Jul 31, 2008

Do androids prefer blondes?

Scientists have created a robot that reacts emotionally to the way it is treated, relaxing when it is shown kindness and flinching at anger.

Heart Robot has a beating heart, a breathing stomach, and sensors that respond to movement, noise and touch. Cuddle him, and he seems to soak up the affection. His limbs become limp, his eyelids lower, his breathing relaxes and his heartbeat slows. If he is given a violent shake he gets upset.

He flinches, his hands clench, his breathing and heart rate speed up, and his eyes widen.

Heart Robot was created by scientists at the University of the West of England in Bristol to explore how humans react to a machine that appears to show feelings. Holly Cave, who organised an event at the Science Museum in London where Heart Robot was on display, said: "Children react to him very differently. They either want to hug and cuddle him, and look after him like a doll or baby, or they just want to scare him. How humans and robots might interact in the future is something that raises lots of interesting ethical and moral questions."

Also on display was Hexapod, a metallic spider that registers faces of visitors and then follows them around.

Jul 29, 2008

Google old boys launch their own engine

Call it internet treachery if you like but three former senior engineers from the Google campus are trying to usurp the search-engine crown from their former employer by launching an alternative tool that they hope we may all one day use for scouring cyberspace content.

With $33m (£16.5m) in venture capital funds, Anne Patterson and two other Google alumni – Russell Power and Louis Monier – yesterday took the wraps off Cuil.com. Their boast was brave if predictable: Cuil (pronounced "cool") will be easier and nicer to use and will have a longer reach.

To be more specific, the folk at Cuil.com – Ms Patterson's husband, Tom Costello, is also a founder – will have a search index spanning 120 billion web pages. If it's out there, Cuil will find it for you. No one will say what span Google boasts, but almost three years ago it stood at 8.2billion pages.

Cuil won't divulge the formula it has developed to cover a wider chunk of the internet with far fewer computers than Google. But rather than trying to mimic Google's method of ranking the quantity and quality of links to websites, Ms Patterson says Cuil's technology drills into the actual content of a page.

Its results are displayed with more photos spread horizontally across the page and include sidebars that can be clicked on to learn more about topics related to the original search request. Cuil is also hoping to attract traffic by promising not to retain information about its users' search histories or surfing patterns – something that Google does, much to the consternation of many privacy watchdogs.

Ms Patterson, who left Google back in 2006, claimed most surfers are ready for a new approach to content-searching. "Google has looked pretty much the same for 19 years now and I can guarantee it will look the same a year from now," she said.

Google itself did not appear overly concerned about Cuil's debut. "Having great competitors is a huge benefit to us and everyone in the search space," said a company spokesman. "It makes us all work harder, and at the end of the day our users benefit from that."

Lest anyone forget, Google does not have a monopoly on internet searches, or at least not quite. Recent data show the company commanding 62 per cent of the US market, compared to 21 per cent and 8.5 per cent respectively for its two largest rivals, Yahoo and Microsoft's MSN service. Nor is it by any means the first time that a new upstart company like Cuil has joined the fray. Other plucky pretenders include Teoma (which was adopted by Ask.com), Vivisimo, Snap, Mahalo and Powerset. Cuil sets itself apart, however, by being created by ex-Google engineers.

Jul 28, 2008

SF missed steps to avoid network lockout

The high-profile sabotage this month of the city of San Francisco's fiber backbone network clearly shows both the extent of damage a disgruntled employee can cause and the need for controls to mitigate the risk of such actions.

City officials lost administrative control of the network's routers and switches for more than a week after an IT worker allegedly reset passwords and refused to reveal them prior to and after his arrest on July 13.

Terry Childs, a network administrator in the city's Department of Telecommunications and Information Services (DTIS), was charged with locking up the network and with planting network devices that enabled illegal remote access to the network. The FiberWAN system carries almost 60% of the city government's traffic.

ISP Content Filtering

The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy today welcomed a report demonstrating advances in internet content filtering technologies...
“The internet is a wonderful tool that is delivering benefits to increasing numbers of Australian families but the Government wants to find ways to make it safer, particularly for children. This report will assist the Government to deliver on its election commitment to create a safer online environment,” Senator Conroy said.

Senator Conroy today released the findings of the report by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), Closed Environment Testing of ISP- Level Internet Content Filtering.

The report details the results of extensive laboratory tests into the current effectiveness of commercial Internet Service Provider (ISP) filtering products.

ISP filtering is one element of the Government’s $125.8 million Plan for Cyber-Safety which also includes education, international cooperation, research and law enforcement. “The next step is to test filter technologies in a real world environment with a number of ISPs and internet users,” Senator Conroy said.

The Australian Government is committed to ensuring all Australian families can utilise ISP filters that block prohibited content as identified by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. Families should also be able to access filters that can be customised to block more material if they choose.

Tests undertaken during the laboratory investigation found that the quality of ISP-level filtering technology has significantly improved compared with the technology used in a previous trial conducted in 2005.

Why Work Is Looking More Like a Video Game

WORK is not play. But maybe it should be.

In fact, Paul Johnston has remade his company on the idea that business software will work better if it feels like a game. Mr. Johnston is not some awkward adolescent, but the polished president and chief executive of Entellium, which makes software for customer relationship management. Businesses spend billions of dollars on such software to try to track their sales staff, their marketers, their customer service — anything that connects them with customers. Unfortunately, most of the software is the business equivalent of calorie counting. No one does it gladly. Worse, the software has a Big Brother aspect to it.

“C.R.M. software is designed to let your manager peek at you,” Mr. Johnston says. He notes that even at Entellium, based in Seattle, he has had trouble getting his sales staff to update their data consistently. Reasoning that sales people are wildly competitive, he thought that they would respond to a program that showed where they stood against their goals — or their peers’. Hence, Rave, which Entellium introduced in April.

Rave adapts a variety of gaming techniques. For instance, you can build a dossier of your clients and sales prospects that includes photographs and lists of their likes, dislikes and buying interests, much like the character descriptions in many video games. Prospects are given ratings, not by how new they are — common in C.R.M. programs — but by how likely they are to buy something. All prospects are also tracked on a timeline, another gamelike feature.

Rave isn’t exactly the business version of Madden N.F.L., at least not yet. But Craig K. Hall, president of Logos Marketing Inc., a graphics company in Albany, said it reminded him of video games he has played, like the Legend of Zelda. Mr. Hall, 31, says he likes the way Rave pops up information, including news that will matter to clients. He also said its use of sales stages and checklists, also borrowed from the way games progress through levels, had helped him rethink the way his company operates. “They’ve done a good job of it,” he said.

Most people under 35 grew up playing video games. Many still do — the average age of gamers is over 30 — and video games have become a mainstream form of entertainment. While “twitch” games like Doom or Quake, in which a player has to react quickly, remain popular, there are now huge games run in online virtual worlds. World of Warcraft, for instance, has millions of players around the world who must organize themselves into teams to accomplish complex tasks. In some online games like EVE, these teams are actually called companies, and the politics involved would impress the most cutthroat executive.

The emergence of these complex role-playing games inspired the formation of Seriosity, which sells e-mail software. A Stanford communications professor, Byron Reeves, was a co-founder of the company in 2004, and, two years later, received $6 million from Alloy Ventures. Mr. Reeves and an Alloy partner, J. Leighton Read, met poolside, and while their daughters practiced their swimming, they discussed whether work would not be better if it were more like a video game.

Early this year, Seriosity released a beta version of an e-mail add-on called Attent, which is being tested by about a dozen companies, some in the Fortune 500. Attent takes the idea of a virtual currency, common in online games as well as online worlds like Second Life, and applies it to corporate e-mail. Employees assign one another “Serios,” the currency in Attent, for ideas, completing tasks and so on, and use them to help distinguish their e-mail from normal corporate spam. Over time, Attent users can gain not only Serios but also badges of excellence for, say, linking engineering and marketing, much as public skills rankings are widely used in online multiplayer games. Others in the company can see the badges, and presumably tap those people for help when they need it.

Right now, Attent doesn’t look much like a video game, and it will probably never have a dramatic, colorful three-dimensional appearance. But Mr. Reeves noted that virtual economies were key to most online games, and that Attent would help companies assign value to the collaborative aspects of work. “Right now, we barter our attention and our willingness to attend a meeting, and we barter feedback and credit in collaborative groups, and it’s just not very efficient,” he said.

Jul 27, 2008

Greg Galitzine:Robotics Bringing Together Youth for Fun, Education

Robotics has come a long way from the days of "Danger Will Robinson" (quick, who remembers the Robot’s name from Lost in Space?) to MechaniKong, to Rosie, the Jetsons’ maid, to the T-X Terminator of big-screen fame.

And while today’s educational robotics initiatives aren’t necessarily producing humanoid robots like Honda’s (News - Alert) famed Asimo, they are certainly providing interested students the opportunity to put their math and engineering skills to the test by engaging them in education and competition.

From coast to coast (and beyond) U.S. schools are increasingly providing facilities, resources, and training to students interested in the field of robotics.

From Globe St.com comes word of a brand-new facility destined to become Newark, New Jersey’s Robotics Center. The center will comprise a 6,500-square foot teaching facility to be operated by Newark’s Public School system. The building, which will accommodate 65 students, will include a robotics practice and competition field, computer lab and machine shops.

PCI Turns to Nortel for Latest Contact Center Deployment

PCI, a contact center outsourcing specialist, is building a new unified communications contact center facility in Melbourne, Australia. This expansion will not only work to boost the local economy, it is also expected to contribute ecologically.

Using energy-efficient solutions from communications solution provider Nortel (News - Alert) and Platinum nPower channel partner Commander, PCI will enjoy a state-of-the-art contact center that will be considered environmentally friendly.

PCI delivers a range of contact center services for Australia and multinational clients, including telecoms, banking, information technology and utility companies. The organization is seeking to reduce its carbon footprint with Nortel’s unified voice, data and wireless network at its Melbourne headquarters.

According to PCI, the new 6,000 square meter Greenfield site will receive a new fully-IP-enabled network that will support 715 active agents and as many as 850 concurrent users. Such a system will allow for growth and expansion, providing the capability the company needs to meet a growing demand within the local industry.

It is expected that this system will enable the company to manage its contact center agents’ activities irrespective of their physical location. Such capability will allow employees to work from anywhere while retaining their phone number, caller groups and access to network resources.

PCI has selected the Nortel solution that includes Communication Server 1000E IP PBX (News - Alert), supported by a resilient Nortel Ethernet Routing Switch (ERS) network that delivers Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) and gigabit speeds to every desktop.

The Nortel Multimedia WLAN 2300 solution will provide wireless LAN coverage, thus enabling secure wireless connectivity to all staff. The solution also offers Nortel’s Call Pilot unified messaging and Communication Control Toolkit.

Deployment, integration and on-going support services are being delivered by Commander's Advanced technical services team. No financial details were disclosed by any of the parties involved.

PCI could easily be considered a progressive company, establishing its newest contact center within the Australia market and turning to a solutions provider that can not only meet its needs, but do so in an environmentally-friendly way.

Such an approach is sure to endear PCI to its local market, while also helping to expand Nortel’s portfolio of customer implementations and the strength of Commander’s market positioning. It is time that the powerful players make a statement regarding their responsibility to the planet and to their local markets. PCI, Nortel and Commander have done just that and the success of this center will only help to strengthen that message.

Jul 25, 2008

How to Embrace 'Millennial' Workers

There is a war of attrition taking place in the workplace between the 'baby boomers' -- the landmark generation that entered the workplace in the sixties -- and the 'millennials' -- their modern equivalents, born after 1980 and who have never known a world without information technology.

Traditional CIOs and IT managers are facing a backlash from this new generation of switched-on workers who are also tech-minded consumers. This social group is driving a change in the modern workplace and is forcing consumer IT into the corporate environment.

But this is by no means a peaceful transition, and it looks as if the consumer and corporate IT worlds are on course for a head-on collision.

A new, connected economy is already thriving in the personal technology arena. The millennials have grown-up with and embraced Web 2.0 technology, hosted applications, SaaS, social networks and instant messaging. It is little wonder then that they complain that they are frustrated and disillusioned by having to revert to old deskbound technologies whenever they log on in the office.

Make no mistake, a consumer revolution is taking place which will provoke a radical rethink of how we build and manage the business IT infrastructure.

In the 1980s we placed a PC on everyone's desk and began to build the corporate IT infrastructure that we know today. We started by providing a basic processor linked into a 'steam-driven' network. Users accepted whatever hardware and software was on offer. They were grateful just to be connected. That era was nonetheless one of profound challenge for CIOs. Communications became digital, offices had to be wired up and networks expanded. It has taken nearly 20 years for businesses to contain the costs of these technologies.

But now a further shift in the corporate IT infrastructure is upsetting this historical perception. The convergence of traditional office systems and personal multimedia devices is finally happening, and the most visible point of convergence is the web itself. We are all becoming dependent on web-based services in our domestic lives and expect similar facilities in the workplace.

A recent Fujitsu-sponsored survey of European CIOs showed that the millennials expect more consumer-grade equipment to find its way into their organizations. Choices of hardware, software and services will be increasingly influenced by the personal technology marketplace rather than by the internal IT department.

Gartner has also verified this change in corporate working practices. In its Predictions for 2008, the analyst claimed that tech-savvy workers will make IT decisions in the future and that businesses must bow to the demands of the internet generation.

Gartner predicts that by 2010 end-user preferences will decide as much as half of all IT buying decisions, including hardware, software and services. This reflects the feeling held by many that we are regressing at least three generations of technology as we arrive in the office each day.

Consumer IT evolves today at break-neck speed in terms of product and service innovation -- just look at Apple and Google. In direct contrast, most corporate IT infrastructures are based on 'one size fits all' platforms that are five to 10 years behind the current market. Corporate users feel trapped in a time warp

Where Everyone Works at Home

Chorus, a provider of clinical, practice management and financial software for health care providers, closed its Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., headquarters in early June and its other office, in Stafford, Texas (outside of Houston), in early July; that means all of the company's 35 employees and full-time consultants work at home.

Rick Boyd, who is Chorus's CIO, says the company decided to close its offices to save money (an estimated US$400,000 a year) and spare employees the hassle and rising cost of commuting. Chorus was able to make this move because it had much of the necessary technology and telecommunications infrastructure already in place that would allow employees to collaborate and communicate with clients. But the company also had to establish work policies designed to maintain employee productivity and customer service levels, figure out how the IT department would provide desktop support and identify software tools to make employee workloads more transparent for managers. In this second part of this story, you'll lean how Chorus addressed those challenges.

New Work Policies for a Virtual Company

Chorus developed work-at-home policies for telecommuters designed to maintain their productivity and the quality of service they provide to internal and external customers.

One aspect of the policy pertains to employees' work at home environment. Every employee needs to have a separate space in their home that they can use for work-ideally a separate room in their house or apartment with a door that they can close to separate themselves from their kids, pets, spouses or roommates. Employees also need to have a desk where they can work, even if it's just a folding table. The company doesn't want people working in front of the TV in their living rooms with their notebook computers on their laps or coffee tables.

Another aspect of the policy outlines the work equipment Chorus will provide to employees. In short, the company provides employees with all the computing and telecommunications equipment they need to do their jobs, such as laptops, monitors, keyboards, headsets and Internet service. Client services reps get paper shredders since they have to destroy certain documents to comply with HIPAA regulations. In one case where an employee needed a chair, the company gave the employee a chair from one of its about-to-be-closed offices. Employees pay for basic office supplies like paper, ink and toner cartridges, pens and Post-It notes out-of-pocket and submit expense reports for those items for reimbursement.

Chorus also set up a policy on work hours. Employees have to be at their desks in their home offices during normal business hours. They can't opt to work odd hours. All employees have to use instant messaging (IM) applications, and they have to put their phone numbers and their IM handle in the global address list on company's Microsoft Exchange Server.

In addition to the general work policies at Chorus, Marvin Luz, vice president of client services, says his group had specific, common-sense rules it had to follow. For example, they can't have TVs or stereos on in the background. Nor can they eat while on the phone with customers. These rules are meant to send the message that even though employees work from the casual confines of their homes, they must maintain a certain level of professional decorum while on the clock.

Every employee had to agree to and sign off on all of these policies. Existing policies, such as those pertaining to computer and internet usage, remained in place.

Jul 24, 2008

Given a Shovel, Americans Dig Deeper Into Debt

The collection agencies call at least 20 times a day. For a little quiet, Diane McLeod stashes her phone in the dishwasher. But right up until she hit the wall financially, Ms. McLeod was a dream customer for lenders. She juggled not one but two mortgages, both with interest rates that rose over time, and a car loan and high-cost credit card debt. Separated and living with her 20-year-old son, she worked two jobs so she could afford her small, two-bedroom ranch house in suburban Philadelphia, the Kia she drove to work, and the handbags and knickknacks she liked.

Then last year, back-to-back medical emergencies helped push her over the edge. She could no longer afford either her home payments or her credit card bills. Then she lost her job. Now her home is in foreclosure and her credit profile in ruins. Ms. McLeod, who is 47, readily admits her money problems are largely of her own making. But as surely as it takes two to tango, she had partners in her financial demise. In recent years, those partners, including the financial giants Citigroup, Capital One and GE Capital, were collecting interest payments totaling more than 40 percent of her pretax income and thousands more in fees.

Years of spending more than they earn have left a record number of Americans like Ms. McLeod standing at the financial precipice. They have amassed a mountain of debt that grows ever bigger because of high interest rates and fees. While the circumstances surrounding these downfalls vary, one element is identical: the lucrative lending practices of America’s merchants of debt have led millions of Americans — young and old, native and immigrant, affluent and poor — to the brink. More and more, Americans can identify with miners of old: in debt to the company store with little chance of paying up.

It is not just individuals but the entire economy that is now suffering. Practices that produced record profits for many banks have shaken the nation’s financial system to its foundation. As a growing number of Americans default, banks are recording hundreds of billions in losses, devastating their shareholders.

To reduce the risk of a domino effect, the Bush administration fashioned an emergency rescue plan last week to shore up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the nation’s two largest mortgage finance companies, if necessary.

To be sure, the increased availability of credit has contributed mightily to the American economy and has allowed consumers to make big-ticket purchases like homes, cars and college educations.

But behind the big increase in consumer debt is a major shift in the way lenders approach their business. In earlier years, actually being repaid by borrowers was crucial to lenders. Now, because so much consumer debt is packaged into securities and sold to investors, repayment of the loans takes on less importance to those lenders than the fees and charges generated when loans are made.

Lenders have found new ways to squeeze more profit from borrowers. Though prevailing interest rates have fallen to the low single digits in recent years, for example, the rates that credit card issuers routinely charge even borrowers with good credit records have risen, to 19.1 percent last year from 17.7 percent in 2005 — a difference that adds billions of dollars in interest charges annually to credit card bills.

Average late fees rose to $35 in 2007 from less than $13 in 1994, and fees charged when customers exceed their credit limits more than doubled to $26 a month from $11, according to CardWeb, an online publisher of information on payment and credit cards.

Mortgage lenders similarly added or raised fees associated with borrowing to buy a home — like $75 e-mail charges, $100 document preparation costs and $70 courier fees — bringing the average to $700 a mortgage, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. These “junk fees” have risen 50 percent in recent years, said Michael A. Kratzer, president of FeeDisclosure.com, a Web site intended to help consumers reduce fees on mortgages.

“Today the focus for lenders is not so much on consumer loans being repaid, but on the loan as a perpetual earning asset,” said Julie L. Williams, chief counsel of the Comptroller of the Currency, in a March 2005 speech that received little notice at the time.

Lenders have been eager to expand their reach. They have honed sophisticated marketing tactics, gathering personal financial data to tailor their pitches. They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising campaigns that make debt sound desirable and risk-free. The ads are aimed at people who urgently need loans to pay for health care and other necessities.

It is not just financial conglomerates that are profiting on consumer debt loads. Some manufacturers and retailers can generate more income from internal financing arms that lend to their customers than from their primary businesses.

Tallying what the lenders have made off Ms. McLeod over the years is revealing. In 2007, when she earned $48,000 before taxes, she was charged more than $20,000 in interest on her various loans.

So Much to Do, So Little Sleep

Most women don't need a survey to tell them a basic fact of female life: They're often sleep-deprived and feel too sluggish to make it through the day with vigor.

Whether they're single career women, newlyweds, new moms, single moms, empty-nesters or grandmothers, many — if not most — women acknowledge that they just don't get enough shut-eye.

In fact, a National Sleep Foundation survey found that 60 percent of the women polled said they only get a good night's sleep a few nights a week — or less. And 43 percent said daytime sleepiness interferes with their daily activities.

But don't abandon hope, say two experts on women and sleep — there are steps you can take to get back on a well-rested track.

For starters, women have to be convinced that lack of sleep is harmful, not a badge of honor. Acknowledging those harmful effects to your health can help you "respect your sleep."

"Studies now are showing that if you are sleep-deprived, you have a tendency to gain weight," said Donna Arand, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Kettering Medical Center in Kettering, Ohio, and a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Sleeping less than seven hours a night is associated with a higher body mass index (a ratio of weight to height) and a higher likelihood of obesity, according to a study of more than 25,000 people published in the journal Sleep.

Other researchers looked at the results of 23 studies and found that 17 of them supported an inescapable link between insufficient sleep and increased weight. The findings were published online Jan. 17 in the journal Obesity.

But the health risks aren't limited to weight gain.

Cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure have been linked to lack of sleep, Arand said. And the National Sleep Foundation says too little sleep can lead to an increased risk of diabetes, psychiatric problems such as depression and substance abuse, and a greater risk of motor-vehicle accidents.

The foundation also says insufficient sleep can hinder attentiveness and make it tougher to remember new information.

In fact, performance can be impaired after just four nights of five hours' sleep or less, researchers reported online Feb. 12 in the journal Sleep Medicine.

So now that you know why sleep is so important, here's some advice on how to get a good night's rest.

First, figure out why you're not sleeping well and then take steps to fix the problem, said Joyce Walsleben, associate professor at the New York University Sleep Disorders Center and a spokeswoman for the National Sleep Foundation.

In women, the physical causes of sleep problems are often hormonal, she said. So it's important to take care of the problem — be it menstrual cramps, hot flashes, or other symptoms.

But psychological forces can also play a role. Worry is a big reason why many women don't sleep well. "Women tend to want to solve problems, and they tend to ruminate," Walsleben said.

To sleep well, you have to turn off the worry, Walsleben said. One worry-buster that she endorses is mindfulness meditation, an easy-to-learn technique. "Breaking that worry habit is important," she said.

Another tool recommended by Walsleben — writing in a "worry book." Every night, set aside about 15 minutes to jot down your concerns. Use one side of a piece of paper to list everything that worries you. On the other side, write a solution.

Both Arand and Walsleben endorse "sleep hygiene habits." According to the National Sleep Foundation, they should include:

* Exercising regularly. It's best to complete a workout at least a few hours before bedtime, however.
* Finishing eating at least two to three hours before bedtime.
* Avoiding caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime.
* Maintaining a regular bed and wake time schedule, including weekends.
* Creating a sleep-conducive environment that's dark, quiet, comfortable and cool.
* Sleeping on a comfortable mattress and pillow.

The great mobile data swindle

Why has it taken the release of the iPhone for Australia's consumer watchdog to twig that we're getting ripped off when it comes to mobile data?

The rise of fast web browsing on 3G mobiles such as the iPhone has prompted the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to investigate whether carriers are leading consumers into the trap of signing up for plans with high excess usage fees, according to the SMH Online.

Both ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel and Choice spokesman Christopher Zinn claim the telcos aren't doing enough to warn customers of excess data charges. Telstra's Next G pricing was even more horrendous when it first launched, it's a shame we had to wait for the iPhone before people cared.

When Next G was first launched users could only track their data usage by checking the network's WAP portal, but even then it wasn't easy to tell how much you had actually used. You were presented with a breakdown of your usage for each time you had accessed the internet - a list up to 10 pages long - but no grand total.

Even staff at the Telstra call centres were unable to calculate your exact data usage figures, making it extremely difficult not to exceed your monthly limits - a real concern when excess charges ranged from 25 cents to $5 per megabyte.

Jul 23, 2008

How Do You Diagnose Autism?

Children's advocacy groups are demanding that Michael Savage apologize for denigrating autism as the "illness du jour" on his radio program last Wednesday. Savage also attributed the high prevalence of autism and related disorders to faulty diagnoses: "In 99 percent of the cases, it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out." How do doctors spot the disorder?

Surveillance and interviews. According to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, autism is an early onset disorder—it appears before the age of 3—characterized by poor social and communication skills and repetitive behavior. There's no biological test to determine whether a kid has these problems, so pediatricians are encouraged to look out for warning signs—like failure to make eye contact, inability to form relationships with peers, and delayed language skills. If there's cause for a concern, a specialist will typically use a standardized questionnaire to interview the child's parents and teachers: Does little Bobby show interest in people he doesn't know? How does he show interest? Does he prefer solitary play? The specialist will also spend some one-on-one time with the child, noting how he uses toys, responds to images, and whether he engages in conversation.

Per the DSM, clinicians should diagnose a child with autism only if he is judged to have six or more social and linguistic impairments. The threshold is lower for so-called "autism spectrum disorders." A child might be described as having Asperger's if he exhibits some ritualized behavior plus at least two social-interaction impairments—e.g., he can't make friends and has trouble with nonverbal communication like eye contact—but has no significant delay in language acquisition. A child who has severe social interaction or language problems but doesn't quite meet the criteria for autism or Asperger's might end up with a diagnosis of "Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified."

Bobbie Johnson: Net scare sparks loophole fears

A flaw in the way the internet works has prompted the largest security update in the history of the web and fears that millions of people remaing exposed to criminals and malicious hackers.

Microsoft was among the net companies that last week announced moves to close the loophole that has potentially affected every site on the web.

The bug was spotted this year by Dan Kaminsky, a director at the American security specialist IOActive, who immediately alerted big technology firms.

The scam involved hijacking internet addresses and sending surfers to websites other than those they intended to see. By this route, criminals stood the chance of tricking victims into handing over personal details or making payments to the wrong people.

Details of the bug, which uses a technique known as "cache poisoning", have not been made public. The idea is to let firms find a solution before hackers learn how to exploit the situation further.

"Computers use the equivalent of address books to figure out where they need to go on the web. This attack could compromise that by attacking the servers that give out the addresses," said Rich Mogull, of the US-based firm Securosis.

Although there is no evidence of the bug being exploited by hackers, news of the flaw drew an unprecedented response from the technology industry. Large companies, including Microsoft and Cisco Systems, immediately scrambled to fix the problem.

"This is the largest synchronised security update in the history of the internet," Mr Kaminsky says. "The severity of this bug is shown by the number of those who are on board with patches."

As fixing the problem is largely the duty of those who operate the millions of web servers, which hold all the information on the internet, rather than those who use the web, most computer users will not have to do anything.

However, a failure to update software could mean surfers still being at risk. And the fixes may not make things entirely safe. The US Computer Emergency Readiness Team, an agency that deals with security breaches, said that even the changes put forward by Microsoft and others would not remove all possibilities of a hijack.

The Real Issue About Steve's Health

After the earnings call last night I talked with a source who is close to Apple and who who has in the past proven very well informed on the concerns of Apple senior management. This source told me with near-certainty that Jobs’ cancer has not returned.

The concerns around his health have centered on two things: His thin appearance at the Worldwide Developer’s Conference, and published reports in Fortune that in late 2003 after he first learned he had cancer, word of his condition wasn’t disclosed to investors for nine months. Having consulted with two outside lawyers, the board of directors decided that it wasn’t under any obligation to disclose anything.

Apple has for the most part remained silent about the health of its CEO. When questions were raised about his appearance at WWDC, spokeswoman Katie Cotton said he had been suffering from a “common bug,” and I’m willing to take that at face value.

But having undergone surgery to remove an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor from his pancreas — which is by all accounts a major surgical procedure and which required him about a month to recuperate — even a “common bug” has the potential to affect Jobs’ appearance. I think this, more than anything else, is the source of the concern.

Pond life fuels bio research

THE University of Queensland's Ben Hankamer is engineering algae to produce biofuels such as hydrogen and biodiesel oils, and investigating whether this process can be used to sequester carbon.

Hankamer -- an Australian Research Council principal investigator -- says provided key technical milestones are overcome, a 13,000ha pond could provide enough fuel to satisfy the country's entire demand.

He predicts that provided parallel research streams are established -- and $10million invested -- a large-scale demonstration plant could be in place in as little as five years.

Algae naturally capture sunlight and use its energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Algae also naturally produce 20 per cent to 30 per cent oil which can be extracted to produce biodiesel.

Hankamer describes as fantastic news that the draft report of the Garnaut climate change review highlights algal biofuels and biosequestration as examples of technologies of strategic interest for Australia.

"Technological solutions in carbon capture and storage, soil sequestration, solar technologies, algal biosequestration and geothermal energy are among the areas in which Australia has disproportionally strong opportunities and interests," the draft report says.

Successful development of these technologies can also have exceptional application within Australia, according to Ross Garnaut's report.

Hankamer says the great beauty of algal biofuels is that they don't compete with food production for land and water.

Jul 20, 2008

Major clean energy discovery in QLD

A small town in Queensland's outback could be sitting on a source of energy that eventually may power the entire state for thousands of years, geologists say.

Less than two weeks after Queensland Premier Anna Bligh touted the ongoing $20 billion expansion of the state's coal industry, the State Government yesterday revealed the discovery of a jewel in the clean energy crown - hot fractured rock (HFR) - north-east of Mount Isa.

Queensland Geothermal Energy Centre of Excellence director Hal Gurgenci said the newly discovered Millungera Basin, 100kilometres east of Cloncurry, could hold the key to the state's future in emission-free electricity.

'HFR geothermal energy is Australia's only viable option for renewable, zero-emission, base-load power, other than nuclear power,' Professor Gurgenci said.

HFR geothermal energy, discovered about three decades ago at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the United States, taps into hot granite rock, nearly five kilometres below the earth's surface.

Google shares plunge 10% on US market

Google shares have plunged nearly 10 per cent in the US after the internet search leader's second-quarter earnings missed analysts' expectations.

Management said economic turmoil in the United States and parts of Europe appears to be causing consumers to click less frequently on the ads that generate virtually all its profits.

That unnerved already jittery investors, although Google managers said they expect the company will thrive even if the economy weakens further.

Google's stock price dropped $US52.12 or 9.8 per cent to finish at $US481.32, leaving it below $US500 for the first time in three months.

The red flags raised after the bell yesterday included a dramatic slowdown in the company's hiring pace and Google chairman Eric Schmidt's description of the economy as "challenging". Google's chief economist, Hal Varian, even participated in the company's conference call for the first time to discuss business conditions.

Microsoft profit soars 42pc

Microsoft said Thursday its fiscal fourth-quarter profit jumped 42 per cent, helped by strong sales of its Office and Windows software, but the company offered a soft outlook for the current quarter.

Earnings for the three months ended June 30 rose to $US4.3 billion, or 46 US cents per share, missing Wall Street's expectations by a penny per share. In the year-ago quarter, Microsoft reported earnings of $US3.0 billion, or 31 US cents per share.

Revenue increased 18 per cent to nearly $US15.8 billion from $US13.4 billion last year, just ahead of Wall Street's average forecast of $US15.7 billion, according to a Thomson Financial survey.

"Those are very good numbers for a company of our size, in what many companies are finding challenging (conditions)," Microsoft's chief financial officer, Chris Liddell, said in an interview.

Asus Eee PC 1000H finally lands down under.

If you've been waiting for an Asus Eee PC with a larger screen, larger storage and larger keyboard, the Eee PC 1000H could well be the model you've been waiting for. How much will it cost, and what are the specs? Finally... the Asus Eee PC 1000H is here, and it’s arguably the computer the Eee PC should have been in the first place. That said, the original Eee PC 701 set a standard for small sized notebooks and small pricing while still delivering more than enough grunt to get all your everyday email, web surfing, wordprocessing and other basic tasks done, and coming with Linux and Windows flavours, to boot! (pardon the pun).

But for some users, the original 7-inch screen was just a tad too small, and for others, the “compact” keyboard on offer, while usable and something you certainly could get used to, was just a bit too small. After all, the original Eee PC was designed for children in an education setting, so there were reasons why the 701 came configured as it did.

But as the Eee PC caught the imagination of the public, normally used to subnotebook computers costing thousands of dollars, consumers wondered just when it would be that Asus would design and release slightly bigger and better models that had larger screens and more usable keyboards. The Eee PC 1000H fulfils that desire, but even before the 1000H landed in Austalia, Asus announced overseas the 904 series, a computer in the same chassis and keyboard as the 1000H, but with an 8.9-inch screen, at a slightly cheaper price, which will also appeal to some users.

Yes, we’ve written various Asus Eee PC models being released in the UK and elsewhere, including the 1000H and 904 series, but unless you were prepared to buy the 1000H flagship model overseas and ship it here, we simple had to wait for a local release date. That day has finally arrived in Australia.

So, what are the specs?

Well, let’s start with the keyboard. Instead of being the “compact” keyboard of the 701 series, with keys even smaller than the 85% sized keys of the Acer Aspire One, the 1000H’s keys have been described as being “comfortable” at 92% the size of regular keys.

This is the same percentage rating that the HP 2133 MiniNote gives to its keys, and while it’s not a percentage size that Asus has spoken about in its press release, it’s one I’ve discovered in the past on overseas articles on the device. Either way, the keys are much larger than the 701 keys and are reportedly much, much nicer to type on.

Poison kiss: lead alert

WOMEN are being warned about using some lipsticks after concerns were raised several big-name brands could contain lead.

The warnings come in the wake of last week's ruling that a class action in the United States against luxury goods giant LVMH - the manufacturer of Dior Addict Positive Red lipstick, which has been found to contain lead - could proceed.

The blood-red Dior lipstick, sold at beauty counters across Australia, was among dozens of lipsticks found to contain lead, after US lobby group Campaign for Safe Cosmetics commissioned an independent laboratory to test lead levels in 33 brand-name lipsticks.

The results, made public in a report last October, revealed 61percent of the lipsticks tested had detectable lead levels. One-third of the lipsticks exceeded the US Food and Drug Administration's accepted level of lead (0.1 parts per million) for products that are ingested. The Dior lipstick was found to contain 0.21ppm of lead.

In Australia it is mandatory for cosmetics to list all ingredients on their labels and for cosmetics containing lead to carry warning statements and safety directions.

Cosmetics containing more than 250 milligrams per kilogram of lead are prohibited unless permission is granted by the Minister for Justice and Customs. The Dior lipstick does not list lead as an ingredient or carry a warning.

Peter Dingle, an environmental toxicologist from Murdoch University and author of the Dangerous Beauty booklet, has called for regulatory change to ban lead from cosmetic products to protect consumer health.

"It is ridiculous that we have any lead in our cosmetics at all," he said. "For the last 50 years we have campaigned to get lead out of everything and here we are putting it in lipstick. It's crazy."

Jul 18, 2008

Optus cable cut? Think of your own backup plan

If you were one of the many individuals or businesses affected by the recent Optus cable snafu caused by a backhoe driver working for the Gold Coast City Council, it’s time to think about a Plan B in case it ever happens again. What can you do?

An article in The Australian has shone light on the person responsible for cutting through Optus’ main fibre optic cable in Queensland, cutting off access to more than one million customers.

Turns out it was a backhoe driver contracted to the Gold Coast City Council, an organisation that initially denied any responsibility but has since indicated that a “pumps and pipes” project it was working on caused the damage, despite checks to ensure no important cables or other underground infrastructure was in the way.

Oops. Apparently Optus also had a fault in the hardware of its backup systems, which it was to fix on the very day the fibre optic cable accident occurred. I hope that Optus employees all went out to buy lottery tickets, because the chances of both networks going down at the same time have been called “one in a million”.

The entire incident has certainly highlighted the vitally important nature of communications and the Internet to all facets of life. Cut us off from the ability to communicate, and it’s like an electricity blackout or no water coming out of the taps.

So while Optus was able to quickly fix the problem in only a few hours, instead of days or weeks, consumers and businesses have a question to ask themselves: what should they do if something like that ever happens again?

Ultimately the answer will depend on just how important it is to have access to the Internet or a telephone. For some, a day or two without the phone or the Internet is a blessing. For others, it represents big financial losses that will be easily absorbed by some, but could easily send some broke too, depending on their circumstances – and the length of any outage.

Already the Optus incident is said to have cost Queenslanders “millions of dollars”, so the cost of any Plan B needs to be factored in to what you’ll have to pay in lost business should anything similar happen again.

Jul 17, 2008

AMD Keeps Clocking Losses

Advanced Micro Devices is set to report another big loss Thursday as its larger rival Intel continues to keep the pressure on.

The scrappy computer processor specialist is expected to report a second-quarter loss of $318 million, or 52 cents a share, on sales of $1.5 billion, according to analysts polled by Thomson Financial. That's narrower than a year ago, when AMD (nyse: AMD - news - people ) had a second-quarter loss of $524.4 million, or 95 cents a share, on sales of $1.4 billion.

It's been a rough quarter for AMD.

Last Friday, AMD said it will take $948 million worth of charges. The charges include an $880 million write-down on the value of the graphics business it picked up with the acquisition of ATI and $32 million in charges related to layoffs and restructuring.

In April, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company said it would let go 1,600 employees, or 10% of its workforce, by September.

HP launches Centrino 2 Business notebooks, rugged Elitebook

HP announced a number of new notebook products yesterday, both in the business and consumer spaces. The new releases include a refresh of HP's Compaq-branded business notebooks, and a new line of rugged business notebooks dubbed the Elitebook. Some utilize Intel's new Centrino 2 mobile platform, and some feature access to multiple different mobile broadband services through a new HP "un2400" module. They will vary in price and be available later this month.

The only radically new product in the new launch is the Elitebook line, a rugged business laptop presumably designed to compete with the venerable Panasonic Toughbook. It features a number of ruggedizing features, including a magnesium chassis with a scratch-resistant aluminum coating similar to that of the Toughbook, rugged hard disks, and heavier screen mountings, which HP claims can withstand almost double the force of prior laptops. The Elitebook 6930p is certified to the same MIL-STD-810F military ruggedness specifications as the Toughbook. This requires the notebook to be able to withstand extreme temperatures, dust, vibration, drops, humidity, and spills, surviving them all in working order.

It also packs a number of novel features as a laptop. The Elitebook allows dual hard disks in RAID or independent configurations, which the Toughbook cannot, and uses Intel's latest Montevina "Centrino 2" laptop platform. The screen is LED backlit, which should increase battery life; this seems to have been a focus in the new notebook's design. Indeed, the new laptop can sport dual batteries for an advertised 15 hours of battery life, providing the option for a full day in the field without external power and again exceeding the Toughbook's capabilities. The Elitebook's 2MP webcam doubles as a business card reader, with an HP app that loads the data from a business card into an Outlook address book automatically.

All this is packed into a 14.1" frame and weighs only 4½ lb. The Elitebook will launch later this month with the other new laptops, and cost $1179 in its default configuration.

Graeme Philipson: Privacy the price of super-communication

'Identity theft and serious data breaches and shonky operators aren't that big a deal, are they?'

Late last century Scott McNealy, head of Sun Microsystems, famously said, in response to a reporter's question about data security: "You have no privacy. Get over it."

If that was true in 1999, it's even more true today. We all - most of us, anyway - love the way modern technology has liberated us.

We love the way technology has made it so much easier to hear the music we want when we want to hear it and see the video we want when we want to see it.

We like being able to send and receive emails and text messages to whoever and whenever we want, to phone and be online and in touch 24/7.

We can do all this but at the expense of our privacy. Your phone carrier knows where you are whenever your mobile phone is switched on. Your bank knows what you buy and when.

Your employer can read your emails. The government knows more about you than your mother does. Google knows what you search for and, through its ownership of YouTube, what you watch.

Facebook and MySpace and thousands of other websites sell your personal information to advertisers. "Relationship marketing" is the new king. Of course, none of these organisations would do anything evil with the information they have about you.

And we have privacy laws, so even if they wanted to, they couldn't, could they? "You have no privacy. Get over it." Now let's look at a few recent events.

A couple of weeks ago a US court ruled that Google had to turn over every record of every video ever watched on YouTube - and who watched it - to Communications giant Viacom (parent company of Paramount Pictures, MTV and Dreamworks).

Viacom is suing Google for more than $US1billion ($A1.04billion) for copyright infringements committed by YouTube users.

Another example of the stupidity of copyright laws but it shows that those laws are more important than your privacy.

So is the "War on Terror" - the US government has retrospectively legalised its monitoring of millions of email conversations. And, as recent cases in Australia show, privacy takes a back seat when "national security" is at risk.

Council cites dangers of clearways

THE State Government's contentious plan to extend road clearway times would endanger schoolchildren, a study by Stonnington City Council has found.

In April, Premier John Brumby pledged to extend clearways within 10 kilometres of the city centre to uniform times 6.30am to 10am and 3pm to 7pm.

Inner-city traders are furious, saying extending clearways will drive customers to shopping centres with free parking. The council report included analysis by SGS Economics and Planning, which supplied figures for the Government's recent east-west transport study. SGS estimated that shops on High Street in Prahran and Armadale would lose $6 million.

In its submission to the Department of Transport, Stonnington said the plan contradicted the objectives of the Government's Melbourne 2030 and Victorian Greenhouse strategies, to reduce car dependence.

Stonnington said vehicle speeds near schools in Malvern and Toorak roads would increase and the extended clearway period in the afternoon coincided with the peak period for children leaving school.

Jul 16, 2008

Survey says many Australians regret study, career choices

A NEW global survey says many Australians wish they'd studied something different after leaving school or had chosen another career.
The survey by global recruitment firm Kelly Services found that many Australian workers have deep-seated concerns about the quality of their education - both at school and post-school - and many have regrets about the career choices they made.

The global survey sought the views of 115,000 people in 33 countries including almost 19,000 in Australia.

Kelly Services managing director James Bowmer said the findings show a fairly high level of concern about career choice and direction.

"Many people in the workforce do not believe that their education properly prepared them for working life and quite a few have regrets about the direction that their job has taken them,'' Mr Bowmer said.

Among the key findings of the survey, 71 per cent of Australians wished they had studied further while 48 per cent wished they had studied something totally different.

Another 16 per cent said they chose the wrong career, while 25 per cent were still unsure about their career choice.

More women than men expressed the view that they had chosen the wrong career.

Australia ranked in the middle of the 33 countries with 50 per cent happy with the way the country's education system prepared them for working life, slightly higher than the global average of 49 per cent.

"It is only natural that people reflect in a positive way on what they have done and the extent to which they have achieved their professional goals,'' Mr Bowmer said.

"It is to be expected that many wish they had worked harder while at school, college or university - there are also many who have had second thoughts about the career choices they made.''

He said it was now normal for people to have several career changes in the course of a working life, so it was possible for someone who was dissatisfied with their career to do something positive about it.

Both men and women cited financial considerations as the major obstacle to changing careers.

Jul 15, 2008

Exercise in fighting dementia

The part of the brain responsible for memory shrinks twice as much in elderly people who have had a limited education, stunted social life or have not kept mentally active since they were teens, a Sydney study has found.

University of NSW researchers followed a group of 60-year-olds over three years and found that those who had been mentally and physically active continually since the age of 13 had a larger hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls short-term memory and navigation skills.

A small or atrophied hippocampus is a risk factor for Alzheimer's and mental activity has been found to delay the onset of degenerative brain diseases, such as Huntington's and Parkinson's.

The author of the report, Michael Valenzuela, from the university's school of psychiatry, said researchers had for the first time compared brains, using magnetic resonance imaging, over many years in relation to mental activity patterns, adding weight to previous work that showed that complex mental activity helped prevent dementia.

"It also helps throw some light on why there has been this consistent link between mental activity and lower dementia risk," Dr Valenzuela said.

But he said the study, published in the Public Library of Science ONE journal, found that the size of the hippocampus was not directly related to intelligence.

"We didn't find that a person's IQ made much of a difference. Among the people who had the bigger hippocampi, it came down to them having a real diversity of interests," he said. "Some had gone back to university in their 60s and 70s and others just had a variety of interesting hobbies and socialise quite a lot."

Job offers for teen mastermind

A NEW Zealand teenager who confessed to a central role in a global cyber-crime ring which caused millions of dollars in losses walked free from court today with police wanting to secure his skills. Owen Thor Walker, 18, was discharged without conviction after earlier admitting six cyber crime charges. The prosecution and defence lawyers told the High Court in Hamilton, south of Auckland, that New Zealand police were interested in using Mr Walker's skills on the right side of the law.

Judge Judith Potter ordered Mr Walker to pay $NZ14,526 ($A11,440.05) as his share of damage caused to a US university computer and other costs, and made him hand over his computer-related assets to police. Mr Walker was the alleged mastermind of a group of international hackers who used his programmes to access personal data, send viruses around the world and commit other crimes, causing losses of $US20 million ($A20.59 million), police said.

International investigators considered Mr Walker's programming to be 'amongst the most advanced' they had encountered, the prosecution summary said.

His software allowed access to user names and passwords, as well as credit card details, and was used by other criminals to commit crimes.

The investigation, started after an attack crashed the server at the University of Pe"

Jason Turbow: Music instruments for the gadget freak

First came the theremin.

In 1919, Leon Theremin, an electronics wizard who had migrated from the Soviet Union, created one of the simplest musical instruments in existence, all of two metal rods protruding from a base. It didn't have to be touched to elicit positively ethereal sounds: spaceship noises invented before anyone knew what a spaceship was.

Those peculiar noises - a cross between human voices and violins - are created by the musician's hands disturbing the electrical fields surrounding the dual antennas - one for frequency, the other volume. Because it is played with precise hand movements through unmarked air, the theremin is notoriously difficult to master.

Nearly a hundred years later, electronic whizzes are creating other clever electronic instruments. None of them have yet made it into the orchestra, but some are designed for the musically inclined gadget freak to play at home, but with considerably more ease than with the theremin.

Theremins are still on the scene, with updated models and kits manufactured by established synthesizer outlets like Moog and PAiA, ranging from less than $100 to more than $1,000. They range from the laser harp used in concert by the French instrumentalist Jean Michel Jarre - arrayed beams of light that, when broken by a player's hand, signal preprogrammed MIDI processors - to the Beamz Music Performance System, more novelty than serious instrument, found in catalogues for about $600.

Snoozing at the terminal

Sleeping at an airport overnight, once almost a sport for the young and short of cash, has become a lot more common lately, affecting even older and professional travelers. And a big reason is that airlines are no longer as free with complimentary hotel vouchers as they once were.

"Belt tightening by airlines over the last 18 months, and more so this year," is how Randy Petersen, editor of the online magazine InsideFlyer and the frequent-flier Web site FlyerTalk.com, explains it.

"They have to look at everything they spend a penny on," Petersen said. And because flights are fuller, he added, "they're not just dealing with a few passengers."

Bob Harrell, founder of Harrell Associates, an airline consultant, agreed. "If they're charging for extra bags, food and water, then the flip side is the airlines are going to go out of their way to minimize expenses on one side, while maximizing on the other," he said.

Sleeping overnight in airport has become enough of a phenomenon that it has inspired one recent novel, "Dear American Airlines." The author, Jonathan Miles, said he was spurred to write the book after an unscheduled overnight stay at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.

Build your own Bluetooth handgun handset, or don't

Want to attract attention (and the police) every time you answer your cellphone in public? Then perhaps this build-at-your-own-risk Bluetooth handgun handset project is for you. As far as DIY mods go, this one looks to be simple enough (if somewhat time-consuming), with it involving nothing more than stuffing a disassembled Jabra Bluetooth headset into a suitably realistic-looking airsoft gun, which apparently fits just right so that the trigger operates the call start/end button. If you're still on board, you can find all the necessary details by hitting up the link below.

Jul 14, 2008

Xbox cost dropped to free shelf space

The rumors of a $50 price cut for Microsoft Corp.'s 20-gigabyte Xbox 360 video game console were true -- but the reduction isn't exactly what it appeared.

In reality, it's more like a clearance sale, designed to empty the shelves for a new Xbox 360 with three times the storage, at the same price as before. Microsoft announced early Sunday that the new 60-gigabyte Xbox 360 model will go on sale in August at a price of $349.99.

Microsoft is dropping the price of the 20-gigabyte Xbox 360 to $299.99. Sales of it will end after supplies run out.

Paymate files eBay complaint with ACCC

INTERNET-based payment service Paymate, a PayPal rival, has lodged a complaint with the competition regulator alleging that eBay has breached the Trade Practices Act.

From May 21, eBay amended its user agreement so sellers have to include PayPal as one of their payment methods for each listing.

This conduct, argues Paymate, restricts its ability and that of other payment options to be adopted because eBay mandates PayPal for sellers.

"It is our belief that eBay, in both Australia & New Zealand, is engaging in conduct in breach of the Trade Practices Act because the conduct amounts to anti-competitive exclusive dealing," Dilip Rao, Paymate managing director, said in his complaint letter to the ACCC last week.

"... it (eBay) is also engaging in misleading and/or deceptive conduct in breaching the Act," Mr Rao, who's company is based in Sydney, said.

eBay owns PayPal.

In April eBay had applied to the ACCC for legal immunity from sections of the TPA. Apart from the action in May, it had proposed a second conduct - to ban all forms of payment methods with the exception of PayPal and cash on delivery by June 17.

AT&T Palm Centro drops to $69.99

We interrupt your iPhone coverage to bring you this late-breaking news: As promised, today Palm announced a price drop for the AT&T Palm Centro . From July 11 to September 20, you can now get the Centro for $69.99 with a two-year contract and after a mail-in rebate. This $30 price drop is part of a back-to-school promotion for the AT&T and applies to all color models of the Palm smartphone, which includes the new electric blue, glacier white, and obsidian black. So there you have it. And now back to you regularly scheduled program.

Ben Cubby: First tonne of dirt from 'clean coal' plant

Australia's first "clean coal" plant is finally up and running, with scientists announcing yesterday that the first tonne or so of carbon dioxide was captured and liquified at Loy Yang power station in Victoria.

A similar plant at Munmorah on the central coast is yet to show results, although the switch was ceremonially flicked last Friday.

The Loy Yang development is "a major milestone for Australia", said the chief of the CSIRO's energy technology division, Dr David Brockway, though many more milestones will have to be passed before it can be rolled out on a large enough scale to make any difference to the nation's greenhouse emissions.

One possibility being examined is the contruction of giant solar thermal plants next to coal-fired stations, with the former powering the latter's carbon capture mechanisms.

The post-combustion capture technology involves filtering flue gas released by the burning of coal through a chemical solvent, which absorbs the carbon dioxide. The CO2 is then processed into a liquid form.

If and when infrastructure is built, that liquid will then be piped to a place where it can be injected underground.

"This is a major milestone for Australia because it is the first time carbon has been captured in Australia, or in the southern hemisphere, but it is still a very small scale plant," Dr Brockway said.

"There's a general feeling throughout the world that it will take 10 to 15 years before we get to a full-scale commercial plant."

Jul 13, 2008

Female ambulance officers bullied

AN inquiry into suicide, bullying and harassment in the NSW Ambulance Service has received more than 200 submissions, including examples of "childish" behaviour towards female officers. Many submissions have not been made public for fear repercussions could follow, said NSW Upper House member Robyn Parker, who is heading the inquiry. "The reason we instigated the inquiry was that I and other members of Parliament were getting so many reports from ambulance officers about the stress within the service," Ms Parker told Macquarie Radio.

"About allegations of bullying and harassment, and anecdotal stories of suicide amongst the ranks." She said problems were compounded by revelations that all levels of management did not have the training to deal with people or workplace grievances brought to their attention. "We've had now over 200 submissions to this inquiry, which is just unprecedented," Ms Parker said.

"Not all of them are on the internet and many of them are confidential because those very officers are concerned of the repercussions. "That in itself means that the culture right through the whole system needs a shake-up. "It seems as though they are really pushed very hard with long rosters and issues with personality."

She said the inquiry had yet to determine if anecdotal information about suicide was accurate and, if so, was suicide more prevalent in the sector than in other health services. But bullying and childish behaviour towards female officers existed at a number of ambulance work environments across NSW, she said. "We've heard of female officers... where they are given a very hard time," Ms Parker said. "We heard one story where the female toilets were urinated all around. Silly childish things like that."

The inquiry holds its next day of public hearings on July 22.

Leesha McKenny: Now for the glucose revolution

IF BOOK sales are anything to go by, Professor Jennie Brand-Miller's GI revolution is here. "At one time there was only one book ahead of us on The New York Times bestseller list, and that was Harry Potter," she says. "So I'm pretty pleased with that."

Based on the glycaemic index and co-authored by Kaye Foster-Powell, a nutritionist, and Professor Stephen Colagiuri, Brand-Miller's books have sold 3.5 million copies worldwide. A fourth edition of two of the most popular titles in the "glucose revolution" series was published this month.

It is a sign of how far the humble system of ranking carbohydrates based on their effect on blood sugar has come. First introduced in 1996, it was initially considered of benefit to those with diabetes. But with 570 mentions of glycaemic index in the American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition last year alone, Brand-Miller says new research highlights its potential benefits for those interested in brain function and weight control.

Which is to say, most of us.

"People love it or they hate it, but there are more people who love it than hate it," Brand-Miller says.

The idea is simple: carbohydrates that break down slowly release glucose, the body's energy source, more gradually into the bloodstream. This results in a more sustained energy supply to the brain throughout the day, while leaving a person feeling full for longer.

But due to the body's balancing act between glucose and the hormone insulin - and its effect on metabolism and other bodily functions - GI researchers are now examining areas further afield, including dementia, eyesight and even acne. "And there are lots of applications coming up, perhaps cancer prevention. There's things like babies' birth weight, there's mental performance, there's physical performance. And you might ask: Why would blood sugars be directly connected to so many different things? I think part of the reason it's so controversial … is because it's being shown to be so relevant to so many different things." Brand-Miller says that although glucose is the preferred energy source of the body, if levels in the blood are too high or take too long to return to a base level, it can cause inflammation within certain cells and lead to scarring and impaired function.

She cites a four-year University of California study of nearly 2000 post-menopausal women. Those with elevated blood sugar levels of 7 per cent or higher in the brain were four times more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment or dementia. "People who get dementia usually have risk factors for other things as well, including diabetes and heart disease."

Jul 12, 2008

Orietta Guerrera: Big plans for small coal plant

WITH a small plant fitted to the Loy Yang power station, the long-term viability of diverting its carbon dioxide emissions and capturing it to achieve "near-zero-emissions coal" is being tested.

For the first time in the southern hemisphere, in a process called post-combustion capture, greenhouse gas has been extracted from power station flues after the coal has been burnt.

As part of a pilot program headed by CSIRO's energy technology division, a 10-metre-high plant — designed and built to capture up to 100 tonnes of carbon emissions a year — has been fitted to the power station in the Latrobe Valley.

CSIRO energy technology chief David Brockway said the technology could reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power stations by more than 85%.

Because the process begins after the coal is burnt, no modifications are needed to the main part of a station. The plant can be added to an existing station, Dr Brockway said.

"This is particularly important because we have such a heavy reliance on coal-fired power stations, and many of our power stations will be around for another 50 years," he said.

The process involves diverting the flue gas to the plant through piping. Carbon dioxide from the gas flues is dissolved in an amine solvent and captured.

The solvent is then passed through another vessel, where it is heated and the carbon is separated and released. It is then compressed into a carbon liquid form, and is ready for the next stage in achieving "near-zero-emissions carbon": sequestration, or storage deep underground.

Different amine solvents will be tested to see how they perform. The main challenge is keeping costs down. If introduced at power stations in its current form, Dr Brockway said, the technology would double the wholesale price of electricity.

Jul 10, 2008

Chip may speed up internet 100 times

A TECHNOLOGICAL breakthrough by University of Sydney scientists could lead to people downloading the latest movie in a few seconds or chatting with small, cheap, video systems.
The physicists have developed a revolutionary optical chip that could improve internet speeds to up to 100 times faster than Australia's networks.

"The most exciting thing is that it is just a piece of scratched glass. It is very simple, so it is potentially cheap," said Ben Eggleton, the director of the university's Centre for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems, CUDOS.

He said the thumbnail-sized device could be commercialised within five years and used in countries such as Japan, which is "way ahead of Australia" in installing high speed fibre networks.

"As they build the next generation of networks, they're going to be looking for new breakthrough technologies."

Jul 9, 2008

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of antidepressants used in the treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, and some personality disorders. They are also typically effective and used in treating premature ejaculation problems.

SSRIs increase the extracellular level of the neurotransmitter serotonin by inhibiting its reuptake into the presynaptic cell, increasing the level of serotonin available to bind to the postsynaptic receptor. They have varying degrees of selectivity for the other monoamine transporters, having little binding affinity for the noradrenaline and dopamine transporters.

The first class of psychotropic drugs to be rationally designed, SSRIs are the most widely prescribed antidepressants in many countries.[1] Their effectiveness and safety have been questioned.

Skip to the heart beat and it's all the more rosy

Circumcise your heart? It sounds, when you're done wincing, like some snippet of Eastern mysticism, some off-cut - if you'll pardon the pun - of the mantras, kabbalas or kama sutras we presume to be more poetic than what-I-suppose-we-might-still-call our own spiritual tradition.

Yet there it stands, the cardio-peel imperative, in good old Deuteronomy, 10-16. The un-Christian testament but still family, right? "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your hearts and be no more stiffnecked," is the full King James quote, sanitised into the new Testament as the less razorish - and way less evocative - God is love.

Poetry has long agreed with Baruch, or Moses, or whoever really wrote Deuteronomy. Coleridge's Ancient Mariner is redeemed only when, unthinking, he loosens his neck, opens his heart and blesses the midnight sea-serpents.

"Bring it home? All right," sighs Sam Phillips, mean-eyed music man in the recent Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line. "Let's bring it home. If you was hit by a truck and you was lyin' out in that gutter dyin' and you had time to sing one song - one song people would remember you by before you're dirt - one song that would let God know what you felt about your time here on Earth, one song that would sum you up … Because … that's the kind of song people want to hear. That's the kind of song that truly saves people."

Phillips goes on. "It ain't got nuthin' to do with believin' in God, Mr Cash. It has to do with believin' in yourself."

This sounds like those tacky "follow your dreams" exhortations tacked up at your local bank or dole office. But listen again and you'll find Phillips's speech has its own music, that unmistakeable Luther King rhythm and repetition that persuades Cash back down through his ring of fire to sing from his scarred, blown-open heart.

Neither man is talking of personal love, the man-woman mother-child stuff of poems and love songs. They are talking of the creative source, the dreaming. This makes for a spine-tingling screen moment but, as artistic ground, it's hardly untrod.

More surprisingly perhaps, science, too, is clambering on the love-wagon. And not just with the pheromone and serotonin studies that see us all as shakers of chemical (if somewhat Molotov) cocktails.

Professor Stephen Post is the president of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, Case Western University Medical School, Cleveland, Ohio. Google it, if you don't believe me.

Jul 8, 2008

David Kiley: The Coming of the Car-Bot

Imagine the scene: You're driving your car to an office building in New York City, five minutes from a job interview. No worries. You have already dialed into the car's memory the parking garage where it's going to stay, and prepaid the bill. You shut the door. And off it goes. Driverless. And the chances of the car getting into an accident while it travels five or six treacherous city blocks are less than if the hopeful job applicant had tried to park it himself under time pressure.

Does it sound too good to be true? A sign of the end of civilization as we know it? Too far into the future to care? It depends on whom you ask. But some researchers, engineers, and auto companies believe that such automation is not only on the way to becoming commonplace in the next 20 years, but essential to reducing the carbon footprint of vehicles from the U.S. to China and everywhere else. Oh, and as the technology necessary to achieve the "autonomous" car arrives in stages every few years—some of it is already here, in options such as electronic stability control and blind-spot detection—it promises to sharply reduce traffic fatalities.

A vacuum of leadership

"The G8 confronts three huge challenges, but don't expect any insightful solutions.

IT'S been 13 long months since the leaders of the G8 gathered for their annual talkfest. Just in case you've forgotten what was agreed in Heiligendamm, here's a reminder: 'We noted,' the G8 said, 'that the world economy is in good condition and growth is more evenly distributed across regions.' This was June 8, 2007, two months to the day before the entire global financial system came to a shuddering halt. If you like your humour black, it's rather funny isn't it?

But wait, it gets better. The communique expressed confidence that there would be 'a smooth adjustment of global imbalances which should take place in the context of sustained and robust economic growth'.

Glad to see, then, that there was no risk that the United States subprime mortgage crisis would prompt what the International Monetary Fund has called the biggest shock to the global financial system since the Great Depression.

In fact, the G8 had nothing to say about housing bubbles at all, though it did find time to discuss the need for a settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. And so it goes on. The G8 managed a cursory glance at what hedge funds were up to and decided that — on balance — there was nothing really"

How your GPS rats on you

"TRAVELLING without a GPS has become unthinkable for many drivers, including the criminal fraternity, it would seem. Police are now finding the devices a valuable aid to implicating their owners in crimes, because forensics experts can extract information about a suspect's whereabouts from them.

Scotland Yard analysis of the devices has helped solve dozens of investigations into kidnappings, grooming of children, murder and terrorism. Information about a suspect's whereabouts at particular times, their journeys and addresses of associates can all be discovered - if they have been using a GPS. The devices retain hundreds of records of locations and routes in their memory.

With more than 30 million of them in use in Britain - some in mobile phones - police expect the data to become an increasingly important forensic tool. But the use alarms privacy campaigners, who fear the data could also be used to trap people who commit minor crimes such as speeding."

Jul 6, 2008

IBM bags Treasury's SBR contract

IBM has pipped Accenture to a $10 million contract as the main IT architect of the federal Government's Standard Business Reporting project.
The $243 million project, led by the Treasury Department, aims to simplify electronic filing of business financial information with the government.

SBR will provide a single, secure log-on for businesses to seamlessly send financial reports and information captured in more than 220 accounting software programs to agencies including state and territory revenue offices, the Bureau of Statistics, the Prudential Regulation Authority, the Securities and Investments Commission, and the tax office.

IBM will design the core technology infrastructure and platforms to connect with systems operated by government agencies and offices.

Reports that IBM and Accenture had formed a consortium to bid for the project were hosed down by SBR program manager, Greg Divall, who said that only “prime contractors” had participated in the tender process.

Another SBR contract, worth $1.7 million, was awarded to Cybertrust Australia, a subsidiary of Verizon Business, for design authentication technology that will allow a business to verify its identity with the government."

Lights will go down

"IT IS not Earth Hour, but the lights are going out again all over much of the city's central business district. The Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, the AMP building and Governor Phillip and Governor Macquarie towers are among more than a score of city and North Sydney buildings and structures that have promised to dip their lights tonight and tomorrow night.

The aim is to let the stars shine once more through Sydney's light-polluted skies, providing a treat for visitors attending Sydney Observatory's Festival of the Stars. City buildings have been switching off lights for the annual star festival since 2005, two years before Earth Hour's debut. 'They got the idea from us,' said Sydney Observatory's astronomer, Nick Lomb. 'There will be a nice collection of planets visible.'"

No credit as oceans turn sour

NOW that Ross Garnaut's draft report has been released, most of the climate change debate in Australia will focus on the economic effects of any emissions trading scheme.

However, there's another carbon problem, which will profoundly affect our oceans, that has received scant attention beyond a small band of marine scientists and is largely independent of global warming.

The public, aware of the role of carbon dioxide in climate change, doesn't know of its function in acidifying the oceans and the hundreds of years that would be required for recovery.

Ocean acidification refers to the natural process whereby carbon dioxide dissolves in the sea, forming a weak carbonic acid. The ocean is a major sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide and has absorbed about 48 per cent of the CO2 emitted by human activities since the pre-industrial age.

A recent report from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Co-operative Research Centre claimed that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at its highest level in 650,000 years, and possibly 23 million years, and half has been dissolved in the oceans, making them more acidic.

Australia has a direct stake in the ocean acidification problem: it will affect every part of our marine environment. And our offshore estate has just become a lot bigger. Three months ago the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, while not accepting all bids, recognised Australia's claim to the continental shelf where it extends beyond our exclusive 200 nautical mile economic zone. This is a vast oceanic area: 2.5 million square kilometres, or 10 times the size of New Zealand and 20 times the size of Britain. Rising levels of acidity in the oceans surrounding Australia could have a profound impact on marine industries and dire consequences for many Pacific Island communities, presenting strategic and humanitarian challenges.

Mounting levels of CO2 in the Southern Ocean has caused deep concern among scientists studying the long-term productivity of the world's oceans. Under conditions of increasing acidification, parts of the oceans will deteriorate and progressively become uninhabitable for certain types of plankton, central to the ocean food chain, and coral structures. The Southern Ocean is particularly important because it is very efficient at absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere: it's here where the first effects are being felt.

Jul 5, 2008

Place for sharia, but not in court: top UK judge

"MUSLIMS in Britain should be able to organise parts of their lives according to sharia law, the country's most senior judge has said. Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the Lord Chief Justice, backed Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams over his controversial suggestion earlier this year that aspects of sharia law should be adopted in Britain.

London's The Daily Telegraph reported Lord Phillips as saying that Muslims in Britain should be able to use sharia to decide financial and marital disputes. In a speech at the East London Muslim Centre, Lord Phillips said: 'It is possible in this country for those who are entering into a contractual agreement to agree that the agreement shall be governed by law other than English law.' Muslims were free to practise their own faith and live their lives in accordance with those principles, but not to be in conflict with the law. People's view of sharia was often coloured by extremists who 'invoke it, perversely, to justify terrorist atrocities such as suicide bombing', Lord Phillips said."

People's view of sharia was often coloured by extremists who "invoke it, perversely, to justify terrorist atrocities such as suicide bombing", Lord Phillips said. It was not sharia, but the sanctions imposed in some Muslim countries -- such as flogging, stoning, cutting off hands, or killing -- that would conflict with British laws. "There can be no question of such sanctions being applied to or by any Muslim who lives within this jurisdiction," he said. Muslims were entitled to be treated in the same way as other people, but must accept they would receive the same treatment.

Govt overhauls e-security

"THE Federal Government is set to overhaul the digital security framework that protects government and business from electronic attacks. Over the next three months, the Rudd government will undertake a wide ranging review of e-security measures led by Mr Mike Rothery, the assistant secretary for critical infrastructure protection inside the Attorney-General's Department. The E-Security Review is a response to the increasing proliferation of technology in business and government.

Mr Rothery will oversee an executive committee formed from senior representatives in ASIO, Defence Signals Directorate, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Government Information Management Office. The review puts a question mark over funding committed to a number of agencies in 2007 by the Howard Government in its four year, $73.5 million E-security National Agenda."

Jul 4, 2008

Jamie Pandaram: Cricket Holiday from Jihad

"AT THE height of trepidation before Australia pulled out of the Pakistan cricket tour in March, I tracked down the distributor of internet videos for the terrorism-associated group Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. The videos posted online showed battle footage of Islamic fighters, Western forces being trapped and killed, and apparent abuse of Muslims followed by 'jihad action' - usually backed by Arabic war hymns.

I asked the person responsible for the video postings if Harkat-ul-Mujahideen could give the Australian cricketers a guarantee of safety. The US says the group is one of Pakistan's most dangerous. 'As far as I know anyone who goes [to] Pakistan are at risk by the West in case they are linked to terrorism,' the person emailed, adding that I was 'confused' over his/her association with the group. 'I hope security is tight in case a few idiots decide to mess it up for all the cricket fans out there.' Cricket Australia was told that should terrorists harm any of their cricketers, Osama bin Laden himself would be hunted down by his own men, such is the regard for the game in Pakistan."

Robot soldiers ready for real battlefield

AT A desert test site in Texas, a street battle rages between US soldiers and local 'insurgents'. It's much like any other training exercise, except the soldiers are accompanied by a Mule (Multifunctional Utility/Logistics and Equipment), an armed robot the size of a Humvee vehicle.

The insurgents are positioned overlooking an intersection, a potential kill zone. The commander pulls out what looks like a PlayStation gamepad and the Mule is sent forward.

It presents a tougher challenge than the typical human soldier. The Mule can fire Javelin anti-tank missiles and has a turret-mounted machine-gun in addition to a digital 'eyeball' with laser and heat-recognising target acquisition systems for aiming its weaponry. It is semi-autonomous, using GPS to navigate and localised perception to avoid trees and buildings. Its six wheels are on pneumatic legs, enabling it to climb over cars and barriers.

Within minutes, the formerly deadly intersection is secure.

In just a few years' time, Lockheed Martin will start shipping the Mule to conflict hotspots. The US Army has 1700 on order for 2014. About 15 Warfighter brigades will be equipped with the units, constituting a human to robot ratio of 29:1. Many will be used to clear minefields and carry gear, but half will be armed."

Jul 3, 2008

Windows XP: Dead or just resting?

"It turns out the reports of XP's death may be slightly exaggerated. Sure, the obits have been posted and the requiems are being sung. The fat lady has already packed up her girdle and gone home with a bucket of KFC. Yet it seems XP -- like Bill Gates -- is still alive and kicking, at least in some form.

One day after XP's 'demise', Dell SMB manager Jenni Doane posts a blog entry that details how you can still get XP by exploiting some of the loopholes left open by Microsoft. (Essentially, you can buy a Vista license but ask Dell to downgrade the system to XP, which they will continue to support. The catch? You have to buy it through Dell's Small Business sales operation, and you can only get XP Pro.)

You know the PC biz has gotten weird when offering a 7-year-old OS becomes a marketing advantage. But the reason why is obvious. Vista is such a dog it qualifies for the Iditarod. Even Intel won't let it in the door, lest it chew on the furniture and soil the carpets.

In a BuzzDash poll posted by my erstwhile colleague Jeff Bertolucci, 72 percent of respondents wanted Microsoft to 'revive' XP, which is presumably encased in a glass coffin not dissimilar to Stalin's in the Kremlin.

Jul 2, 2008

Linda Stone: Is it Time to Retire the Never-Ending List?

One afternoon, earlier this year, as I was scanning a long list that I was adding to endlessly, I realized, 'I'll never get it all done. That's probably just fine. But this endless list and this feeling of being completely scheduled...it's not working right now.'

I met some friends for dinner and put the question out: 'Do you have a never-ending list? Do you manage your time? Do you manage minutes, tasks, and lists? Do you start each day with a list that has more on it at the end of the day than it did at the beginning of the day, in spite of how many items are completed and crossed off?

Or do you manage your attention? Do you manage emotions, intention, and make choices about what will and will not get done? What are your favorite ways to do this?' I got such an interesting set of answers, that, these last few months, I made a point of asking a variety of people: office workers, surgeons, physicians, artists, parents, and CEOs. Here's what I've learned.

In the cases where people reported managing their time, they more often reported experiencing burn-out, they didn't know how much longer they could go on at their particular job or lifestyle. There was often a sense of helplessness and overwhelm. The endless list, the one that gets added to and never completed, at the center of it all, left them with a heavy heart and a burdened sense of tomorrow. There was no celebration of what had been accomplished, no kick back and enjoy after a day well done. Office workers with schedules packed with meetings, projects, and overflowing email boxes reported best efforts to manage time; best efforts that left them breathless. Physicians, rapidly cycling through appointments and report writing, focused on time and efficiency. Time. Efficiency. Lists. Tasks.

What did surgeons, artists, and CEO's have in common? Most of them reported that they managed both their time and their attention. In surgery, in the studio, and in the time carved out to think through strategies and issues, these professionals reported shutting down the devices and endless inputs (email, phone, interruptions), at scheduled times, and claiming those moments to focus. In almost every case, these professionals reported experiencing "flow" (a la Csikszentmihalyi) in their work.