Friday, July 31, 2009

Spain on high alert after 2 bombs attacks

A powerful car bomb exploded early Wednesday outside a barracks housing police officers and their families in this northern Spanish city, slightly injuring 46 people and causing major damage in the area. (July 29)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Swine flu outbreak temporarily closes Oregon summer camps

PORTLAND, Ore. – Officials for a Christian youth summer camp(s) in Central Oregon have temporarily closed the facility in the wake of a swine flu(H1N1) outbreak.

There are at least 7 confirmed cases from the Young Life Washington Family Ranch camp near Madras. More than 700 campers were there last week.

In a message posted on the camp’s Web site, camp officials said they started seeing campers on Wednesday with what they believed was Type A Influenza, of which swine flu or H1N1 is a variant. They contacted state and local health officials for guidance and tried to contain the virus by sending sick campers and leaders home, isolating those thought to be contagious and sterilizing surfaces most likely to carry the virus, according to the Web site message. However, the number of cases continued to rise despite those efforts.

All but camp staff were sent home by Saturday, when a week-long effort to sanitize the facility began. READ A LETTER SENT HOME WITH CAMPERS

A Young Life official told KATU on Sunday the organization has dealt with similar flu outbreaks at other Young Life camps across the country this summer.

Though H1N1 flu is highly contagious, its symptoms and duration are similar to other seasonal strains of flu, camp officials said on the Web site.

Staff hope to have the camp reopened by Friday.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Adobe investigating zero-day bug in Flash 9 and 10

Researchers on Wednesday said they have uncovered attacks in the wild in which malicious Acrobat PDF files are exploiting a vulnerability in Flash and dropping a Trojan onto computers.

The situation could affect tons of users since Flash exists in all popular browsers, is available in PDF files, and is largely operating system-independent.

Any software that uses Flash could be vulnerable to the attack, according to Symantec. Adobe Reader is vulnerable because its Flash interpreter is vulnerable, said Paul Royal, principal researcher at Purewire, a Web security services provider.

In a post on its Web site, Adobe said it "is aware of reports of a potential vulnerability in Adobe Reader and Acrobat 9.1.2 and Adobe Flash Player 9 and 10. We are currently investigating this potential issue and will have an update once we get more information."

"The authors of the exploit have managed to take a bug and turn it into a reliable exploit using a heap spray technique," Patrick Fitzgerald writes on a Symantec Security blog post.

"Typically an attacker would entice a user to visit a malicious Web site or send a malicious PDF via e-mail," he writes. "Once the unsuspecting user visits the Web site or opens the PDF this exploit will allow further malware to be dropped onto the victim's machine. The malicious PDF files are detected as Trojan.Pidief.G and the dropped files as Trojan Horse."

It appears the exploit was 1st developed about 2 weeks ago, Royal said. The bug itself has been around since December 2008.

The hole is exploitable on Windows XP and Vista users are protected if User Account Control (UAC) is enabled, Symantec said.

US-CERT offered information about workarounds on its Web site:

Disable Flash in Adobe Reader 9 on Windows platforms by renaming the following files: "%ProgramFiles%\Adobe\Reader 9.0\Reader\authplay.dll" and "%ProgramFiles%\Adobe\Reader 9.0\Reader\rt3d.dll".

Disable Flash Player or selectively enable Flash content as described in the "Securing Your Web Browser" document.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

FUJIFILM Offers Digital Camera Line-up Suited for All Consumers

VALHALLA, NY -- 07/22/09 -- FUJIFILM U.S.A. Inc. today announced 6 new additions to its 2009 digital camera line-up --
  • the FinePix F70EXR,a technology-rich compact digital camera,
  • the D-SLR-styled FinePix S200EXR,
  • the stylish FinePix Z37,
  • the ultra-compact FinePix J38 and
  • the 2 new entry-level models, the A170 and A220.
Each camera offers the user different options in styles, features and price points.

The sleek FinePix F70EXR adds a 10-MegaPixel Super CCD EXR sensor to combine intuitive use with the most advanced technology and features available in a point-and-shoot digital camera. The FinePix F70EXR is also Fujifilm's 1st model in the growing long-zoom compact segment, with an impressive Fujinon 10x wide angle optical zoom.

Available: August 2009,
Retail Price: $279.95

Fujifilm's most advanced SLR-styled camera to date, the FinePix S200EXR combines the pin-sharp 14.3x Fujinon optical zoom lens (30.5mm-436mm equivalent) with Fujifilm's latest 12-MegaPixel Super CCD EXR sensor. The FinePix S200EXR is aimed at top-end camera enthusiasts looking for excellent picture quality without the hassle, bulk and expense of a D-SLR system.

Available: August 2009,
Retail Price: $599.95

Thinner, bolder and sexier than previous Z-series models, the FinePix Z37 is a party camera. The FinePix Z37 combines a 10-MegaPixel CCD sensor, a sharp 3x optical zoom lens and a 2.7" LCD screen in its incredibly thin 19.1 mm metal front body. Available in green, blue or violet, the FinePix Z37 is able to match anyone's style and personality.

Available: August 2009,
Retail Price: $149.95

At only 20 mm thick, the FinePix J38 is the perfect on-the-go camera fitting easily into a shirt pocket. Despite its size, the FinePix J38 black metal front body houses a 12-MegaPixel CCD, a 3x Fujinon optical zoom lens and a 2.7" high resolution LCD which displays images with sharpness and clarity.

Available: August 2009,
Retail Price: $129.95

Designed specifically for consumers seeking an affordable, user-friendly upgrade to their current digital camera, the Fujifilm A170 & A220 encompass all the features essential to today's users. These include the SR Auto Mode (Automatic Scene Recognition), Panoramic Shooting Mode, Face Detection technology and come in at a slim 21.9 mm for convenient photography on the go.

A170 Available: July 2009,
Retail Price: $89.95

A220 Available: August 2009,
Retail Price: $99.95

NOTE: Additional information and images are available at:

Michael Steavenson
Text 100 Public Relations


Monday, July 20, 2009

Those Missing Sunspots: The Eclipse Chase

It iss our 2nd full day at our mountain aerie, where we're preparing for Wednesday’s eclipse (July 22 at 9:33 a.m. here in Tianhuangping, China, and 12 hours earlier, 9:33 p.m., on July 21 in New York). I’m here with a team of scientists and students to view and to do research about the solar corona. It's my 49th solar eclipse, and the 29th total eclipse. (A dozen of the others were annular, when a ring of everyday sunlight remains, and a few were merely partial.) We are coming up on the 50th anniversary of my first eclipse, which I saw as a freshman at Harvard under the guidance of the eclipse expert Donald Menzel.

We look at the sky carefully all day, watching the clouds come and go. At eclipse time yesterday, the sun was in a thin bank of clouds, through which we would have seen the corona; a fist’s width to the side, a quarter of the sky was pure blue. This morning (it is now 5:45 a.m., but we have been up for hours; the 12-hour time-zone change is brutal) we see blue sky and an overlay of clouds. But only 9:33 to 9:39 a.m. on Wednesday will count.

The longest total solar eclipse this century will begin on July 22 in India, sweeping east across China and into the Pacific Ocean. Blogging about the event for TierneyLab is Jay M. Pasachoff, a Williams College astronomer and veteran eclipse chaser who has planted himself and some colleagues on a mountain outside Hangzhou, China, to see and study the eclipse.

I just checked not only the weather outside my window (which overlooks dramatically deep valleys and wooded mountains) but also the space weather. “Space weather” is the current name for the relationship between the Sun and the Earth, since the Sun gives off particles in an outflow called the solar wind and bursts of X-rays and other radiation, affecting the Earth. Today’s monitoring at shows that there are no sunspots on the Sun — again. More detailed monitoring at shows that other images of the solar surface, in X-rays, magnetic field, hydrogen light and ultraviolet light, are all smooth rather than showing bright areas that mark the sunspot regions. Sunspots are places on the Sun where the magnetic field is thousands of times stronger than the average magnetic field. But there have been hardly any for about 2 years now; the Sun has been blank for more than 3 quarters of the time. This is very unusual, even for a low phase in the approximately 11-year sunspot cycle. And we've been in this low phase for at least 12 and a half years, getting to a worrisome point. Nobody knows why it is taken so long — or even definitively if sunspots will reappear.

Scientists are particularly interested because of work by the recently deceased astronomer Jack Eddy, who found a period in the early 1700’s where there were no sunspots for decades. That period corresponded to a cool period, at least in Europe, known as the Little Ice Age. Nowadays, scientists monitor the “total solar irradiance” (it used to be called the solar constant, but it turned out not to be constant). It's about 1/10 of a percent less at sunspot minimum than at sunspot maximum, which has to be taken into account in models of global warming. The effect is much too small compared with our human contributions to the atmosphere to be important for global warming calculations, but it should be included in the models.

Tianchi, the town near here, means “heavenly lake” (or high-altitude lake). We're at the end of a windy road with many hairpin turns, and we hope thus to be away from the bustle of downtown Hangzhou. (However, I have given a number of TV and newspaper interviews, and we hope that all 20 million people from Shanghai don’t decide to try to get here because the professional astronomers are here.)

Yesterday, my team unpacked a lot of the shipping containers we brought and set up the telescope mounts we have borrowed from the local Celestron telescope dealer through Lin Lan, a teacher at Hangzhou High School who runs a wonderful astronomy club there. Some of her students are with us, along with 5 of our Williams college and visiting undergraduates. I work on the scientific experiments here with Bryce Babcock, a physicist at Williams College who is a genius with electronics and computers. He is supervising 2 of our students, Katie DuPré and Yung Hsien Ng Tam (known as Caroline) in setting up and testing our 2 main systems, meant to search for oscillations in small loops of the solar corona. Our equipment is sensitive to very short periods, only about 1 variation per second, by taking images at 10 times per second through a very special filter that passes only light from million-degree coronal gas. So we should have 600 exposures per minute or over 3,300 exposures on each of 2 cameras. We therefore hope to have lots of data to study when we get back to Williamstown. Our hope is that our search for oscillations will distinguish among theories of how the solar corona gets to be millions of degrees.


Friday, July 17, 2009

NASA - Video of Moonwalk From 1969 Restored

uNASA on Thursday unveiled refurbished video of the 1st human landing on the moon, restored after it became clear that the original tapes of the July 20, 1969, moonwalk had been erased and reused.

NASA admitted in 2006 that no one could find the original video recordings of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's landing. Since then, Richard Nafzger, an engineer at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, found where the footage went: It was in a batch of 200,000 tapes that were degaussed -- magnetically erased -- and reused to save money.

So NASA took television video copies of what Apollo 11 beamed to Earth 40 years ago to a Hollywood film-restoration company, which made the pictures look sharper.

NASA emphasized that the video is not "new" -- just better-quality.

"There iss nothing being created; there is nothing being manufactured," said Nafzger, who is in charge of the project.

The full set of recordings, being cleaned up by Burbank, Calif.-based Lowry Digital, will be released in September. The preview is online at

-- From News Services

Endeavour Undergoes In-Flight Inspection: The space shuttle Endeavour's astronauts inspected their ship as engineers on Earth pored over launch pictures that showed debris breaking off the fuel tank and striking the craft. The slow, tedious work unfolded as the shuttle rocketed toward the international space station for a Friday linkup. It'll take days to sort through available data to reach a conclusion about how much damage the shuttle sustained.

-- Associated Press

Conviction for Theft Of Space Secrets
A Chinese-born engineer was convicted of stealing trade secrets critical to the U.S. space program.

In the nation's first economic espionage trial, a federal judge found former Boeing engineer Dongfan "Greg" Chung guilty of 6 counts of economic espionage and other charges for hoarding 300,000 pages of sensitive documents in his home, including information about the U.S. space shuttle and a booster rocket.

Federal prosecutors accused the 73-year-old stress analyst of using his 30-year career at Boeing and Rockwell International to steal the documents. Prosecutors said they discovered Chung's activities while investigating another suspected Chinese spy, Chi Mak. Mak was convicted in 2007 of conspiracy to export U.S. defense technology to China and sentenced to more than 24 years in prison.

Defense attorneys said that their client did not break any laws and that the U.S. government could not prove he had given any of the information to China.
Chung is set to be sentenced Nov. 9. Federal prosecutor Ivy Wang said Chung could face a maximum sentence of more than 90 years in prison.

-- Associated Press

Forty years ago the astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission lifted off for the moon. Katie Couric reports on the newly enhanced video of their historic journey.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Singapore's Economy Stages Comeback in Second Quarter

HONG KONG - Singapore’s economy staged an unexpectedly vigorous comeback during the 2nd quarter of this year, prompting an official revision of the full-year growth forecasts — but one hedged with caveats that reflect the precarious nature of the global economy.

Singapore, like Hong Kong, is a small and open economy and an Asian financial hub that has been badly battered by the international financial and global turmoil that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers last year.

On Tuesday, data released by the government showed Singapore’s economy grew at an annualized rate of 20.4% in the April-June period, much more than economists had projected, and a vast improvement over the double-digit declines recorded in previous quarters.

Compared to the same quarter last year, gross domestic product fell 3.7%, which was a less severe contraction than economists had forecast.

As a result, the government said it now expected the economy to shrink between 4 and 6 percent, rather than the contraction of up to 9% that it had previously forecast.

The data and less-grim forecast illustrate the mixed picture around the world as the global economy has, on the one hand, at least stopped worsening – but on the other has yet to show signs of a significant or sustained rebound.

In Australia on Tuesday, a key measure of business conditions jumped in June, reflecting that country’s ability to escape the global misery relatively well, thanks to determined government stimulus measures. Elsewhere, several major economies have recently reported improved output and business conditions data.

But many economists caution that much of this improvement is simply due to companies replenishing the inventories they ran down amid the turmoil of recent months — in which case, the improvement could be temporary and not reflect a sustained recovery in consumer demand.

Reflecting this uncertainty, Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry on Tuesday accompanied its improved G.D.P. outlook with plenty of warnings.

The mild fall in manufacturing — down 1.5% from a year earlier, much less than the 24.3% plunge in the 1st quarter — stemmed from a “spike” in the “volatile” biomedical sector, and an improvement in the electronics sector “due to inventory restocking,” the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. Both of these factors, it said, may not be sustained.

“Notwithstanding the improvement in the 2nd quarter, the outlook for the rest of the year remains largely unchanged — of a weak recovery susceptible to downside risks,” the ministry said.

Edward Teather, an economist at UBS in Singapore, said in a note on Tuesday that “Singapore’s G.D.P. figures can be volatile and some of the Q2 increase may well be reversed in Q3,” though he added that “based on our regional and global economic forecasts, we believe the underlying trend in the Singapore economy is one of improvement.”

“That the result was less dire than forecast is a plus,” echoed Patrick Bennett, an economist at Société Générale in Hong Kong.

But he warned: “There are plenty of challenges ahead for the Singapore economy, not the least being its exposure to developed economy demand. We've seen the impact of rebuilding of inventories during the last couple of months; we're less confident that demand will be sustained.”

Analysts will now look to a flurry of key economic data and corporate earnings from elsewhere for more indications of how the global economy is faring.

In the U.S., retail sales data for June, to be released later on Tuesday, are expected to show an improvement, while industrial output figures on Wednesday are projected to show a less pronounced fall than in May.

In Asia, 2nd-quarter growth figures from China, which are out on Thursday, are expected to show the economy may have expanded 7.5% as massive government spending programs and a surge in lending by state-controlled banks this year helped offset a plunge in exports.

Asian stock markets rose on Tuesday, recouping their broad declines during the previous session.

In Japan, the benchmark Nikkei 225 index was 2.2% higher. The Straits Times in Singapore and the S&/P/ASX 200 in Australia climbed 1.4% and 2.7%, respectively.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index was 2.2% higher around midday, and in mainland China, the Shanghai composite index gained 1.6%.

Blockbuster Inc, Samsung set on-demand video pact

NEW YORK - Blockbuster Inc on Tuesday announced an agreement that allows consumers to instantly view video and movies from its OnDemand service on Samsung's televisions (TV's) and electronics devices.

The deal expands the reach of the company, best known for its brick-and morter-movie rental stores, further into the market for digital distribution of video.

The service, due to launch in September or October in the U.S., is similar to Blockbuster's existing pacts with TV maker Vizio and digital video recorder maker TiVo Inc, which was announced in March.

Rival video distribution players Netflix and also provide video to TiVo users' TVs.

Under the pact with South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, the world's top maker of memory chips and flat screen TVs, Blockbuster's OnDemand service will be integrated into new Samsung HD TVs, Home Theater Systems and Blu-ray players.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, nor would Blockbuster give any indication of expected revenues from the agreement.

Kevin Lewis, senior video president of digital entertainment at Blockbuster, said the deal has the potential to put some of the newest video titles -- available for around $2 to $4 each - on millions of Samsung devices.

"We believe that just as we're the leading offline rental company, we should be the leading online rental company," Lewis said in an interview.

While Blockbuster is planting its brand in more and more video downloading locations, it still faces tough competition from cable and satellite TV operators, which also offer robust lineups of movies and shows via set-top boxes already in place in millions of homes.

In addition, many others enjoy watching films downloaded from Apple Inc's iTunes or from Napster-like file-sharing sites such as The Pirate Bay.

Consumers who already own certain 2009 Samsung Blu-ray players, home theater systems, LCD and Plasma HDTVs can access the service though a software upgrade. Samsung's agreement with Blockbuster also calls for some Samsung devices, such as Blu-ray players, to be sold in Blockbuster stores.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Bing vs. Google: Bing holds its own in search-off

Talk about an iron grip on search. To research this column comparing Google's venerable search engine with Microsoft's upstart Bing, I Googled "Google versus Bing." It did not even occur to me to Bing the search.

In a nutshell, that's Microsoft's problem. The company recently unveiled a fresh and attractive search alternative to Google. It is just darn difficult to change habits, including my own.

Google's is the search box affixed near the top of the Web browsers I use. And way more often than not, Google delivers the thorough search results I'm seeking and does so with expediency: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

But give Microsoft props. Bing, launched about a month ago, is really impressive, in another league compared with the Live Search engine it replaces.

Bing bests Google on aesthetics. The Google home page is clean and sparse with the familiar Google Search button and links at the top for images, maps, video, shopping, news, Gmail and more.

Bing's home page adds pizazz, with a stunning travel-oriented photo posted daily. An image of manta rays in Mexico graced one day this week. Mouse over the image for factoids — "These curious creatures are sociable, gentle and playful." Such brief digressions are fun. From the home page, you can click on images, news,shopping, videos, maps and travel.

Of course, there's more to search than sending you on a wild, um, manta chase. You want fast, comprehensive and relevant results, a Google strength. Microsoft more than holds it own, especially in the areas Bing is initially concentrating on — health, travel, finding local businesses and shopping. There's even a cash-back program on certain items you buy through Bing.

Type "New York Mets," and the team's most recent scores and upcoming schedule are shown at the top of the results. Google displays the score of the last game and lets you know when the next game will be played.

Type a company name in Bing, and its customer-service phone number appears near the top. Bravo. Such numbers are hard to uncover through Google.

Throughout the Bing experience, you can access snippets of information that may satisfy what you are looking for without leading you elsewhere. If you move the cursor to the right of a Bing search result, a summary window opens with excerpts lifted from the underlying site. You can quickly determine whether to navigate to the full site.

When you hover over a video thumbnail with the cursor, it starts playing, though I hit an occasional snag. You don't have to click "play" or go to the video source (Hulu, YouTube, etc.). Clicking a thumbnail lets you watch in a larger window, often without leaving Bing. Hover over an image, and it jumps out in a somewhat larger window.

Another plus: the "quick tabs" that appear down the left side of the results pane to help you refine a search. Enter "Charleston, S.C.," and you can categorize results by real estate, hotels, restaurants, weather, etc.

On Google, you must scroll to the bottom of a page to see "related searches," though you can also summon a side panel, by tapping "show options."

Bing is also dabbling in real-time search. For example, if you search for an influential person and add Twitter to the search, such as "Al Gore Twitter," you will get a list of their recent tweets.

Here's how Google and Bing handled a few sample queries.

Cataracts. Listed at the top of a Bing query on this eye condition was a description of cataracts culled from a Mayo Clinic article. Google's top result was a sponsored advertisement from a lens manufacturer called Transitions. Overall, both Google & Bing delivered several excellent listings, many from the same sources. Google reported about 3.3 million results compared with about 2.3 million for Bing.

Hilton, Paris. An intentionally vague query. Google started with a sponsored listing for, followed by a news result for the socialite. Bing also had a hotel link at the top (for The Hotels by Hilton site came next, followed by the "official" website for Paris Hilton.

Bing is big on travel. Clicking "Travel" brings up a site that resembles Expedia. You can search for cars, flights, hotels, etc. Bing will predict whether airfares will rise or fall for certain cities, helping you determine to buy now or wait.

•Michael Jackson. Google & Bing posted news stories first. Google put links to the Wikipedia entry for Jackson and the official site, above images and videos. Related searches (jokes, songs, kids not his) were at the bottom. Bing listed similar sites but put videos and images higher up. The pane to the left of the Jackson search on Bing let me narrow the search by news, songs, biography, merchandise, downloads and more. Bing claimed 101 million results compared with 85 million for Google. I didn't count.

•Ford Fusion. Bing delivered helpful stats near the top — price range, fuel economy and user ratings. The side panel categorized searches by dealers, forum, reviews,recalls, manual and images. You have to poke around a bit to uncover that information on Google.

You rarely go wrong Googling something. But for a search that sings, you may want to Bing it.

The bottom line:


***1/2 (Out of four)

Pro:Fast, comprehensive — you rarely go wrong with a Google search.

Con:Some powerful search tools are buried.

Microsoft Bing

***1/2 (Out of four)

Pro:Attractive. Gives you a lot of information without the need for you to navigate elsewhere. Plays videos inside Bing. Excellent on travel resources. Good on presenting related searches. Has cash-back discount shopping program when you buy through a link.