Friday, June 26, 2009

The Incredible Life of super star Michael Jackson 1958-2009

As the pundits rehashed the scandals of his life and debated what had brought him to a sudden end, Michael Jackson's fans, an army of admirers undivided by language, religion or national differences, reacted with tears – and joy at the music he left behind. A look back at the life of the King of Pop:

Early Career
The seventh of nine children of Joseph and Katherine Jackson, Michael Joseph Jackson was born in Gary, Ind., on Aug. 29, 1958, and began his career performing with his brothers. His professional debut with the Jackson 5 came in 1969.

The group set chart records with its first four singles, including "I Want You Back" and "ABC." As a solo artist, Jackson also recorded four albums for Motown Records before moving, with his brothers, to Epic Records, where they continued to record as the Jacksons until 1984.

Forming a partnership with producer Quincy Jones after working together on the 1978 movie musical The Wiz – in which Jackson played a rather sheepish Scarecrow to Diana Ross's Dorothy in the urban adaptation of The Wizard of Oz – Jackson released his solo album Off the Wall, co-produced with Jones. The disc spawned monster hits including "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and "Rock With You." His second Epic solo album, 1982's Thriller, is often cited as the best-selling album of all time.

The video for Thriller all but defined the music video genre, while the album sold 40 million copies in its initial chart run, with seven of its nine tracks reaching the Top Ten. It was also nominated for 12 Grammys and won eight.

On March 25, 1983, Jackson performed his single "Billie Jean" live on the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever TV special, where he debuted a dance, the moonwalk, that was to become his signature move. The following year, the singer was filming a Pepsi-Cola commercial at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles when he suffered second-degree burns after pyrotechnics set his hair on fire. The singer settled out of court and established the Michael Jackson Burn Center with his $1.5 million award.

'We Are the World'
In 1984, Jackson did his final tour with the Jacksons to support the album Victory. The one major hit from the recording was Michael's duet with Mick Jagger, "State of Shock." The next year, Jackson began to put charity first and co-wrote and sang (along with Willie Nelson, Tina Turner and nearly every pop star known at the time) "We Are the World," on behalf of USA for Africa.

Then came the 1987 album Bad, when some slippage in his popularity began to show. At the time, the reclusive Jackson, who was raised a Jehovah's Witness, started construction on a mini-Disneyland as his residence, which he named Neverland, a place to live out the childhood he claimed he never had.

In 1993, Jackson addressed persistent rumors, telling Oprah Winfrey on her TV show that, contrary to reports that he was bleaching his skin a lighter shade, he in fact suffered from a condition called vitiligo. He also said that his father physically abused him as a child.

Not long after, Michael himself was accused of abusing a 13-year-old boy who slept over at Neverland, though police found no evidence to support the claim when they searched the ranch. The case was settled by Jackson for an undisclosed sum. When other allegations of a similar nature emerged, Jackson maintained his innocence.

In May 1994, Jackson and the daughter of the late rock icon Elvis Presley, Lisa Marie Presley, were married – and very soon split up. After their 1996 divorce, Jackson married Debbie Rowe, a nurse in the office of one of his doctors. Two children were born to the couple: son Prince Michael Jackson I, in 1997, and daughter Paris Michael Jackson, in 1998. Jackson later had a third child, Prince Michael Jackson II (nicknamed "Blanket").

Professionally, Jackson was losing some of his luster, and the reception to his 1995 album HIStory: Past, Present, and Future, Book I was mixed, even though it produced two hit singles: "You Are Not Alone" and "Scream," the latter a duet with his sister Janet Jackson. By the time Jackson's 2001 album Invincible arrived, the artist was known for being as much an eccentric character as he was a serious musician.

Farewell to Neverland
In 2002, Jackson further damaged his reputation when he held son Blanket over a hotel balcony in Berlin so his fans on the street could see the child. Once again, when the critics threw bricks at him, Jackson said he was acting out of innocence.

The real trouble came in 2003, with a TV documentary, Living with Michael Jackson, in which the star told British journalist Martin Bashir that he shared his bed with young children. In 2004 came Jackson's arrest on a slew of ugly charges, including lewd conduct with a minor, attempted lewd conduct, administering alcohol to facilitate molestation and conspiracy to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. A media circus ensued at the trial – one day a very late Jackson showed up to court in his pajamas – though on June 13, 2005, Jackson was acquitted of all charges.

Saying that he felt that Neverland had been contaminated by police authorities who had gathered evidence against him, Jackson moved himself and his children to Bahrain. Amid promises of a new album, Jackson languished as an artist. Earlier this year, he announced that he would perform a series of concerts in the U.K. He said that these would be his final curtain call – his farewell to his fans.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Launch to Moon - America in Space -June 2009

America in Space-by Kenneth Renshaw, NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador, Piggott, Arkansas

June 2009

This month's America in Space will see our nation returning to the Moon after many years of waiting, as well as a postponement of the shuttle launch of Endeavour.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), with the accompanying LCROSS, was launched on June 18, and arrived at the Moon on June 23. In October, an upper rocket stage, about the size of a small bus, will smash into the Moon near its pole (location to yet be determined). The plume from the collision should let scientists know if there is water ice in the permanently shadowed areas within craters at the Moon's poles, providing a valuable resource for drinking, breathing, and fuel for a future manned Moon base. The LCROSS will fly through the plume, chemically analyzing it for water, then, 4 minutes later, also crash into the Moon. The plume from both collisions will be visible in Earth's telescopes, providing further information. The LRO orbiter will continue to orbit the Moon, mapping it in unprecedented detail, providing safe landing areas for future probes. The next generation of manned spacecraft, the Ares I, with its Orion capsule, along with the unmanned Ares V with a lander and cargo attached, will replace the Shuttle in about 2013, with plans for a manned presence on the Moon in about 2020. It'll be the first time man has landed on the moon since the Apollo program in 1969-1972. Speaking of Apollo, this July 20 will be the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing in 1969, as well as the 33rd anniversary of Viking I, the first unmanned landing on Mars.

On May 24, the crew of STS-125 landed the Atlantis shuttle, after one of the most spectacular flights in history. Despite conducting some of the most difficult spacewalks of all time, technical problems, and repairs planned that the Hubble was not designed for, the astronauts of STS-125 repaired and upgraded the Hubble Space Telescope for at least 5 more years of research, far beyond the capabilities of the past use of the Hubble or any telescope ever invented. Due to the weather, Atlantis landed in California, causing the need to use a modified 747 jet to return the shuttle to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The next shuttle, STS-127, the Endeavour, was delayed from a June launch to July 11, 2009, due to a hydrogen leak problem. The position of the Sun caused the delay to July. STS-127 will dock with the International Space Station, and complete the JAXA (Japanese Space Agency) module of the station, the KIBO laboratory. The space station (ISS) was upgraded last year so that 6, rather than 3, astronauts regularly occupy it for about 6 months at a time. The ISS is an international cooperation of several nations, including the U.S., Russia, ESA (European Space Agency), and JAXA. When STS-127 docks with the ISS in July, 2 records will occur: 1. 13 people will be in space at once, more than ever in history, and 2. U.S. astronaut Chris Cassidy, age 39, will become the 500th human (from any country) to fly in space.

In other space news, Cassini is doing well on a 2-year extended mission, exploring Saturn, its rings, and its moons. Messenger is doing well, on its way to a March 18, 2011 encounter with Mercury, the first spacecraft to orbit the tiny, hot planet. The 2011 Mars Science Laboratory rover has been named "Curiosity", in a contest won by Clara Ma, age 12, of Kansas. To be a part of space history, and put your name on a micro-chip on this rover that will be flown to Mars, go to to these public participation programs, my name is currently on its way to the Moon (on LRO/LCROSS), Pluto (on New Horizons), is on Mars (Phoenix lander), and was smashed into a comet (on Deep Impact).

Speaking of naming contests, a bit of trivia: Pluto, the former 9th planet now considered a dwarf planet, discovered February 18, 1930, was named by a then 11-year-old British girl, Venetia Burney, who passed away this Spring.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Windows 7 Look and Feel on a Vista or XP System

Windows 7 takes interface improvements seriously, with such innovations as shake response, Aero Snap, and a pinnable taskbar. Here's how to upgrade your Vista or XP system with those smart new features.

Much of the excitement about Windows 7 relates to an assortment of user-interface improvements: a little eye candy here, a few window-management tweaks there. Below are some of the highlights, along with the tools you will need to get them for your current OS.

Aero Snap

When you drag a window to the left or right edge of your computer screen, Windows 7's Aero Snap feature automatically resizes the window to fill that half of the screen. To "undock" a window, simply click and drag it away from the edge. This feature is especially convenient for PC users who have widescreen monitors, because it enables them to put a pair of windows side by side in just 2 quick mouse clicks.

The free AeroSnap download makes automatic window anchoring and resizing available to Vista and XP systems. And it emulates Windows 7 in another way: If you drag a window to the top edge of the screen, the window maximizes.

Invisible Windows

Need to peek at your desktop? Clicking Vista's Show Desktop button will minimize all of your open windows, but Window 7 can make them temporarily become transparent-great for glancing at, say, one of Windows' new floating Gadgets. All you have to do is mouse over the Show Desktop button in the bottom-right corner of the screen, and presto: Your windows turn invisible, with only the borders remaining. Slide your mouse away, and immediately the windows become opaque once more.

The freebie AeroPeek (the link goes to a downloadable zip file) for XP and Vista works a bit differently-you have to click to activate it and then click again to deactivate it-but the end result is much the same: Your open windows turn see-through, allowing you to view the desktop behind them. Of course, you can always press Windows-D to minimize all open windows (and afterward press Windows-D again to restore them), but what fun is that?

Window Shake

Want to minimize all but one of a group of windows on your desktop? In Win 7, you can accomplish that feat by clicking and holding the title bar of any open window, and then shaking your mouse back and forth a few times. All of the other open windows will funnel down to the taskbar. Shake the lone window again, and its counterparts will reappear.

The free Aero Shake utility from Lifehacker brings Windows 7-style shake-and-bake windowing to Vista and XP. Though the feature is not quite as smooth as the version built in to Windows 7, it is still a useful little amenity--and you certainly can't beat the price.

The Pinnable Taskbar

Arguably the most visually noticeable change in Win 7 is its overhauled taskbar, which sports oversize program icons and lets you "pin" favorite applications and documents (when you pin a document, it joins the corresponding application's Jump List, a context-sensitive pop-up menu of shortcuts to commonly used documents and/or tasks.) If you like the idea, you can set up an almost identical taskbar in Vista (but not in XP, sorry), simply by introducing a few minor modifications.

If your system does not already have a batch of program icons located just to the right of Vista's Start button, right-click the taskbar and click Toolbars, Quick Launch. Next, unlock the taskbar by right-clicking again and clearing the check mark next to Lock the Taskbar. This operation adds a handle (which looks like three columns of tiny dots) to the right side of the Quick Launch toolbar. Drag the handle to the right to make more room for icons. Finally, to make the icons larger and closer in form to the ones in Win 7, right-click the taskbar a third time and choose View, Large Icons. (Make sure that you click in an open area of the taskbar, and not directly on an icon.) Besides adding new icons for programs, you can attach icons for folders and even for documents to your newly improved taskbar. Just drag an icon down and drop it in. If you need extra space, you can always drag the toolbar handle farther to the right.

The Icons-Only Taskbar

The Windows 7 taskbar consists exclusively of icons, even for programs that are currently running. That is a significant change from old-style text-enhanced program icons, but it frees up lots of extra space on the ol' taskbar.

Instructing XP's or Vista's taskbar to show only icons entails taking a trip into the Registry (be sure to follow our advice for Registry backup described under the subhead "Fewer System Notifications"). Here are the steps to take once you are ready to boldly go forward:

1. Click Start, type , and press .

2. Find and click the value listed at HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics.

3. In the right pane, right-click in an open space and select New, String Value.

4. Name the new string value , and set its value to .

5. Exit the Registry Editor, and restart your system.

Henceforth, only icons will appear in your taskbar. If you decide later that you do not like the new look, you can return to the Registry and delete the entry that you created above. If you don't care to monkey around with your Registry, try the next tip, which accomplishes very nearly the same thing without requiring any Registry intervention.

Thumbnail Previews

When you mouse over a taskbar icon in Windows 7, a thumbnail preview of the corresponding program will pop up (if the feature is activated). If you happen to be running multiple instances of a program (such as Internet Explorer), you will see multiple thumbnails.


To achieve the same effect in Vista (but once again, not in XP), install EnhanceMyVista Free; true to its name, the download is free. The procedure could hardly be simpler: Start the program, click Customization, Taskbar, and enable Iconize your Taskbar. You are all set.

The Windows 7 User Interface

The Windows 7 interface emphasizes efficiency rather than sizzle. The chief improvements consist of a remodeled Windows Taskbar with large icons, one-click access to tasks associated with a specific app, and various other practical enhancements. See "Microsoft Windows 7: A Closer Look at Your Next OS?" for a discussion of Windows 7 that includes screenshots and videos.

Because Windows Vista more or less forms the core of Windows 7, making Vista look like 7 is fairly easy (as evidenced by the aforementioned taskbar and thumbnail-preview tips). Windows XP users, however, have fewer options at their disposal. In response, 3rd-party developer Windows X Live created the Seven Transformation Pack, a collection of interface tweaks--menus, icons, fonts, buttons, and so on--that are designed to make XP look and feel like Windows 7. And the software works as advertised. In fact, the before-and-after difference is pretty amazing, right down to the interface's search-enhanced Start menu and Windows 7-style floating gadgets.

Before downloading this fabulous freebie, make sure that your system already has XP Service Pack 3 installed. I also recommend that you create a restore point in XP's System Restore tool before running the installer, as the 7 Transformation Pack makes some fairly high-level changes to your system. When the installation is complete, reboot, and prepare to witness the minor miracle of Windows XP transformed into Windows 7.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pilot on Continental Airlines Flight Dies; Jet Lands Safe

The only inkling passengers had of something wrong today on a Continental Airlines flight over the Atlantic Ocean was an announcement seeking a doctor to respond to the cockpit. (June 18)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

31 killed in coal mine blast in Indonesia

The death toll from an explosion at a coal mine believed triggered by a gas leak rose to 31 after rescuers unearthed more bodies Wednesday, officials said.

Rescuers pulled out 14 burned bodies from narrow paths inside the 300-foot (100-meter) - deep mine on Wednesday and were searching for one more miner thought to be buried inside, said local police Chief Yasman Esha.

"From latest verification, we can conclude that only one miner is still inside, but we fear he has already dead," Esha said by phone.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Google introduced a new app Maps application for Android phone

Google Maps voice Android
Google introduced a new version of its glossy Maps application for Android phones. Version 3.1.0 brings with it several new features, including voice search to go with its text search field and transit and walking directions to go with step-by-step driving directions.

In tests, Google's voice search on Android was fairly consistent with other voice search apps we have tested. That is to say, a scosh inconsistent. Most searches for banal items of daily life like 'shoe repair shop' and 'coffee' plotted the sought-for neighborhood responses on the map. Once or twice, even in a quiet house at a quiet hour, did a phrase like 'sushi' yield 'nc,' with the map racing off to North Carolina.

The trip planner in particular worked extremely well for San Francisco. As with the online version, Google's Transit works in 250 cities. Indeed, Google Maps quickly and accurately planned and timed my commute, providing options for other routes in the near past and future. To get directions with public transit, tap 'Directions' from the menu, select the middle icon, of a bus, and enter the end point, which can be an address or a business name. You are also able to set a specific departure time or arrival time and day. For city-dwellers, accurate walking and transportation directions are a necessity.

Rolled into the release is an experimental feature. Updates, which is connected to Google Latitude, lets you actively change your Latitude status for friends to see - so long as they are also using the latest version of Maps.

The erasure of Street View as its own map mode is another change you will see. Instead, it has been integrated into any search result where the view is applicable. Pressing a point on the map will also bring up a Street View thumbnail if there's an available image.

For a change, Google Maps 3.1.0 is not being automatically pushed to new users. To get it, download it fresh through the Android Market on your phone. The application is compatible with Android platform 1.0 and 1.5, so G1 and HTC Magic users can fire it up alike.


Monday, June 15, 2009 helps users search for answers, not a search engine helps users search for answers - but 1st, it performs a detailed search on the users themselves.

Launching today after a year in development, Hunch aims to supply users with computer-generated advice on thousands of lifestyle and consumer questions: What should I get dad for Father's Day? What kind of dog should I buy? Which book by George Orwell would I like?

Most important, though, Hunch isn't a search engine. Rather than scouring the open Web for information, as Microsoft's new Bing, Google and scores of others do, or collating written opinions, as does, Hunch computes answers by comparing what it knows about you to what it knows about people like you.

"Ultimately, what we are doing is providing a kind of shortcut through human expert systems," said Hunch founder Caterina Fake, who also started, the popular photo-sharing site that was acquired by Yahoo in 2005.

By 1st inviting users to answer as many as 1,500 questions about themselves - an addictive kind of personality test that involves such diverse questions as political orientation, relationship status and whether you believe in UFOs and keep your closet organized - Hunch looks to assemble a demographic profile whose depth could rival anything in the commercial universe.

The New York Company also believes that users stand to benefit from this kind of large-scale data farming - not just from getting better answers, but also from discovering the many microdemographics to which they belong. Hunch also says it'll not sell user data to marketers.

But this promise, written into the site's privacy policy, is not precisely a legal contract, said Siva Vaidhyanathan, a new-media scholar at the University of Virginia, and the difference leaves the data it collects in a fuzzy domain.

"Without any strong consumer protection laws with respect to privacy," he said, problems can arise in unforeseen situations, such as what happens to your data "if a company you can not trust buys a company you can trust."

Hunch says if the terms of its privacy policy change substantially, it'll notify users. The site also gives users substantial control over the data they have shared, including the ability to delete or modify any or all of it whenever they like.

Companies that steward large amounts of consumer information must survive on their reputations, said Ari Schwartz, chief operating officer of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

"Privacy is a part of trust," he said, adding that users are getting better at identifying which sites are trustworthy. "If they do burn their users on privacy, it's going to hurt them."

Fake agrees, noting that the user-first values she built into Flickr helped the site succeed in becoming a global community of photography lovers.

"The most important thing you can do with users is be honest and trustworthy - and don't use the data in any way they would not want."

After Hunch has boiled you down into a nicely organized set of preference data, it is your turn to make a specific request. Say you are interested in finding the perfect kind of dog for you: The site then asks you a series of 5 to 10 specific questions to narrow your hypothetical dog by size, temperament, price and so forth.

The result of all that work is the set of dogs that Hunch thinks fit your preferences, purse and personality. Now you know whether you are destined to own a border collie, a vizsla or a plain old mutt.

But before you run down to the animal shelter, remember that this is just the best guess of a nascent system. Hunch's real power, said Fake, will come after it has aggregated data from a huge number of users, the better to decide which buckets and sub-buckets each user should fit into.

"The measure of a really good piece of social software is whether it gets better or not as people use it," she said. Because Hunch has been in a limited preview to the company's inner circle, its user base is lacking diversity.

"For things like video games and blogs, we are in pretty good shape right now," she said. "We are probably less good at guessing what kinds of handbags women in Illinois like."

Fake said that based on user feedback, Hunch is getting it right about 80% of the time, but that she'd like to pump that number up to 90 percent or 95 percent.

The 10-person company, which has raised $2 million in venture capital from Bessemer Venture Partners and General Catalyst Partners, isn't yet concentrating on turning a profit. But eventually it'll use the rich user profiles it generates to sell highly targeted advertising.

As Fake figures it: What better time to sell a product to a consumer than the moment after they have decided exactly what they want?


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lincoln stamp: Stolen, found, sold for $431,250

This undated photo provided Saturday, June 13, 2009 by Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, Inc. shows a 136-year old stamped envelope known to collectors as "The Ice House Cover." The envelope, with a rare Abraham Lincoln stamp that was stolen from an Indiana collector in 1967 and surfaced 39 years later in Chicago was sold at auction by the Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, Inc., in New York on June 13, 2009, for for $431,250. (AP Photo/Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, Inc.)

NEW YORK - A rare Abraham Lincoln stamp that was stolen from Indiana in 1967 and surfaced 39 years later in Chicago has sold at auction for more than $430,000.

The stamped envelope was auctioned Saturday at Manhattan's Robert A. Siegel galleries.

The buyer is Arthur K.M. Woo, a doctor who would reveal nothing more about himself.

He paid $431,250 for the 90-cent stamp, against a pre-sale estimate of $300,000 to $400,000, including the buyer's premium.

The so-called Ice House Cover with Lincoln's likeness is on an envelope mailed from Boston to an ice house in India in 1873.

The stamp vanished from its owner's safe in Indianapolis and turned up in 2006 at a home in Chicago. A collector notified police.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

North Korea may be preparing for new nuclear test

North Korea may be preparing for a new atomic bomb(nuclear) test a month after its last test, a U.S. official said Thursday.

The official, who isn't authorized to speak on the record, told CNN that Washington has "indications" that N.Korea may be planning another test, which would be its third since 2006. The official would not provide any details, however.

The possible preparations come as the U.N. Security Council debates whether to impose additional sanctions on the communist state in response to its May 25 test of a nuclear device, as well as several subsequent missile tests. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Wednesday that North Korea "must pay a price" for its defiance of the international community, which has demanded Pyongyang halt those tests.

In July 2008, U.S., Russian, Chinese, Japanese and South Korean negotiators reached an agreement with North Korea for it to resume the disablement of its nuclear facilities. But the deal has faltered over plans to allow the other parties to verify whether Pyongyang has revealed all of its nuclear secrets.

North Korea has since threatened to restart its nuclear fuel plant at Yongbyon.

Stephen Bosworth, the Obama administration's special representative for N.Korea, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday that all parties - including China, long N.Korea's major ally - have agreed to "coordinated steps" to get N.Korea to reverse its recent moves away from the 6-party agreement.

"On our recent trip, we find that China shared a deep concern about N.Korea's recent actions and a strong commitment to achieve denuclearization," Bosworth said. "Our challenge now is to work with China to turn that commitment into effective implementation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions."

But Victor Cha, the former Asia director at the U.S. National Security Council, told the committee that additional sanctions could result in a new N.Korean test.

"When the Bush administration undertook some of these financial measures, many people argued it led to North Korea's 1st nuclear test," Cha said. "And the question arises whether these financial measures will then lead North Korea to their third nuclear test. And I don't think we know the answer to that."

Earlier this month, the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, in a rare television interview, shed some light on who might eventually take over the secretive Communist nation. Kim Jong Nam told TV Asahi, a Japanese television network, in Macau that he does not care about politics or about succeeding his father.

Kim Jong Il is widely reported to have suffered a stroke in August and has been absent from many public functions in recent months. In April, he named his son, Kim Jong Un, and brother-in-law, Jang Song Thaek, to the country's powerful National Defense Commission, suggesting his third son may be his heir.

"I hear that news in the media," Kim Jong Nam said. "I think it's true ... however, it is my father's decision. So once he decides, we have to support him."


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

China's personal computers at hacking risk

Every PC in China could be at risk of being taken over by malicious hackers because of flaws in compulsory government software.

The potential faults were brought to light by Chinese computer experts who said the flaw could lead to a "large-scale disaster".

The Chinese government has mandated that all computers in the country must have the screening software installed.

It is intended to filter out offensive material from the net.

The Chinese government said that the Green Dam Youth Escort software, as it's known, was intended to push forward the "healthy development of the internet" and "effectively manage harmful material for the public and prevent it from being spread."

"We found a series of software flaws," explained Isaac Mao, a blogger and social entrepreneur in China, as well as a research fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

For example, he said, tests had shown that communications between the software & the servers at the company that developed the program were unencrypted.

Mr Mao told BBC News that this could allow hackers to "steal people's private information" or "place malicious script" on computers in the network to "affect large scale disaster."

For example, a hacker could use malicious code to take control of PCs using the software.

"Then you have every computer in China potentially as part of a botnet," Colin Maclay, also of Harvard, told BBC News.

A botnet is the name given to a network of hijacked computers that can then be used to pump out spam or launch concerted attacks on commercial or government websites.

No one from Jinhui Computer System Engineering, the company that developed Green Dam, was available for comment.

'Naked pig'

The software has also caused a backlash amongst privacy experts, academics and some Chinese citizens. It has also raised the scorn of the blogosphere inside the country who feel the system is no match for tech-savvy teenagers.

One blogger posted a screenshot of the software purportedly blocking an attempt to visit a porn site using Microsoft's IE.

But, he said, there was no problem accessing the site using the Firefox web browser.

Others have reported that the system only runs on Microsoft Windows, allowing Mac and Linux users to bypass the software.

It is thought that at least 3m computer users have already downloaded the software, opening them up to potential security problems.

Another formal study by the Open Network Initiative into the risks posed by the software is expected soon. However, many people in China who have been forced to use the software are already reporting other problems.

For example, the system reportedly blocks legitimate as well as banned content. For example, it designed to identify the proportion of skin colour in a picture to determine whether it is pornography.

But comments on a bulletin board run by the software company that designed the system, suggest the system does not work perfectly.

"I went on the internet to check out some animal photos. A lovely little naked pig was sent onto the black list. Pitiful little pig!," read one comment.

"I was curious, so I looked up some photos of naked African women. Oh, they were not censored!"

Another message read: "We were ordered to install the software. So I've to come to this website and curse. After we installed the software, many normal websites are banned."

The forum was taken down after it was seemingly flooded with complaints. A message on the site said says it is being "upgraded".

Mr Mao told BBC News that they believed there was a new guideline from the country's central propaganda department "to comb all media and online forums to block critics and discussion over the issue."

Firewall flaw

The government may be keen to shut down discussion to quell rumours that the system could be used to monitor its citizens.

"Once you have got government-mandated software installed on each machine, the software has the keys to the kingdom - anything can be logged or affected," said Professor Jonathan Zittrain, also of Harvard's Berkman Center.

"While the justification may be pitched as protecting children and mostly concerning pornography, once the architecture is set up it can be used for broader purposes, such as the filtering of political ideas."

In particular, the system could be used to report citizens' web habits.

"It creates log file of all of the pages that the users tries to access," Mr Maclay told BBC News.

"At the moment it is unclear whether that is reported back, but it could be."

A twitter user in China claims that the software transmits reports to Jinhui - the maker of the software - when the user tries to access blacklisted websites.

However, Zhang Chenmin, general manager of the developer of Green Dam, told the China Daily newspaper last year: "Our software is simply not capable of spying on internet users, it's only a filter."

Although many countries around the world routinely block and filter net content, China's regime is regarded as particularly severe.

"There is no transparency about what they are blocking," said Mr Maclay.

Free speech campaigners are concerned that the list could be tweaked to suits the government's aims.

Recently, there has been a web black out across China in advance of the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Website such as Twitter and the photo-sharing site Flickr were blocked in an attempt by the government to prevent online discussion on the subject.

However, some users were able to bypass the filters to distribute pictures and commentary including links to photos of plain-clothes policemen blocking the lenses of foreign journalists with their umbrellas.

The country is able to take action like this because it already has a sophisticated censorship regime, including the so-called Great Firewall of China. However, it is known to have some flaws.

A 2007 study by US researchers showed that the system was much more porous than previously thought.

It found that the technology often failed to block content banned by the Chinese government, allowing web users to browse unencumbered at least some of the time.

Filtering and blocking was "particularly erratic", they said, when large numbers of people were online in China.

Despite the failures, the researchers said, the idea of the firewall was more effective than the technology at discouraging talk about banned subjects.

This kind of social pressure was also key to another tactic used by the Chinese government to make sure its citizens only use sanitised portions of the web.

In 2007, the government introduced virtual policemen that pop-up onscreen when web surfers visit many of China's popular website to remind them to stay away from illicit content.

In addition, the government expects internet service providers in China to actively monitor and censor published content, such as blogs.

Experiments have suggested that this approach is hit-and-miss, with some organisations more proactive than others.

However, these systems, combined with the new software, will allow the Chinese government to sanitise the web for most of the 300m of China's population of 1.3bn have access to the net.

"I think this is intended as a sort of belt-and-braces approach, said Professor Zittrain.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

London Officers in 'waterboarding' claim

The Six London Metropolitan Police officers accused of "torturing" suspects through the use of "waterboarding" have been suspended.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) confirmed it is investigating the conduct of the officers during drugs raids in the borough of Enfield on November 4 last year when the 5 people were arrested.

Neither the IPCC nor Scotland Yard would comment on the nature of the allegations but sources have said the officers are accused of pushing drug suspects' heads into buckets of water during searches of two properties.

Waterboarding is when a suspect's head is covered by a wet cloth as water is poured over, giving the sensation of drowning. It was used by the US on terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay but has since been banned by President Barack Obama.

In February, Scotland Yard said 10 police officers from Enfield's crime squad were suspended and another 2 had been placed on restricted duties after an anti-corruption probe into the alleged mishandling of property.

Eight - one of them a detective sergeant - remain suspended and two remain on restricted duties. The 6 suspended over the conduct allegations are among them.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "The Met's Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) received information from a London Metropolitan Police Service employee which raised concerns about the conduct of a small number of officers on Enfield borough.

"The Met's DPS then initiated a thorough investigation and as part of this made a referral to the IPCC in April 2009. The IPCC is independently investigating the actions of 6 officers during the arrests of 5 people in November 2008."

He added: "Whilst the investigation is ongoing it is not appropriate to make assumptions. That said, these are serious allegations that do raise real concern.

"The Met does not tolerate conduct which falls below the standards that the public and the many outstanding Met officers and staff expect. Any allegations of such behaviour are treated very seriously, as this case illustrates, and if found true the strongest possible action will be taken."

The claims are a huge embarrassment fore the force which is currently investigating the case of former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed who alleges he was tortured by US agents.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Intel invests $43 million for mobile WiMax effort in Japan

The venture capital arm of chipmaker Intel has announced an investment in Japanese WiMax company UQ Communications, which intends to provide coverage to most of Japan by 2012.

Intel Capital announced the $43 million investment on Sunday. Intel has long been a prime backer of the wide-range wireless technology, which it says has been deployed to varying extents in 135 countries.

"Intel Capital's investment in UQ Communications is one of our most significant commitments in developing the WiMax ecosystem around the globe," Intel Capital president Arvind Sodhani said in a statement. "UQ's WiMax deployment in Japan is a spectacular example of technology innovation being put to work."

UQ, whose network went live in February, is deploying the mobile variant of WiMax. The fixed version is already being offered in some areas of the U.K., but deployment of the mobile version--a candidate for the title of "4G"--is being held up by a lack of available spectrum.

When it goes to auction, the bulk of this spectrum--in the so-called "3G expansion band" around 2.6GHz--is expected to go to providers of rival technology LTE, but it is possible that some will be bought by a provider of mobile WiMax.

LTE has the backing of most of the incumbent mobile industry, but deployments are expected to lag behind mobile WiMax by a year or two.


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Plane crash at Rochester International airport

The pilot involved in Saturday's plane crash at the Greater Rochester International Airport is out of the hospital.

Peter Treichler, 40, of East Aurora, had taken off in a vintage 1947 Vampire jet when airport officials say the plane had engine trouble five minutes into the flight.

It was heading back to Batavia when something went wrong.

Treichler tried to turn back and came up 100 feet short of the runway, hitting the ground twice before coming to a stop.

The plane was in town for an air show when the crash happened.

"It had engine failure five minutes into the flight. It tried to turn back, came about 100 feet short of the runway, touched down first. The force of hitting the ground forced it to lose total control of the plane and it did end up crashing about 250 yards farther adjacent to our main runway,” said David Damelio, airport director.

Treichler was taken to Strong Hospital with minor injuries and was released Sunday evening.

The jet was restored and previously owned by actor John Travolta and still bears Travolta's name, but has changed hands over the years. It is currently owned by the Wings of Flight aircraft club in Batavia.

Treichler is a member of that club, but is also a flight instructor with the Classic Jet Aircraft Association based in Maryland.

The Federal Aviation Administration continues to investigate the crash.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Intel to Buy Wind River System to Extend Chip Market

The Intel Corporation said Thursday that it had agreed to buy Wind River Systems, a software company, for about $884 million in a bid to put its chips into more consumer electronics and wireless devices.

Intel said it had agreed to pay $11.50 a share for Wind River, a 44% premium over its closing price on Wednesday.

Wind River makes operating systems for platforms as diverse as autos and mobile phones, serving customers like Sony and Boeing.

Intel, whose processors run about 80% of the world’s personal computers, is expanding into new markets, including chips for televisions and mobile devices. Wind River’s software and customer list will pave the way for Intel to win more chip contracts, said Cody Acree, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Company in Dallas.

“If you have a chip you want to put in a lot of things other than a PC, you need code,” Mr. Acree said. “Wind River brings that, and it brings customers.”

Shares of Wind River, which is based in Alameda, Calif., rose $3.76, or 47 percent, to $11.76 a share. Shares of Intel, based in Santa Clara, Calif., rose 19 cents, to $16.13 a share.

It is Intel's first major acquisition since Paul S. Otellini took over as chief executive in 2005.

Intel expects chips for so-called embedded systems, like the electronics in car navigation systems, to generate billions of dollars in annual sales, said Bill Kircos, a company spokesman. Intel already supplies chips to BMW for car stereos that use Wind River software.

"It's trying to get our chips into new systems in your car, into new meters that let you monitor how you use electricity," Mr. Kircos said. "It's about getting into new consumer electronics, smartphones and health care."


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Welcome to Xtreme Eating Awards 2009

WASHINGTON—Xtreme appetizers, entrées, and desserts at America's chain restaurants are making Americans fatter and sicker, and the trendy thing for chains to do is to make already bad foods even worse, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Bacon cheeseburgers come nestled inside quesadillas. Half racks of ribs are promoted as side orders to steak. Golf-ball-size blobs of macaroni and cheese are tossed in the deep-fryer and served with creamy marinara sauce and even more cheese.

Welcome to the Xtreme Eating Awards for 2009. Welcome back, actually. CSPI's first Xtreme Eating report shocked the nation in 2007 with nutritional train wrecks like Uno Chicago Grill's 2,000-calorie Pizza Skins. Since the restaurant industry is showing few signs of restraint or responsibility in the face of America's epidemic of obesity and diet-related disease, Nutrition Action will make these awards an annual affair.

The Cheesecake Factory's Fried Macaroni and Cheese. With 1,570 calories and 69 grams of saturated fat, you'd be better off eating an entire stick of butter.

"Would you like an entrée with your entrée?" is how CSPI senior nutritionist Jayne Hurley imagines the logic behind items like Olive Garden's Tour of Italy, where diners can pile Lasagna, Chicken Parmigiana, and Fettuccine Alfredo onto one very large dinner plate. "It's a race to the bottom, and there's no end in sight."

Keep in mind that most people should limit themselves to about 2,000 calories, 20 grams of saturated fat, and 1,500 mg of sodium per day. And the envelopes please…

* Red Lobster Ultimate Fondue: This retro item is also making comebacks at Olive Garden, Uno Chicago Grill, and at a chain that sells nothing but fondues, The Melting Pot. Red Lobster’s Ultimate version, "shrimp and crabmeat in a creamy lobster cheese sauce served in a warm crispy sourdough bowl," is crammed with 1,490 calories, 40 grams of saturated fat, and 3,580 mg of sodium. That's two days' worth of both artery-clogging fat and blood-pressure-spiking sodium.

* Applebee's Quesadilla Burger: Here Applebee's inserts a bacon cheeseburger into a quesadilla. Two flour tortillas, two kinds of meat, two kinds of cheese, pico de gallo, lettuce, and a previously unknown condiment called Mexi-ranch sauce, plus fries, gives this monstrous marriage 1,820 calories, 46 grams of saturated fat, and 4,410 mg of sodium. Bonus heart-stopper: Applebee's actually invites customers to top the fries with chili and still more cheese.

* Chili's Big Mouth Bites: This is four mini-bacon-cheeseburgers served on a plate with fries, onion strings, and jalapeno ranch dipping sauce. ("Mini" is relative: each one is like a Quarter Pounder.) Like the "sliders" available at other chains, Chili's Big Mouth Bites can be an appetizer or an entrée (these numbers are for the latter). 2,350 calories, 38 grams of saturated fat, and 3,940 milligrams of sodium.

* The Cheesecake Factory Chicken and Biscuits: Nutrition Action calls it "discomfort food." If you wouldn't eat an entire 8-piece bucket of KFC Original Recipe plus 5 biscuits, you shouldn’t order this. But unless you live in a city with menu labeling, you wouldn’t know that this dish has 2,500 calories. The rest of the winning—or rather, losing—appetizers, entrées, and desserts are in the June issue of Nutrition Action.

According to CSPI, 2009 should be the year that Congress clues diners in by passing a menu labeling measure similar to the ones enacted in Nashville, New York City, Philadelphia, Portland, OR, California, Massachusetts, and several counties. Bills in Oregon and Connecticut have passed and are awaiting Governors' signatures. And two weeks ago, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Menu Education and Labeling (MEAL) Act, which would require big restaurant chains to post calories on menu boards and list calories, saturated plus trans fat, carbohydrates, and sodium on printed menus. It would apply to the standardized items at restaurants with more than 20 outlets, and not to custom orders or daily specials.

"Ultimately, Americans bear personal responsibility for their dining choices," said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "But you can’t exercise personal responsibility if you don’t have nutrition information when you order. Who would expect 2,800 calories in a dessert?"

Menu labeling has proven popular and useful in the jurisdictions that have implemented it, according to CSPI. In a survey of New Yorkers, 82 percent of respondents said that seeing the numbers affected their choices. Though the industry tried to challenge New York's menu labeling law in court, it lost, and its prospects for challenging other laws may become dimmer still: One of the federal appellate judges that let the New York law stand is Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Chinese researchers create stem cells from pigs

PARIS (AFP) - Chinese researchers said on Wednesday they had created versatile stem cells from pigs, a ground-breaking achievement that could open up new paths for combatting human disease.

Doctors led by Lei Xiao, of the Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, took adult cells taken from a pig's ear and bone marrow and reprogrammed them so that they became so-called pluripotent stem cells.

These are cells that, like the coveted stem cells found in embryos, can differentiate into any type of cell in the body.

It's a technical exploit because until now, no-one has been able to achieve reprogramming using somatic cells - cells that don't come from sperm or eggs - from a hooved animal.

But the main interest lies in fundamental medical research, as it offers the hope of using the pig as a test bench for disease and a source of transplant material, Xiao said.

The pig is close to the human in many biological functions and with some organs that are similar in size.

"We could use embryonic stem cells or induced stem cells to modify the immune-related genes in the pig to make the pig organ compatible to the human immune system," he said in a press release.

"Then we could use these pigs as organ donors to provide organs for patients that won't trigger an adverse reaction from the patient?s own immune system."

Another possibility would be to modify genes in lines of pig stem cells so that they replicate flaws in human genes that cause diabetes and other diseases, he suggested.

The modified stem cells could then be used to generate pigs with the same disorder, thus providing researchers with a model on which to test new therapies.

The Chinese team tucked a basket of reprogramming genes inside a virus to infect the adult cells and return them to their naive, versatile state.

Tests on the cells showed they were capable of differentiating into the three fundamental layers of tissue in an early embryo.

The paper is published in the Journal of Molecular Cell Biology.

Work on similar lines is being carried out on human cells, first achieved in 2007 by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University.


Monday, June 1, 2009

Atlantic hurricane season begins quiet

MIAMI (AP) - The "skinny black line," long a staple of forecasts showing a hurricane's projected path, could be a casualty of the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season that began Monday.

While urging preparedness, the director of the nation's hurricane center said he's on a crusade against the line, which forecasters have long called misleading.

Bill Read said this year, people who go to the hurricane center's Web site to track an approaching storm won't see that line, just a graphic that shows a cone representing the projected path of its center. He'll also urge local weather offices to use a line-less graphic.

Read said that over the last year he realized just how many people mistakenly use the line to determine how they'll respond to the storm - like whether to evacuate or make other preparations.

"This way you don't have that option. You have to think about it or assume that it's somewhere in that swath, which is the correct way to think about it," said Read, who is starting his second season as the center's director.

The line could be interpreted as the storm narrowing in on a town or city while three days out from land it could really be targeting a whole section of coast.

Hurricane season runs from June to November and is typically busiest in August and September. On Monday afternoon, the center's Web site showed the Atlantic Ocean quiet. A tropical depression formed last week but quickly dissipated.

Federal forecasters predicted a near-normal hurricane season with nine to 14 named tropical storms. The season is expected to include four to seven hurricanes with one to three likely to be major - Category 3 or higher, with winds more than 111 miles per hour. There were five major hurricanes last year.

Of particular concern this year is whether economic problems will make people less willing to purchase emergency supplies they may never use or leave their homes if a hurricane threatens.

In New Orleans, officials last year helped about 20,000 people who didn't have transportation or otherwise needed help evacuate ahead of Hurricane Gustav. The state is planning for 50,000 people needing to leave on government-secured buses, trains or planes if a mass evacuation is ordered, a worst-case scenario number would be about 10,000 more than needed help leaving ahead of Hurricane Gustav last summer.

In Miami, emergency managers for the first time prepared a sheet, "Hurricane Preparedness on a Budget," with tips like shopping with 2-for-1 coupons, putting one item in the pantry and the second in a disaster kit. Gov. Charlie Crist, who visited a Home Depot in Tallahassee, released a statement saying, "Floridians can protect their families and support their local economy by purchasing disaster supplies at area retailers."

The last few years have been particularly rough for the nation's Gulf coast, hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Ike and Gustav last year. Damage from Ike was estimated at $19.3, making it the fourth costliest storm after Katrina (2005), Andrew (1992) and Wilma (2005).

"After the last four or five years I don't know what else can happen to them," Read said, adding a caution to coastal residents, "don't let your guard down."

Louisiana officials are hoping to avoid some of the problems with last year's Gustav evacuation, when residents were stuck in miserable shelters far from home, many unsure when they might be allowed to return and wishing they'd just stayed put and waited out the storm.

Officials are promising that this year shelters will be stocked with more food and supplies. They're also taking steps to better coordinate evacuations, including an electronic system to track buses and who's on them.

New Orleans residents who will need government help to leave are being urged to sign up now.

The state of Louisiana is stepping up its outreach efforts, revamping its readiness Web site and planning to release updates via the social networking tool Twitter. Mississippi officials also plan to use Twitter for evacuation route updates. New Orleans officials plan to use e-mail blasts.

In Miami, emergency managers tested their readiness for a major storm Monday as part of an annual statewide exercise. The hurricane drill, part of the state's preparations since 1993, has been going on since last week and was this year based on the track and intensity of the 1926 Great Miami Hurricane, a Category 4 storm that hit the city and killed more than 350 people.

Unlike in a real storm, however, the drill was over in time for lunch.

Associated Press writers Bill Kaczor in Tallahassee and Becky Bohrer in New Orleans contributed to this report.