


"We almost had to shut down," co-owner Gary Leonhardt said.


"It was pretty devastating," said Phil Rossi, marketing director. "No one was safe in any industry because ... in every industry it had an effect."


So, the theater lowered ticket prices, increased promotions and put out a plea for community support on local TV and Facebook.


Six months and 7,000 Facebook "likes" later, audiences had increased at least 40 percent, Leonhardt said. It was Charlotte residents, he said, who really saved the theater from going under.


Since then, unemployment crept down to 10.3% in April and economic tensions feel like they've eased a bit. The economy hasn't yet turned a corner, Leonhardt said, but "things have gotten better."


See inside the theater and hear how it survived


Office workers waiting in line nearby at Amelie's French Bakery say the past two years have prompted them to consider safeguarding their careers. A sales rep says she's starting an online craft business on the side. A lunch diner says she's taking a university class to better understand how to survive the post-recession economy.


NoDa is among a handful of Charlotte areas where business appears to be improving. Community leaders also point to Wilmore, southwest of the city's center, South End and Plaza Midwood, where they see signs of a stronger economic heartbeat.


On a recent Saturday night, a mix of urban hipsters and young professionals came to Plaza Midwood to enjoy a night out and maybe spend some precious cash.


Bathed in shadows from the city's spectacular new skyline, diners wait in line for tapas at Soul Gastrolounge. Downstairs at Twenty-Two, patrons can appreciate local art while imbibing regional microbrews, a low-price PBR or a bottle of Cheerwine, North Carolina's homegrown cherry soda.


But Charlotteans can't call these areas "hot," at least not yet.


Inside a trailer office half a block from the Neighborhood Theatre, a local developer has been offering the surrounding property for sale since 2009. So far, plans to build commercial and residential space around the theater haven't panned out. Even these areas are pocked with empty storefronts and property meant for development.


"There aren't any hot neighborhoods now," said Charlotte Observer columnist Mary Newsom. "Only cold -- and less cold."


But while business has slowed, Charlotte has something else going for it: An exploding population.


New blood


There's at least one telltale sign of a newcomer in Charlotte: Anybody calling the bustling city center "downtown." To people who know the city, it's "uptown."


It's a verbal misstep that happens a lot.


Charlotte has a population of 731,424, the largest in North Carolina, and has long been known as a city of newcomers. The 2010 Census showed its population has skyrocketed by 35% in 10 years. It's gotten older, and more diverse, with a much higher Latino population.


See North Carolina 'by the numbers'


"Try to find an actual native Charlottean here," said Leonhardt, the theater owner, who moved to Charlotte 12 years ago. "Good luck -- because there's not that many of them around. Most everybody here is transplanted from other places either because of the banking or some other industry that's brought them here."


Economic leaders are keenly aware that jobs are critical to Charlotte's population growth, and with jobs disappearing in the post-bust world, they're worried about how to keep people coming to town.


City leaders hope to capitalize on the population growth, using it to spread optimism about Charlotte's future, and hopefully attracting new jobs.


Business groups are trying to lure companies from larger cities. They push recent successes, like new business and home development in neighborhoods like the South End. They pitch Charlotte's big city attributes -- cultural attractions, public transit -- but the economy makes that harder.


"Transportation development has slowed down," said Tracy Finch Dodson, director of economic development for Charlotte Center City Partners. "In this economy there's not much appetite for it."


Some newcomers were victims of the banking industry purge; they didn't bother to stick around, but left town for jobs elsewhere.


Kevin Mays, an accountant and a native of Long Island, New York, said he's all in. His personal stake in the region is as strong as any homegrown Charlottean.


Or, at least, any suburban Charlottean.


In 2007, Mays bought a home in nearby Union County, the fastest growing county in the state, according to the 2010 Census. Like Mays, many of those residents are native northerners


"Taxes are lower. Schools are better. We could buy more house for our money," Mays said. "In Charlotte now, they're talking about raising taxes again."

It just absolutely knocked our socks off. People started losing jobs.
--Gaye Law, realtor

As long as Charlotte's population growth keeps pace with the suburbs, it poses little threat to the city. But as home prices fall so do city tax revenues. Government budgeteers are scrambling. Some are calling for higher taxes. Others are hoping that state or federal tax money can fill the gaps until property values rise again.


And that a different type of business could drive them forward.


Economic energy


The Southern epicenter of the 2008 financial earthquake -- the bustling corner of Trade and Tryon streets -- is surrounded by towering monuments to Wells Fargo, Fifth Third Bank and Bank of America.


When planners first conceived a 54-story skyscraper to be built a few blocks down Tryon, they called it Wachovia Corporate Center.


But when the government stepped in to prevent Wachovia's failure in 2008, California-based Wells Fargo took on the business and the building, and the plan changed.


The city's second-tallest skyscraper was dubbed Duke Energy Center, named for Charlotte's top energy employer. Since then, it has captured a new nickname: The Power Tower.


Many local business leaders wonder if it's a sign of things to come, a nod to an answer to Charlotte's economic troubles. In the "after," it's not a bank, but energy.


Duke has spurred hopes for new jobs and increased revenues by its recent merger with another energy company.


High-profile Duke chief executive Jim Rogers played a major role in snagging the lucrative 2012 Democratic National Convention, which could reward the city with an estimated $150 million in potential economic impact.


Why the DNC is good for Charlotte


But it's been a tumultuous economic tailspin, and few offer predictions about when the city will have the go-go feel of before.


It's hard not to be humbled by the experience of the past two years, Law said. Others say it has made them more cautious about community leadership and more thoughtful about Charlotte's economic strategy.


The city has been at an economic turning point since the financial crisis kicked in, said the Charlotte Observer's Rick Rothacker, who documented Charlotte's marriage with the banking business inhis book, "Banktown."


"I think Charlotte leaders are talking more about diversity of businesses and appear to be recruiting more non-financial type firms, although banks remain pretty important," Rothacker said.


Making the city less reliant on a handful of huge banks would reduce the pain from another gut-wrenching blow from Wall Street, advocates said.


The city, they say, should have many major employers spread across several industries, perhaps fostering a stronger sense of financial security among regular Charlotteans.


In the "after," perhaps it could open the door for Charlotte to resume its upward economic path as one of the South's most promising cities.

"We put all our eggs in one basket, and that basket dropped," Law said. "I think things are going to turn around, but I think it's going to be a while."

CNN's Joshua Rubin contributed to this report.


CNN

Oxfam charts brave new world of activism (OneWorld.net)

LONDON, June 6 (OneWorld.net) - A campaign to end global hunger launched in over 40 countries last week by the international aid agency, Oxfam, may signal new levels of ambition for movements pursuing social and environmental reform.

The GROW campaign rejects the traditional approach of channeling protest into a single objective, such as reducing European farm subsidies or withdrawing targets for biofuel production. Instead, it gathers up all such issues into the bigger picture, pressing governments to see that the world's agriculture system is not fit for purpose.

Oxfam believes that future demand for food may overwhelm the ecological capacity of the planet, especially as climate change takes its increasing toll on crop yields. Already, one in seven of the world's population lacks access to sufficient food.

"The System's Bust," exclaims the banner headline of the Oxfam UK website. "Join the GROW campaign to fix the system."

The implied goal of food revolution rather than evolution was reinforced by Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam International. "G20 Governments meeting in France this year must now kick start the transformation of our global food system," he said at the launch of the GROW campaign.

The campaign's accompanying report, Growing a Better Future, casts the wishlist net still wider. "International governance of trade, food aid, financial markets, and climate finance must be transformed to reduce the risks of future shocks," it demands.

Oxfam's Head of Research, Duncan Green, outlines why the GROW campaign bar is being raised so high. "It marks a significant shift in thinking about how public campaigning brings about change," he writes in his blog, From Poverty to Power. "It moves from a focus on specific policy changes (e.g. on trade rules or debt relief), to something much deeper - changing the way people think."

Oxfam is not the only non-profit group in the UK to be overhauling its expectations of supporters and governments. Forum for the Future, a respected environmental agency which assists the corporate sector in implementing sustainability plans, unveiled a new strategy in April.

Chief Executive Peter Madden explains: "it is clear that if we want to tackle problems such as climate change or vulnerable ecosystems, we can't take a piecemeal approach. Doing a bit here and a bit there won't change things at the speed or on the scale we need."

In engaging with the complexity of areas such as finance, food and energy, Forum for the Future will search for "strategic tipping points, where interventions have the most chance of transforming the whole system."

In mainland Europe, too, there are signs of frustration that "single issue" campaigns achieve too little in relation to the depth of social and environmental problems.

Last week in Geneva the International Labour Organization celebrated its 100th annual conference. ILO Director-General Juan Somavia opened the event with a powerful call for a new era of social justice to address mounting "turmoil" in the world of work.

Somavia expressed his fears for social unrest, deriving from the level of youth unemployment endemic in the existing economic system. "The sum of economic, social and environmental options and priorities that have dominated policy-making for the last 30 years must change," he said.

These bold visions of change have one overwhelming obstacle in common. Strong political leadership which compromises national interest for the greater good is conspicuous by its absence.

Rich country groupings such as G8 and G20 are in no mood for radical reforms. And UN negotiations on climate change and trade threaten to fade into insignificance.

That explains why so many hopes are pinned on the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. Otherwise known as Rio+20, this conference will mark the 20th anniversary of the renowned 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in which the language of sustainable development was established.

Campaigners want to believe that the powerful symbolism of the event will inspire world leaders to cast aside their reticence on progressive reforms. They are encouraged that the UN has chosen the concept of the "green economy" as one of two major themes of the conference.

The current paradigm of consumption-based economic growth is viewed by the green movement as socially divisive and environmentally unsustainable. Transition towards a more sensitive measure of economic progress is top of the reform agenda for many international NGOs.

"Green economy: a pathway to sustainable development" was the subject of last Thursday's informal UN General Assembly thematic debate. The purpose was to advance preparation for Rio+20.

Unfortunately, the real political preparations for Rio+20 are in crisis and the "green economy" is the central problem.

Last month, the 19th session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development aimed to build global consensus around the agenda for the 2012 Rio conference. But the talks collapsed ignominiously.

The IISD reporting service for CSD19 described the green economy as a "hate object" for the G77/China group of developing countries. They fear that it will be a proxy for protectionist rules on trade and intellectual property rights.

Campaigners may have to settle for the traditional pace of reform, one small step at a time.

* More Information:

GROW campaign from Oxfam International

OneWorld Food Security Guide


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Monday, May 30, 2011

Indy 500 Warmup: World Record-Setting 332-foot Truck Jump [VIDEO] (Mashable)

[More from Mashable: Money-Shredding Alarm Clock Is Completely Unforgiving [PICS]]

Sunday was Indy 500 day, and our thoughts turned to fast cars, the latest automotive tech, the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500, and … world-record truck jumping?

[More from Mashable: 13 Instagram Apps For More Photo Fun]

That's what happened at turn 4 of the Indianapolis 500 race track, when stunt driver and Top Gear star Tanner Faust warmed up the crowd by setting a new jumping distance world record for a 4-wheeled vehicle.

Driving down a huge ramp designed look like a Hot Wheels "V-Drop" track as part of a "Fearless at the 500" promotion, Faust picked up enough speed to launch his specially modified "Pro 2" truck a world-record 332 feet. That was more than enough to beat the previous record of 301 feet.

Until the day of the jump, Faust's identity was kept secret. He'd been practicing for months -- he tells his story in this video, revealed for the first time on Sunday:

And the video teaser that led up to the jump:

This story originally published on Mashable here.


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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review: Disconnecting in a too-connected world (AP)

FRANKLIN, N.Y. – The knowledge that I'd be cut off from Internet and cellphone service in just a few hours started to relax me long before I reached the secluded, serene site of a two-day yoga retreat in upstate New York.

For 43 magical hours, chirping birds replaced car horns and sirens. Two-hour yoga classes, hammock-lounging and hot-tubbing replaced sitting at my desk in Manhattan.

The best part: Absolutely nothing replaced my iPhone. It sat powered off at the bottom of my backpack all weekend save for a brief stint as an alarm clock to wake me from a nap.

I readily admit that I am powerless. Without a forced break from email, text messages, Facebook and an endless stream of online news and blogs, I am an information addict. Spending a few days without mobile service in an age where smartphones have become like limbs for many, I found immense value in disconnecting from our always-on, always-connected world.

It wasn't easy. During the three-hour ride upstate, I clutched my phone and reloaded Facebook, Gmail and Hotmail every 10 to 15 minutes. I followed our route on Google Maps, checked in to Route 17 on Foursquare and scanned the app for The New York Times for news updates for the fourth, fifth, sixth time.

As we neared the no signal zone, I called my husband to say goodbye for the second time and left a message for a friend to wish him well on medical-school admission tests that he was taking that weekend. I checked email once more.

Should I have called my mom? Posted one last update on Facebook about the looming Rapture? See if I missed any tech news by taking Friday off?

My goodness, what have I become?

Then, "No Service" appeared in the top left corner on my phone, and that was that. I took a deep breath, turned off the phone and turned to my surroundings and later, inward.

Facebook came up at least twice during the retreat at Heathen Hill. Both times, our yoga instructor was leading the 18 of us through relaxation techniques. Forget about work, she said, forget about your children at home, for a moment, and forget about Facebook. We lay on our mats, listening to the softly tapping rain and chirping birds and complied. We breathed.

It's become an increasingly rare treat to disconnect from "real world" while on vacation. For many people, work and family left behind require constant email and phone contact. Wireless access through Wi-Fi is plentiful and often free, as I have discovered in the Irish countryside, in the outskirts of my hometown of Budapest, Hungary, and in parts of the Catskills, notwithstanding the pocket where my yoga retreat took place.

Like many people, I have also developed a bit of an unhealthy attachment to my iPhone in the past couple of years, though it's not to the point where that I sleep with it under my pillow.

Convenient as it is, there are plenty drawbacks to the constant ability to check in — to friends, strangers, work, news, gossip and whatever else my phone gives me instant access to. Sometimes I don't even notice when I subconsciously reach for my phone when there's a lull in a conversation over dinner or when I want to avoid awkward small talk in the elevator.

Then there's the type of information I'm getting. Sure, some of it is valuable, but more of it is on the caliber of cute animal stories and incidental Facebook updates from friends or casual acquaintances. After coming back from the retreat, I extended my Facebook ban, so it's been five days already. I'm not sure I've missed much, except perhaps a few laughs or headshakes at friends' posts.

So what did we do, without news, Twitter and email in the Catskill Mountains? Yoga, and lots of it.

Our teacher instructed us to turn inward. That's especially difficult to do in the age of social media, when many of us seek validation even for the most minute actions and passing thoughts of our lives. Why do I need to tell my Facebook friends that it's raining again? And when someone responds, why do I feel weirdly validated in my existence?

I won't call it addiction, but for the first few hours of the retreat, I found myself regularly reaching for my iPhone — for what, I don't know. It was like a phantom limb, unnerving in its absence.

By the second day, the feeling was gone, thanks to vigorous exercise, yogic breathing and our beautiful surroundings. We dined on homemade vegetarian dishes, another break from my regular days as an avid carnivore. I also brought a book with me, printed on real paper. It's called "Living Dead in Dallas," part of a series about Southern vampires that is now a show on HBO. It helps me relax, OK?

At night we sat by the campfire, roasted marshmallows and drank wine. Then sleep, breakfast and more yoga.

I don't advocate disconnecting forever from the Internet or social media, and I admit a weekend was just enough. We needed GPS to find our way back to the city, for one thing. Some email addresses were exchanged, too.

And, as we left, we promised our newfound yoga friends: "I'll find you on Facebook."


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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lenovo Laptop Warranty Troubles (PC World)

I bought a Lenovo ThinkPad T410 laptop about a year ago. It came with a one-year warranty, and I wanted to upgrade to a three-year warranty before the first one expired. The T410 was preloaded with ThinkVantage Toolbox, which conveniently told me on its splash page how many days I had remaining on my warranty. Eventually a message there informed me that my warranty would expire in 59 days, and I decided to renew. However, that information was wrong--my warranty had actually expired ten days prior. Because I depended on ThinkVantage Toolbox, I now have to pay $259 for a three-year warranty instead of the $100 warranty extension that would have been granted had I paid before the first warranty expired. Customer service hasn't honored my request for renewal at the lower price. Can you help? --Ted Krever, New York

On Your Side responds: A Lenovo representative told us that Krever was the first to report this type of problem, and that the company was looking into it. Lenovo did extend his original warranty by 90 days for free, and he was then able to upgrade for the lower price.

If you encounter a similar problem, we recommend that you take screenshots of the faulty warranty countdown that include the date display on your desktop. Krever used such screenshots as proof of the problem, and he found them effective. Whenever you buy a new warranty, make note of the date of purchase elsewhere and hang on to your receipt, just in case something goes wrong.

Missing Software Registration Key

Earl Stroup of Fredericksburg, Virginia, contacted us after he purchased Gregory Braun Software Design's Password Keeper 2000 last October as an upgrade to his current version. However, he never received the program's registration code (or even a response), despite attempting to contact Gregory Braun multiple times through e-mail, phone, and a letter.

A representative said that the company sent the registration key to the e-mail address on file for Stroup, but apparently the company had the wrong address. We arranged for Gregory Braun to send the code to the right address, but the representative never explained why he didn't respond directly to Stroup's inquiries.

If you have difficulty contacting a company, or if you don't receive a reply, try filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, which can investigate a company's standards and alert authorities and the public to businesses that aren't living up to their responsibilities.

Have you run into a problem involving customer service, a warranty, a rebate, or the like for your tech gear? E-mail us at onyourside@pcworld.com.


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Friday, May 20, 2011

Google Pet Peeves: From Gmail to YouTube (PC World)

Google is undoubtedly the Web's best resource for getting stuff done, but let's face it, it's not perfect.

A few weeks ago, my Gmail account was going crazy. My inbox appeared to be locked in a frozen state of "Still Working..." Then a Google search went haywire, thanks to a combination of a typo (my bad) and Google's auto-complete feature, coupled with Google Instant Search.

Sometimes I just want to kill Google dead. Here are my top pet peeves about Google, starting with Gmail.

Gmail Is Buggy

Almost everyone I know who has Gmail has complained about its unexplainable slowness. Gmail has been out of beta for two years now--following five years of beta status. Shouldn't Google have all the Gmail kinks ironed out by now?

I wonder, is there a Gmail Bermuda Triangle where e-mail gets lost? I frequently hear people complain of delays between the time e-mail is sent and when it arrives. Delays can be hours and sometimes up to a day. Occasionally, messages fail to show up at all.

Google does offer troubleshooting on delayed e-mails. But even after carefully reviewing Google's Q&As on the topic, it's still a mystery why Gmail sent to another Gmail user is delayed.

Other Gmail curiosities are the times the Gmail interface is grayed out for some unknown reason and file attachments are mysteriously renamed. According to Google, Gmail will rename your attachments to things as obtuse as "noname" if the file is spelled with nonstandard ASCII characters. Mystery solved!

Gmail Conversation View

Gmail's conversation view is nice...until you have 50-plus messages from different people in a single thread. When this happens, finding the one message you need is nearly impossible. PCWorld's Liane Cassavoy points out that Gmail's conversation view is akin to sweeping everything off of your desk and into a drawer--it makes your desktop (Inbox) look pretty, but your drawer (conversation) is still a huge mess.

Note: Yes, you can turn Conversation View off. See Liane's "Why I Hate Gmail's Conversation View ."

Gmail Viewing Limits

How come, when you search Gmail for something, you can view only 20 messages at a time? My inbox is set to let me view 100 messages at a time, but internal search results only appear in groups of 20 per page. Needless to say, this can be annoying if I'm trying to find that e-mail about the Las Vegas hotel I stayed in 10 months ago.

While I'm on the topic of message viewing limits, why does Gmail limit the inbox view to 100 messages at a time (you can choose 25, 50, or 100 at a time, but nothing higher)? Why not 150, or 200, or even 250?

Are You Sure You Want to Send That Without a Subject?

YES, GOOGLE, I'M SURE. I never use subject lines, much to the chagrin of my friends and family. Google appears to be on the side of my friends and family, because every time I try to send a subject-less e-mail it pops up an annoying notification: "Send message without a subject?" As far as I'm aware, there is no way to disable this.

Relevant Ads...in My Mail

Look, I'm all for relevant advertising. If I'm going to see ads anyway, why wouldn't I want to see ads that are relevant to me? But targeted advertising...in my Inbox? I know, I know; Google isn't reading my e-mail, and what is really happening is that some mindless Google machine is pairing keywords with ads. But ads based on private missives magnifies that icky lack-of-online-privacy feeling. Please, Google, keep out.

Instant Search Is On by Default

You can turn Google Instant Search off, but the default setting is that it's on. Does anyone really want to be interrupted with suggestions every time they type a letter into the search box? If people didn't have a pretty good idea of what they were looking for, they probably wouldn't be articulating it into a search box in the first place. Sure, some people like Instant Search...but my guess is that most people do not.

Can't Backspace Backward

Another Instant Search annoyance: If it's turned on, you can no longer go back one page by hitting the backspace key. Instead, when you hit the backspace key, you delete a letter--and you get a whole new Instant Search result.

Is it History or Is It Auto-Complete?

Google seems to use your personal search history and its general auto-complete function interchangeably. For example, how do I know if everyone is searching for my name, or if I'm just searching for my name every single day?

No Punctuation or Caps in Search

Google search is limited--it can't search for punctuation, nor can it search for terms using capital letters. Most searches don't require these parameters, so I don't think Google should default to searching by punctuation or capitalization. But it would be nice if there was an option for such searching. After all, how else are you going to find out about the band called !!!, or how to polish Polish floors?

Android 3.0's Gtalk

For some reason, my Android phone loves to sign me into Gtalk at random times. I end up getting signed in at 6 a.m., and then my editors wonder why I'm not answering their Gtalk messages at 10 a.m. (the answer--I'm asleep). I've taken to setting my Gtalk status to "Busy" before I go to bed, so if I get randomly signed in, people know I am busy...sleeping.

Google Buzz and Privacy

Let Google Buzz represent all Google privacy snafus--from data collection to Street View issues. I understand that Google is primarily a search engine, and search engines mainly collect data. However, Google's cavalier attitude toward user privacy--which was demonstrated by the whole Google Buzz fiasco--is just a little bothersome.

Japanese Is Not Chinese!

Tokyo, a lot of them ask where that is in China. This is annoying, but not nearly as annoying as Google Chrome displaying Japanese characters as Chinese characters. Sure, the characters are almost the same...but they're not the same. Because Tokyo is not a city in China.

Thanks to Sara Doi for the screenshots at left.

Forced Linking YouTube Account with Gmail

I am not a fan of the idea of a "single sign-in" to anything. After all, I want to maintain a few separate identities. To people who think this is fraud, just think of it this way: You (probably) don't take your grandmother to nightclubs, and you may even tell her you're a sweet little angel who doesn't frequent such bastions of sin. But because Google owns YouTube, it requires you link a Gmail account to your existing YouTube account.

Either Google needs to let me maintain separate accounts or Google Labs needs to come up with a "Damn it, my mom is on Facebook" filter for Google accounts.

SRSLY, We're Not Evil

Oh, really, Google? Here I was, just minding my own business, not even thinking about the state of your morality, and you run up and shove this whole "Don't Be Evil" motto in my face. That definitely reassures me that you are, in fact, not evil. It's kind of like how I used to tell my mom, "I didn't eat the last cookie!"

Face it Google, you may not be evil, but you can be very creepy--which by the laws of association is close to evil. I don't suggest that Google change its corporate motto. But I do suggest that Google rate its services on a sliding scale. How about from Benign to Getting Pretty Darn Close to Being Evil as a compromise?

I won't hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

I Don't Hate Google

Don't get me wrong, Google has some great services with some great features, and I would probably be lost without it. But it's far from perfect.

What annoys you about Google? Add your comments below.


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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

San Francisco Migrates to Hosted Exchange (PC World)

The city and county of San Francisco have started a transition to using Microsoft's hosted e-mail service, choosing the software giant's service over Google and Lotus Notes.

Over the next year San Francisco will transition 23,000 users to the system and has had 300 pilot employees using the hosted service for the past five months.

San Francisco will pay Microsoft US$1.2 million a year or $6.50 per month per user, said Jon Walton, CIO for the City and County of San Francisco. "It's a significant cost savings to the city and was one of the key ways the department of technology was able to achieve the 20 percent budget reduction for this year which was a directive from the mayor," he said.

The city is currently operating seven e-mail systems, including two different Lotus Notes systems and five Exchange on-premise products. Maintaining those various systems was costly, in terms of supporting the hardware and software as well as management costs, he said.

Supporting multiple e-mail systems is common for governments, said Shawn McCarthy, an analyst from IDC. Often each department has its own e-mail system, making upgrading the software and maintaining patches inefficient, he said. "Having a common system across all agencies lets IT managers in government focus on what's their core mission," he said.

Moving to the cloud will also help San Francisco more easily use the latest technologies and better handle disaster situations, Walton said. His group hasn't been as disaster-ready as he would like and moving to the cloud means that e-mail should remain functioning even if there's a disaster in San Francisco, he said.

Microsoft beat out the competitors because San Francisco saw potential to expand its use, he said. "We have a strategic vision for the city of where we want to be over the next five years and the Exchange solution fit very well in terms of where we're going," he said. For instance, the city currently uses Office and Sharepoint and could migrate that software to Microsoft's cloud services as well, he said.

San Francisco is also interested in other Microsoft offerings like video conferencing, he said. "This creates for us a foundation, a core of a system that we can expand in the future," he said.

Rather than being alarmed by the outages that hit the hosted Exchange offering last week, Walton said the incident made him pleased to have chosen Microsoft. "I see what happened last week as demonstrating why I think we made the right decision," he said.

Microsoft kept San Francisco updated on the problem and ultimately e-mail was affected for four hours with none lost, he said.

"Frankly, this isn't the first e-mail outage the city has experienced in the past," he said. During the problems, San Francisco had just one point -- Microsoft -- to contact to find information about the problem, he said. That's an improvement over the current system where San Francisco might have to try to fix seven different systems, he said.

In addition, because San Francisco has a service level agreement with Microsoft, it will get a credit for the outage, he said.

San Francisco seems to have had a better experience with the outage than others, some of whom complained online about struggling to reach Microsoft support for help.

Walton doesn't expect to let go any workers due to the move to the hosted e-mail service. Instead, workers that previously maintained the many systems will be freed up to deliver better service to technology users, he said.

Microsoft and Google have been locked in a heated battle for government business and both have won notable contracts. They recently engaged in a war of words over important certifications required to serve some government agencies.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com


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Android 3.1 Update Coming in June to Acer, Asus, and T-Mobile Tablets (PC World)

Melissa J. Perenson Melissa J. Perenson – Tue May 17, 9:15 pm ET

The first major update to Google's Honeycomb platform, Android 3.1, was announced last week at the Google I/O developer event, and it's slowly rolling out as an over-the-air update to mobile broadband-connected Motorola Xoom tablets. When announced, Google was vague about when we could expect Android 3.1 on other Honeycomb tablets, but today saw update details flying across the Web for both the Acer Iconia A500 and the Asus EeePad Transformer.

The details remain vague, however. According to reports on ThisIsMyNext and Engadget, Asus Italia used its Facebook page to reveal an over-the-air update was coming in June. And Acer says an update is coming in June, as well. Mind you, we don't know when in June, nor do we know if U.S. models will receive the update at the same time as other regions will. Still, add that T-Mobile says it will be doing an OTA update of the T-Mobile G-Slate,and we've got a bona fide Android 3.1 party.

I've yet to see the Android 3.1 update, but I'm looking forward to it: In addition to adding things like resizable widgets, Google says it has fixed the image rendering issue I've noted before.


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Microsoft: One in 14 Downloads Is Malicious (PC World)

The next time a website says to download new software to view a movie or fix a problem, think twice. There's a pretty good chance that the program is malicious.

In fact, about one out of every 14 programs downloaded by Windows users turns out to be malicious, Microsoft said Tuesday. And even though Microsoft has a feature in its Internet Explorer browser designed to steer users away from unknown and potentially untrustworthy software, about 5 percent of users ignore the warnings and download malicious Trojan horse programs anyway.

Five years ago, it was pretty easy for criminals to sneak their code onto computers. There were plenty of browser bugs, and many users weren't very good at patching. But since then, the cat-and-mouse game of Internet security has evolved: Browsers have become more secure, and software makers can quickly and automatically push out patches when there's a known problem.

So increasingly, instead of hacking the browsers themselves, the bad guys try to hack the people using them. It's called social engineering, and it's a big problem these days. "The attackers have figured out that it's not that hard to get users to download Trojans," said Alex Stamos, a founding partner with Isec Partners, a security consultancy that's often called in to clean up the mess after companies have been hacked.

Social engineering is how the Koobface virus spreads on Facebook. Users get a message from a friend telling them to go and view a video. When they click on the link, they're then told that they need to download some sort of video playing software in order to watch. That software is actually a malicious program.

Social-engineering hackers also try to infect victims by hacking into Web pages and popping up fake antivirus warnings designed to look like messages from the operating system. Download these and you're infected. The criminals also use spam to send Trojans, and they will trick search engines into linking to malicious websites that look like they have interesting stories or video about hot news such as the royal wedding or the death of Osama bin Laden.

"The attackers are very opportunistic, and they latch onto any event that might be used to lure people," said Joshua Talbot, a manager with Symantec Security Response. When Symantec tracked the 50 most common malicious programs last year, it found that 56 percent of all attacks included Trojan horse programs.

In enterprises, a social-engineering technique called spearphishing is a serious problem. In spearphishing, the criminals take the time to figure out who they're attacking, and then they create a specially crafted program or a maliciously encoded document that the victim is likely to want to open -- materials from a conference they've attended or a planning document from an organization that they do business with.

With its new SmartScreen Filter Application Reputation screening, introduced in IE 9, Internet Explorer provides a first line of defense against Trojan horse programs, including Trojans sent in spearphishing attacks.

IE also warns users when they're being tricked into visiting malicious websites, another way that social-engineering hackers can infect computer users. In the past two years, IE's SmartScreen has blocked more than 1.5 billion Web and download attacks, according to Jeb Haber, program manager lead for SmartScreen.

Haber agreed that better browser protection is pushing the criminals into social engineering, especially over the past two years. "You're just seeing an explosion in direct attacks on users with social engineering," he said. "We were really surprised by the volumes. The volumes have been crazy."

When the SmartScreen warning pops up to tell users that they're about to run a potentially harmful program, the odds are between 25 percent and 70 percent that the program will actually be malicious, Haber said. A typical user will only see a couple of these warnings each year, so it's best to take them very seriously.

Robert McMillan covers computer security and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Robert on Twitter at @bobmcmillan. Robert's e-mail address is robert_mcmillan@idg.com


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Monday, May 16, 2011

China Unicom Hopes 1000-yuan Smartphones Will Boost 3G Use (PC World)

China Unicom is gearing up to sell a new wave of smartphones for 1000 yuan (US$154), a price that the carrier believes will accelerate the growth of the mobile Internet in China among users of unsubsidized pay-as-you-go phones.

For that price, buyers will get a 3G phone with Wi-Fi capability, a 3.5-inch touchscreen, a processor running at 600MHz or faster, and a high-speed Web browser. Many of the phones will run Android, China Unicom said Monday as it announced its plans to sell more low-cost smartphones.

A China Unicom spokesman said the carrier plans to release many of these smartphones with a 1000 yuan price-tag, but could not say when they will be released.

The low cost smartphones are part of the carrier's strategy to bring its faster third-generation (3G) network to more Chinese users. The country's 3G user base has already exceeded 60 million. But this only accounts for a small percentage of China's nearly 900 million mobile phone users, the vast majority of which use slower second-generation networks.

China Unicom itself has 174 million mobile subscribers, 18.5 million of them 3G users, while its larger rival China Mobile has 600 million customers, although only 26 million of them are signed up with its 3G networks.

Some analysts attribute the higher proportion of 3G users among China Unicom's subscribers to the company's exclusive rights to sell the iPhone in China, giving its smartphone offerings a leg up over the competition.

Analysts and industry executives believe the uptake of smartphones in China will lead to more Internet usage in the country. Currently, the country has 457 million Web users, according to the China Internet Network Information Center.

The devices, however, have been out of reach for most consumers due to their high costs. For instance, an Apple iPhone 3G can cost at 3,999 yuan ($616), while many other popular devices sell for similar prices.

Smartphones priced at 1000 yuan or lower are expected to further open the market. By 2013, smartphones will account for half of all mobile phone sales, said Lu Libin, an analyst with Beijing-based research firm Analysys International. Currently they account for 27 percent of phone sales.

"The costs will decrease over time," he added. "We are already starting to see the release of lower-cost smartphones around 1000 yuan from China Unicom and its competitors."


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PlayStation Network and Qriocity Back for Users Outside Asia (PC World)

Millions of PlayStation users are once again able to shoot, fight and race their way through online worlds after Sony resumed online gaming service late Saturday and Sunday in many major markets.

Basic services on the PlayStation Network and Qriocity services were switched on for users in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand for the first time in more than three weeks, but users in Asia face a longer wait for service to resume.

Sony pulled the plug on the two online services after discovering on April 19 that its data center in San Diego had been attacked. A subsequent computer forensics investigation into the hack revealed the massive theft of personal information including user names, e-mail addresses, login IDs and passwords.

The PlayStation Network is a platform for online gaming and a channel through which Sony sells games and other content to console and handheld owners. Qriocity is an online service for Sony's networked consumer electronics products that offers music and video content.

Service was resumed in North America late Saturday evening and in other markets on Sunday. PlayStation users are being asked to download a firmware update for the console before they can reconnect to the network. Then, upon login, users must change their password.

The only hiccup in the resumption of services came in the password reset process, which was slowed down because of the large number of e-mail messages generated by the system. Some e-mail and Internet service providers temporarily throttled messages from Sony due to the high volume resulting in short delays. Sony also halted the password reset process for 30 minutes at one stage to clear a backlog of messages.

"The first phase in the U.S. and Europe went well," said Satoshi Fukuoka, a spokesman for Sony Computer Entertainment in Tokyo. "Users are able to access the service. There have been no major problems."

Sony also reenabled the playback of already rented video, "Music Unlimited" online audio streaming, access to third-party services like Netflix and Hulu, PlayStation Home and friends features such as chat. Full service is expected to resume by the end of May in these markets.

Users in Asia, including Sony's home market of Japan, are still waiting for service to be restored.

The company is consulting with regulatory authorities in each of the markets in which it operates before resuming service, said Fukuoka. Sony doesn't formally need approval to restart the online services, but the company has decided to seek the understanding of regulators before it does so, said Fukuoka.

He offered no estimate on when service will return in Asia.

Martyn Williams covers Japan and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com


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Fresh iPhone Apps for May 16: 8coupons, Zombie Glider, Doodle vs Brute: World Domination (Appolicious)

Start the week off right with 8coupons, which lets you track down hidden deals using your iPhone’s GPS capabilities. Also check out Zombie Glider, a game which puts you in control of a hang-gliding zombie with a taste for human gray matter, and Doodle vs. Brute: World Domination, a side-scrolling action title set in an pen-and-ink world.

Find “hidden” deals all over the place with 8coupons, an app that uses your iOS device’s GPS technology to zero-in on sales and bargains being held at stores all over your area. The service aggregates deals from lots of different services, including Groupon, LivingSocial and Restaurant.com, as well as locals sales from weekly ads, and tracks them all on your device’s Google Maps.

There are more than 4,000 sources for deals that get pulled that 8coupons draws on, and you can also add your own deals and check out bargains spotted by the community. The app can make use of your iPhone’s camera, as well, overlaying locations for different offers using augmented reality.

The zombie hordes can’t seem to get to the humans and their brains inside walled medieval cities, but one zombie has a plan -- ride in a hang glider fired from a cannon, and attack the humans from the air. In Zombie Glider, you are that zombie, and as you soar over the humans’ fortresses, you’ll dip down and snatch humans as they flee, snacking on their brains and then tossing them back to take out other humans as they bounce like deadly projectiles.

Not all the humans are defenseless, however. Archers on towers, rooftops and flying machines will try to stop you, and running into structures will take you out immediately. But along the way you can fortify your human attack vehicle by upgrading it by spending brain points you accumulate for notching up high scores.

The doodle world and the ink world have been war for some time, but now the tide is turning with you – a giant cybernetic King Kong-like gorilla called The Brute that has been assigned with destroying doodle cities and wiping out doodle military. You’ll stalk across side-scrolling city levels as the Brute, tapping away to punch small stick-man troops before they can hit you with all manner of weapons and artillery.

As you progress through Doodle vs. Brute, you’ll gather currency called “tech points” that you can use to upgrade the Brute’s cybernetics, adding another level of strategy to the game. Do you want to gather more health from power-ups, or send doodles screaming in terror before you with the power of mind manipulation? How you approach each level is up to you, but your scores are tracked on Game Center’s leaderboards.


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