Jun 27, 2009

Microsoft unveils Windows 7 prices

Microsoft on Thursday announced prices for Windows 7 and offered free upgrades to buyers of personal computers before the new operating system hits the stores in October.

Brad Brooks, corporate vice president for Windows consumer marketing, said Microsoft will offer free upgrades to Window 7 to people who buy Vista-equipped PCs between Friday and the October 22 release date of Windows 7.

Vista is Microsoft's much-criticised previous operating system and the Redmond, Washington-based software giant is hoping that Windows 7 will help erase bad memories of Vista in the minds of consumers.

Brooks said in a video released by Microsoft that the free upgrades would apply to people who purchase PCs running Windows Vista Home Premium, Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate.

The upgrade program will be available until January 31, 2010.

The offer of free upgrades is seen as an attempt to prevent people from putting off a decision to purchase a PC until October. An estimated 90 per cent of the world's PCs run on Windows.

Microsoft said Windows 7 will be available in 14 languages on October 22: English, Spanish, Japanese, German, French, Italian, Dutch, Russian, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese and Chinese (Hong Kong).

It will be available on October 31 in 21 other languages: Turkish, Czech, Portuguese, Hungarian, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Greek, Ukrainian, Romanian, Arabic, Lithuanian, Bulgarian, Estonian, Slovenian, Hebrew, Thai, Croatian, Serbian Latin, and Latvian.

Because of a European Commission anti-trust inquiry, the Windows 7 version going on sale in Europe will not include Internet Explorer, Microsoft's Web browser. Microsoft announced earlier this month that it had decided to remove the Web browser because of the regulatory wrangling.

Microsoft said a Home Premium Upgrade of an existing PC to Windows 7 would cost $A199 in Australia while the Professional Upgrade would cost $A399 and the Ultimate Upgrade $A429.

It said the Home Premium version of Windows 7 would retail for $A299 in Australia. The Professional version will sell for $A449 and the Ultimate version for $A469.

Amid slumping PC sales worldwide, Microsoft has been aggressively pushing laptop computers recently in a series of new advertisements in the United States as a low-cost alternative to the more expensive machines of rival Apple.

Jun 26, 2009

Retooling the Sales Pitch

Making a sales presentation can be nerve-wracking. Throw in a recession and increased pressure to close the sale, and the scenario gets even more stressful. Generic speeches and snazzy PowerPoint slides just don’t cut it anymore — especially with corporate customers who have reduced spending to boost their bottom lines. That’s why firms like IBM have retooled their sales pitches to better address the needs of their customers. Before setting up your next meeting with a potential client, try these techniques to create a more effective sales presentation that can produce real results....(CLICK HEADER LINK FOR MORE DETAILS)

Quick! Start a malware campaign to get prices down

Australian buyers of Microsoft's upcoming Windows 7 operating system will pay between AU$50 and AU$150 more in real terms than US residents for the software, the company revealed this morning.

The most popular version of Windows 7 is likely to be the full Home Premium version, which has an estimated retail price of US$199.99, or AU$248. But Australians will pay AU$299 for the software. Microsoft has cut that amount down by AU$50 compared to the same version of Windows Vista.

Australians will pay AU$199 to upgrade from Vista Home Premium to Windows 7 Home Premium, whereas Americans will only pay US$119.99, or approximately AU$149.

The Professional version of Windows 7 will come with an even higher cost.

Australian users will pay AU$449 for the full retail version of Windows 7 Professional, whereas Americans will pay US$299.99, or AU$372. And Australians will pay AU$399.99 to upgrade to Windows 7 Professional, whereas Americans will pay US$199.99 or AU$248.

The ultimate version of Windows 7 will go for AU$469 in Australia, or AU$429 for an upgrade, compared to the respective US prices of US$319.99 (AU$397.03) and US$219.99 (AU$273.38). Microsoft has hiked the prices of Windows 7 Ultimate slightly compared to Vista Ultimate.

Broadly speaking, Australian prices for Windows 7 remain on par with their Vista equivalents, albeit with some small changes around the Home Premium and Ultimate versions.

You mean people actually LIE to get MONEY?

A publishing giant got into hot water after offering gift vouchers to anyone who would give their textbook a five-star review. It raises one of the key questions in online purchasing, how much can you trust the customer reviews you read? In the US, it is called "shill reviewing".

You are the owner of a company whose product - Brand X Widget is struggling. On a major online retailer, Brand X Widget has been given a slew of one-star reviews by customers.

How tempting it is to tell all your employees to log on, without revealing their allegiance to the company, and dole out some five-star reviews. Slowly but surely Brand X Widget's star rating rises.

OTHER TERMINOLOGY
Amazon bombing: Concerted effort to change Amazon sales rankings by simultaneously buying product

Sock puppetry: The act of creating a fake online identity to praise, defend or create the illusion of support for one's self, allies or company (New York Times)
Astroturfing: Formal political, advertising, or public relations campaigns seeking to create the impression of being spontaneous "grassroots" behaviour (Wikipedia)
Seeding: Process of placing viral marketing such as videos in forums etc

Of course, the customer is the loser.

Read around the issue of these shill reviews and you will see discussion forum melees about books whose Amazon star-rating has mysteriously risen. Everyone knows reviews influence sales.

"If you look at internet retailers one of the drawbacks they have is that they don't have the advice a physical bookshop can give," says Graeme Neill of industry magazine The Bookseller. "[Customer reviews] are almost like a member of staff that you would grab in a bookshop and ask 'what do you think of this book'. It is a good sounding post."

Amazon and other retailers have long recognised the importance of customer reviews. Dedicated reviewers earn status by appearing in the "top reviewers" list, and can even be sent products to review in advance.

It's no surprise that the recent actions of science publisher Elsevier caused a storm. The firm offered a $25 (£15) Amazon voucher to academics who contributed to the textbook Clinical Psychology if they would go on Amazon and Barnes & Noble (a large US books retailer) and give it five stars.

Elsevier was quick to disown the actions of its marketing employee and emphasise that it had all been a mistake. "The company doesn't pay for positive reviews," says Tom Reller, director of corporate relations. "This was a recent employee error. We haven't given out any gift cards under the programme."

Jun 25, 2009

Geeks and bogans: tribal trends through the ages

HERE are people who ask big questions such as what is the meaning of life, and are we alone in the universe? In a similar vein, I ponder life's big demographic questions, such as what is the difference between a geek and a nerd? And is a bogan just a latter-day battler?

I have never been interested in discovering exciting new market segments. I leave that to others. No, I am far more interested in exploring the evolution of, and differences between, existing segments. Consider the impact of some of the most prominent demographic life forms since the 1970s.

The dink: The double-income-no-kids first emerged in the late 20th century as 20-something baby boomers paired up and postponed having children. Many completed tertiary education in the 1970s and pursued careers in the 1980s. Accordingly, the kid thing was postponed until boomer women were in their 30s.

This immediately created a new social group that controlled a vast pool of discretionary spending, capturing the attention of marketers selling cars, fashion, home appliances and extensions, and travel to a new generation who could afford stuff that in a previous era was available only to a select few.

Indeed, it was the not-so-humble dink who pioneered the modern notion of rampant materialism. Perhaps we should erect a monument to the dink.

The yuppie: The dink was only a prototype of a newer, sleeker model of consumer that emerged in the late 1980s.

Some evolutionary scientists believe the yuppie is descended from the dink (except that they had kids), but I'm not so sure. Yuppies are by definition tertiary educated, whereas the dink is a more broadly based species. I suspect it was dinks that eventually built McMansions, whereas yuppies morphed into inner-city sophisticates.

Pre Drool


The Palm Pre. It's not just a phone, it's a myth, an idea, possibly a legacy... and a really, really long time coming. It's almost impossible to believe....

Brumby stuffs up management of another major project

A COMPANY partly owned by France's national railways is emerging as the front runner to replace Connex as operator of Melbourne's trains.

A committee comprising at least four state ministers met yesterday to finalise a decision on which of three tenderers would win.

The contract to run Melbourne's train system was estimated earlier this year by analysts JP Morgan to be worth $8 billion over the next decade.

The Age understands there is strong support within the Government to give the contract to Keolis, a French transport group partly owned by SNCF, France's national railway operator.

The Keolis bid is believed to be cheaper than either of those from its two competitors for the contract, Connex and Hong Kong metro operator MTR.

A spokeswoman for the Keolis bid, Maryanne Graham, said she could not confirm where the bid process was. "I would love to be able to confirm that (Keolis has won) but at this stage I'm not in receipt of any confirmation from the Department of Transport. But we are looking at being advised in the coming weeks," she said.

An announcement of both the train contract, and the less lucrative contract to run the city's trams, is expected soon.

The Age understands that Connex has concerns about the tendering process, although the company publicly denied this yesterday. Connex's Mark Paterson last night declined to answer any questions about the tendering process.

The office of Public Transport Minister Lynne Kosky also declined to answer questions on the contracts, saying the strictest probity had been observed throughout the tender process.

It appears likely that Yarra Trams will be reappointed to operate Melbourne's trams. It is bidding only against Keolis.

Meanwhile, an Auditor-General's report has found that the cost of buying back Victoria's regional rail network has blown out by up to $70 million, and that the purchase was approved on "incomplete analysis and advice".

The full cost of the buyback is likely to exceed $200 million, despite the Bracks Government announcing a $134 million purchase price in April 2007. "The audit cannot give any assurance that the state paid the lowest reasonable purchase price obtainable," Auditor-General Des Pearson found.

Sonic 'laser' developed, makes quite an impression at 80s night


A researcher from the University of Nottingham and his Ukrainian colleague have built the world's first Saser: a device that generates a highly concentrated beam of sound waves at terahertz frequency. Not unlike the frenetic warblings of Welsh chanteuse Bonnie Tyler, when alternating layers of aluminum arsenide and gallium arsenide are exposed to an intense beam of light, photons are released, causing them to bounce back and forth between the layers. Eventually the sound waves combine into much stronger, highly concentrated sounds in which every particle is synchronized -- creating an ultra-high frequency "phonon" beam. Although practical applications for this technology have yet to be developed, it is hoped that Sasers could someday be used to probe and manipulate electronic devices at the nanoscale level, with results that include terahertz-frequency processors which would make the "computers of the future" a thousand times faster.

Court win for apartment buyers leaves developers reeling

VICTORIANS buying houses and units off the plan have secured new legal rights to demand their money back, under a landmark ruling that has sparked fears of a collapse of projects across Melbourne. In a setback for an industry already reeling from the credit crunch, the Supreme Court of Victoria has found that off-the-plan buyers can tear up their contracts and get their deposits back when projects are not completed on time.

The ruling came in a case involving two luxury apartment buyers in Geelong who won the right to have their deposits refunded and contracts revoked because the developer took several months longer to finish the project than agreed. Until this ruling, it had been standard practice for developers to put clauses into off-the-plan contracts allowing for the extension of completion dates. Reasons for late completion could have included labour strikes, planning approval delays, shortages of materials or labour and weather.

But in a ruling this month, Justice Bernard Bongiorno said such clauses were invalid because they put the risk of delay onto home buyers, leaving them with no way out...

Microsoft Unveils Energy-Use Software

Microsoft Corp. said it plans to launch new Internet software to help consumers gauge how much electricity they use and figure out how to cut back.

The Redmond, Wash., software company will initially partner with four utilities, including Xcel Energy Inc. of Minneapolis and Puget Energy Inc. unit Puget Sound Energy of Bellevue, Wash., to provide those utilities' residential customers who opt into the program detailed usage information.

Other U.S. consumers can use the program to estimate the energy efficiency (or lack thereof) of their homes and appliances, particularly heaters, air conditioners and lighting, Microsoft said. To make those estimates the company.

Windows 7 - getting to know you

Like good wine, Windows 7 is designed to improve with age.

Ever get the feeling your computer is watching you? Perhaps you're not crazy after all, as Microsoft's new Windows 7 operating system is designed to learn your habits and change itself accordingly. Windows 7's ability to adapt means its performance should actually improve over time, according to presenters at this week's Windows 7 Media Briefing at Microsoft Australia HQ in North Ryde.

Of course anyone who remembers the hype around Windows Vista knows to be wary when it comes to miraculous claims about Windows 7, but it still sounds like an interesting concept. One of the key changes with Windows 7 is that it loads device drivers in parallel rather than one at a time, which speeds up boot times.

To help further reduce boot times, Windows 7 won't launch as many background services at startup, meaning you should be up and running faster. A lot of things that were running in the background by default, such as those supporting Bluetooth devices, will now be "trigger started" services - which means they won't start running in the background until you actually need them. If Windows 7 notices that you tend to regularly use a particular service when you first start up your computer, it will add it to the list of services to launch straight away.

I'd say limiting the amount of stuff that runs in the background is certainly a step in the right direction and lets hope third-party software vendors head down the same path. Hopefully they'll stop bogging down PCs by pre-launching stuff like Adobe Reader and QuickTime in the background - or at least make it easier for you to disable these so-called helper apps. Killing these two startup items can make a big difference to your startup times, although the QuickTime Tray Icon (qttask.exe) is a notorious resource hog that won't go away even if you disable it using msconfig. Some people resort to actually renaming it in order to stop Windows launching it.

If you're anything like me, once you're up and running you have a lot of windows open in the background even though you tend to only use two or three for the most part. Under Windows 7, memory consumption is no longer tied to the number of windows open - giving the operating system more flexibility to allocated resources as required. This should give you the grunt you need, where you need it and when you need it.

Another handy trick is that Windows 7 can change how long it waits to dim the screen according to how you use your computer. By default it might dim the screen after 15 second of inactivity, in order to preserve the battery life, but if it notices you often start typing again after a 20 second break then it might start waiting 30 seconds before it dims the screen. Alternatively it might reduce the wait time, depending on your usage habits. It doesn't sound like much, but it's certainly another step towards the dream of all day computing on a single battery charge.

None of the above changes are earth-shattering, but a good operating system is more than the sum of its parts. From what I've seen so far, it looks like Windows 7 is shaping up to be a worthy upgrade to the oft-maligned Windows Vista.

Swine flu causes hospital lockdown

MELBOURNE'S major cancer hospital has locked down its intensive care unit after a 50-year-old female patient died with swine flu yesterday and a second patient tested positive for the virus.

Staff at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute created a separate high dependency unit after the diagnosis yesterday to prevent the H1N1 virus spreading through the hospital.

They also attempted to reach everyone who had been in contact with the two patients to give them antivirals and ensure they did not put other patients with compromised immune systems at risk.

The Victorian woman's death is the third associated with swine flu in Australia, which now has at least 2873 cases.

Crazy fun Holga camera

It used to be that the Holga was difficult to find outside of Asia, but of course the internet solved that issue. These days you'll find Holgas for sale everywhere from Urban Outfitters to eBay, even The White Stripes sell them!

The one thing to keep in mind is that there are quite a few different Holga models, all of which are flawed in their own unique way. The basic differences between the models come down to lens and accessories. The original Holga has a plastic lens, but the company later introduced several models with glass lens and added a few accessories like flashes, tripod mounts and more. There's even a pinhole model -- the Holga 120WPC.

Eventually, lulled by the popularity of 35mm film, the company behind the Holga created the series of 35mm cameras that more or less correspond to all the 120mm releases, but use the cheaper, more widely available film.

As for which you should buy, that's entirely up to you, though we're partial to the original 120mm bodies.

Prices vary radically around the web and at your local camera dealer. The best way to find a good deal is check out the price lists on some of the many Holga enthusiast sites around the web. The Lomography site makes an excellent starting point.

Jun 24, 2009

Iranian Big Brother is watching

How do you say “Operation Pinwale” in Farsi?

According to a somewhat confusing Wall Street Journal story, Iran has adopted NSA-like techniques and installed equipment on its national telecommunication network last year that allows it to spy on the online activities and correspondence — including the content of e-mail and VoIP phone calls — of its internet users.

Nokia Siemens Networks, a joint venture between Germany’s Siemens and Finland’s Nokia, installed the monitoring equipment late last year in Iran’s government-controlled telecom network, Telecommunication Infrastructure Co., but authorities only recently engaged its full capabilities in response to recent protests that have broken out in the country over its presidential election.

The equipment allows the state to conduct deep-packet inspection, which sifts through data as it flows through a network searching for keywords in the content of e-mail and voice transmissions. According to the Journal, Iran seems to be doing this for the entire country from a single choke point. “Seems,” because although the Journal states that Nokia Siemens installed the equipment and that signs indicate the country is conducting deep-packet inspection, the paper also says “it couldn’t be determined whether the equipment from Nokia Siemens Networks is used specifically for deep packet inspection.”

Although the Journal has published questionable “spying” stories in the past, we’re willing to go with them on this one.

It’s previously been reported that Iran was blocking access to some web sites for people inside the country as protesters took to the streets and the internet to dispute the results of the country’s recent presidential election.

Consumers Boycott Nokia, Siemens for Selling to Iran

Consumers are calling for a boycott of telecom equipment makers Nokia and Siemens after the Wall Street Journal reported that the companies’ joint networking firm sold sophisticated internet surveillance equipment to Iran — a story that the company says is false.

Despite the denial, boycotters have written Nokia saying they’ve destroyed their Nokia phones, and are telling friends and family to avoid Nokia products until the company “can make the right ethical choices.”

According to the Journal, a system installed in Iran by Nokia Siemens Networks — a Finland-based joint venture between Nokia and Seimens — provides Iranian authorities with the ability to conduct deep-packet inspection of online communications to monitor the contents and track the source of e-mail, VoIP calls, and posts to social networking sites such as Twitter, MySpace and Facebook. The newspaper also said authorities had the ability to alter content as it intercepted the traffic from a state-owned internet choke point.

A spokesman for Nokia Siemens Networks, however, said the Journal got the story wrong, and that the system it installed in Iran late last year is incapable of conducting deep-packet inspection of internet communications — or conducting any internet surveillance at all. The company said it installed a cell phone network in Iran, and like all modern telecom switches, the equipment includes a capability that allows the government to conduct wiretaps of telephone calls made from targeted numbers.

Telecommunication companies in the United States and other countries are required to provide this so-called “lawful intercept” capability so that domestic law enforcement agencies can eavesdrop on calls to investigate criminal activity. “Lawful,” of course, means different things in different countries. In the U.S. such interception generally requires a court order.

Eat my dust Apple

The ThinkPad T-series is the Cadillac of business notebooks, but, as General Motors will tell you, nobody's so good that that they wouldn't benefit from a little trimming. That's exactly what Lenovo has done with the T400s, its latest revision to company's popular T400. But Lenovo knows better than to screw around too much with a good thing.

Clad in that familiar black shell, the 14.1-inch laptop (screen resolution: 1440 x 900 pixels) has a case that's only about 4/5 of an inch thick and just under 4 pounds, a whole pound lighter than the T400. Apparently the s tacked onto the end of T400 stands for "svelte."

Performance is simply outstanding: While graphics are a tad weak due to the lack of a video card, the high-end CPU (the newest Core 2 Duo SP9600, running at 2.53 GHz), 2 GB of RAM and 128-GB solid-state drive give the T400s plenty of juice to power through general apps, running rings around nearly all other notebooks we've benchmarked this year. The screen, now backlit by LEDs, is also dazzlingly bright — one of the brightest on the market, especially in this size class. Netbook and MacBook Air users, take a back seat: There's also a DVD burner.

ThinkPad geeks will most enjoy the little tweaks that Lenovo has given the T400s: The Esc and Delete keys are now double-sized for easier access, and though the speakers still suck, at least the unit features better volume controls, including a dedicated microphone On/Off button. A 2-megapixel webcam with dual microphones rests atop the LCD, and then there's the textured, multitouch touchpad — now flush with the palm rest — that is possibly the most comfortable touchpad we've ever used.

Price is the one of the few nagging issues. Even without the SSD, the T400s starts at $1,600. Our test unit's configuration hit $2,000, a tough sell even in a good economy.

But if the price isn't an issue for you, this is a top contender for a business notebook. And by the way, after spending so much quality time with the T400s, we've figured out what the "s" really stands for. It stands for "sweet."

10 Worst Automotive Fads

Picture yourself back in 1982: You are taking your new high-tech Datsun 810 Maxima for a nighttime drive in the country. A Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran” is playing on the radio. You are all alone in the cockpit — or so you think. When you come to a stop and turn off the ignition, a sultry female voice emanates from behind the dash: “Lights are on.” And so they are. You turn them off and say, “Thanks, baby.”

With a vocabulary of exactly six phrases, the 810 Maxima was the first true talking car, equipped with a digital nanny feature that would chastise you for forgetful behaviors, including not switching off your headlights or failing to buckle your seat belt. And like any true fad, the recordings that were etched into its phonograph-style cylinder swiftly went from way-cool tech to way annoying. But that didn’t stop the insufferable feature from finding its way into other vehicles such as the 1984 Dodge Daytona and Chrysler Laser.

And despite eventually becoming an ’80s punch line, cars that talk have once again resurfaced in the form of voice-prompt GPS navigation systems and Sync-style voice control systems. It seems that this time, however, they have something relevant to say.

Swine flu deaths: hospitals face long cold winter

A health expert warns hospitals are in for a long winter, with a third Australian confirmed to have died after contracting swine flu.

The 50-year-old woman died at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne.

She had been receiving treatment for bone marrow cancer for a long time, but it is believed her death was a direct result of complications with swine flu.

Professor of infectious diseases at the University of NSW, Raina MacIntyre, says there will now be more pressure on hospitals to cope with an increasing number of swine flu cases.

Giving the green light to suicide

The concern about suicidal people with non-fatal illnesses travelling to Dignitas in Switzerland – where they were euthanised – underlines some of the fatal flaws in the case for legalising euthanasia here in Britain and elsewhere in Europe.

Concern will be expressed today by senior UK medical officials about the fact that patients with non-fatal illnesses have been arriving at the Swiss assisted-suicide clinic. The controversial clinic was in the news last month over its proposal to assist the death of a healthy Canadian woman who wished to die at the same time as her terminally ill husband.

Several of those travelling to Switzerland, according to list provided by Dignitas, had non-terminal illnesses such as Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

This is revealed in the midst of an attempt by assisted-suicide advocates to amend the law in the UK, where, presently, assisting a suicide can bring up to 14 years in prison. Lord Falconer is bringing an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill that would make it legal to travel abroad with someone to have an assisted suicide (as Dominic Lawson has noted, Falconer has touchingly called it the Purdy Amendment).

Tech giants join to create mobiles of the future

US semiconductor giant Intel and Finnish mobile phone maker Nokia have announced that they have entered into a "strategic relationship" to develop futuristic mobile computing devices. Intel, the world's biggest computer-chip maker, and Nokia, the largest mobile phone manufacturer, said their partnership would seek to "define a new mobile platform beyond today's smartphones, notebooks and netbooks."

The alliance between the leaders in their respective fields would enable "the development of a variety of innovative hardware, software and mobile Internet services," they said in a statement. Intel dominates the chip market for computers but has had little success in its attempts to break into the mobile phone arena.

The Santa Clara, California-based Intel and Helsinki-based Nokia did not unveil plans for any specific products but said they would collaborate in developing operating systems for the future mobile computing devices using open-source Linux software. "With the convergence of the internet and mobility as the team's only barrier, I can only imagine the innovation that will come out of our unique relationship with Nokia," said Anand Chandrasekher, a senior vice president at Intel. "The possibilities are endless."

Medicare the base for e-health IDs

PATIENTS' medical records will be linked across health providers using the present Medicare number and card, under the $98 million Unique Healthcare Identifier (UHI) program being developed by the National E-Health Transition Authority.

Few details of the planned UHI service have been revealed to date, despite the January 2010 deadline for completion of the project's design and build. The work has been directed by the Australian Health Ministers' Council (AHMC) and funded by the Council of Australian Governments

Although healthcare providers - doctors, pharmacists, community clinics and hospital administrators, in both the public and private arenas - will be issued with highly secure smartcards using PKI-based identity verification, consumers' individual healthcare numbers (IHIs) will be accessed by linking through the old Medicare number.

The stronger credentials for medical professionals will be managed through the planned National Authentication Service for Health (NASH), an extension of Medicare's existing arrangements to securely identify doctors accessing the agency's systems for claiming or payment transactions.

Social Networking into the GFC

WHEN Rupert Murdoch bought MySpace for $US580 million ($A719 million) four years ago, there were concerns that the septuagenarian media baron would kill the internet site's phenomenal popularity.

According to the latest figures from online audience measurement company ComScore, there are now 70.28 million unique US visitors for Facebook, up 97 per cent in a year, compared to 70.26 million for MySpace, which is down 5 per cent for the year. Facebook has nearly doubled the number of users, MySpace has gone backwards.

Analysts blame the MySpace fixation on its strategy of promoting entertainment content. Facebook maintained its focus on features that enhance the social-networking experience. Facebook has been able to innovate, MySpace hasn't. But then, Facebook still hasn't made a profit.

Black Eyed Peas boss 'gives Perez Hilton a black eye

Police have charged the tour manager of the Black Eyed Peas with assault after he allegedly gave celebrity blogger Perez Hilton a black eye outside a Toronto nightclub.

Hilton said he got into an argument with band members Fergie and will.i.am at the Cobra nightclub early Monday morning and was punched outside by Polo Molina, the band's tour manager. They were at the club following a Sunday night video awards show.

Molina turned himself in and has been charged with assaulting Hilton, Toronto Police Constable Tony Vella said. Molina is due in court on August 5.

Jun 23, 2009

Watch them then eat them

Whale watching generates far more money than whale hunting, according to a report released at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting here.

Worldwide, the industry now generates about $2.1bn per year, it says.

The group commissioning the report, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw), says whaling countries would gain from a switch to whale watching.

However, Iceland's delegate here said the two industries were compatible and could grow together.

Return with this or on this

Anyone who's seen Rashomon should be familiar with the Bushido, the Japanese "way of the warrior", a code of conduct providing instruction on all parts of life, but especially for a warrior in battle. Bushido emphasises the vital importance of personal honour, even to the death, Japanese warriors -- the Samurai -- were expected to fight until the bitter end, to "Return victorious, or not at all". What does this ancient code of conduct have to do with software design? For programmers, the Samurai Principle is also a style guideline, primarily intended when using languages that favour exceptions. Put simply, a method should either successfully complete its task, or contract, and return a valid result, or it should throw an exception and stop: Return success, or not at all. This is aimed at eliminating the old practice of using return codes or null objects to indicate that a method has failed or encountered something unexpected. -- Nick GIBSON, Builder.AU Brilliant idea whose time is NOW!

Australian tribalism and the belief in football

THIS is the story of two games of football, the first of which proves that the AFL is an absolute powerhouse that is rightly the envy of sports administrators the world over.

The second game casts doubt on its ability to extend beyond its tribal power base in the civilised AFL states.

Carlton-St Kilda at Etihad and Sydney-Collingwood at Stadium Australia.

I was lucky enough to be at the first match. It stands as one of the greatest games of footy I have ever seen.

And like many people in Sydney I could have got tickets to the second match but piked because of the drizzle; the fact that it was televised; and because I (rightly) suspected the Swans would lose.

Tempting as it was to travel 20km to sit in a half-empty stadium getting drenched while watching Collingwood fans scream with delight, the couch beckoned.

And with the benefit of hindsight I'm glad that it did, as my mates who trudged out to Homebush are still recovering from a miserable night.

What they're not recovering from, though, is that palpable sense of physical sickness that true fans experience when they realise their team is getting too old, too slow, too predictable.

Sydney frittered away victory by failing to turn up for the final term and will have its first quiet September since 2001.

The players and coach Paul Roos would be feeling gutted and ashamed at this no-show.

But it's the fans who are the problem. Apart from a few fanatics - many of them expats from AFL states - going to a Sydney game is a merely an option here.

And winning is regarded as merely nice, or preferable, rather than the absolute cornerstone of your mental wellbeing.

It's a marked contrast from the world's best practice agony and pride of Carlton fans at Etihad the other Friday.

They died a thousand deaths, almost lifting the roof off that closed stadium as the Blues staged two miracle comebacks, led by Chris Judd's heroics, to be denied what would have been one of the greatest victories in football history.

The Swannies are reminiscent of the pre-Bulldogs Footscray, their fans prepared to cop a gallant defeat.

Gen Y pouting about GFC and cashpoor parents

WE are told that Australia's leading banks are and will remain rock solid during the downturn. That may be so, but there is one bank that is looking mighty shaky as a consequence of the global financial crisis. I refer of course to Boomer Bank.

You don't know about Boomer Bank? During the boom it was the best bank in the world. Need a loan or a line of credit? Boomer Bank to the rescue. Need help with a troublesome credit card? Boomer Bank has the capacity to make money worries disappear. That's right, get out of here you nasty old debt and don't you show your face around here no more.

The problem is Boomer Bank is highly selective in choosing its customers. They only comprise the 20-something Generation Y children of rich, guilty and indulgent baby boomer parents. "Guilty," I suspect because this is the first generation where both parents worked outside the family home. Children were indulged with consumer goods as teenagers (Gameboys for Christmas in 1993; iPods for Christmas in 2003) and this happy habit of giving morphed into varying degrees of financial support heaped on Generation Y right into their 20s. Why?

Partly because baby boomers could indulge their kids. Perhaps the other reason why Boomer Bank exists is to assuage nagging guilt about time spent at work rather than with children. "Look, kid, I haven't been much of a parent, but how about I pay your phone bill and we'll call it quits?"

Or, and I think this is closer to the mark: "If I pay for stuff that my parents didn't or couldn't pay for me, then that will prove I am a successful parent. Boomer Bank is part of my legacy." After all, the purpose of parenting is to make sure that each generation does better than the last. Isn't it?

THERE'S also the argument that parents set up Boomer Bank not because they are extraordinarily generous, or because they are exceptionally talented providers, but because it reflects positively on themselves. No point putting up the deposit for your Gen Y kid's first home unless you can telegraph the fact to all and sundry via Boomer Bank.

It's another way for competitive baby boomers to one-up each other. And when it comes to money management Boomer Bank has it all over the big four banks. No deposit. No fees. And, best of all, no interest. I hope the big banks are getting some tips from this. But sadly Boomer Bank's days might be numbered.

A survey of 1000 Australians released last week by St George bank confirmed the existence of Boomer Bank. About 62 per cent of Generation Ys surveyed said they expected the Bank of Mum & Dad to pay for one-off expenses, to pay for all or part of a wedding, to help raise a deposit for a house, to provide a general safety net, and to help with education costs, eg HECS. They're saying, "Mum and Dad, please make my problems go away".

However, the same survey also revealed that 70 per cent of baby boomers said the global financial crisis had reduced the value of their assets to such an extent they might have to postpone their retirement. One of the conclusions from this research is baby boomer parents are now looking at paying off debt and making better provision for their own retirement.

BOOMER Bank may receive less funding because of the global financial crisis. But here's the thing.

From cash cow to iconic fossil

More than 35 years after Paul Simon immortalised the colour film in song, the company announced that it would be ending production of Kodachrome.

Eastman Kodak Co said sales of Kodachrome represent less than one per cent of Kodak's total sales of still-picture film and that it would stop making it this year.

Kodachrome was launched in 1935, becoming one of the most successful colour films of all time. But sales have fallen dramatically, Kodak said, with the advent of digital imaging technology.

"Kodachrome Film is an iconic product," Mary Jane Hellyar, president of Kodak's film, photo finishing and entertainment group, said in a statement.

"It was certainly a difficult decision to retire it, given its rich history," she said.

"However, the majority of today's photographers have voiced their preference to capture images with newer technology - both film and digital."

Qantas jet went into 'total free-fall': passenger

Passengers were thrown around the cabin of a Qantas flight after severe turbulence forced the plane to plummet mid-air, injuring seven. QF68 was flying over Borneo in Malaysia, about four hours after leaving Hong Kong, when it "encountered severe turbulence", Qantas said in a statement. The Airbus A330 touched down at Perth International Airport this morning, and shaken passengers disembarked from it.

Six passengers and one crew member were injured and were treated by paramedics once the plane arrived. One man suffered a cut to his head during the incident, which is understood to have lasted between 10 to 20 seconds. The crew member was said to have fallen on their shoulder. "It was probably one of the worst turbulences I've ever (been in)," passenger Chris Rose, who was returning home with his wife Kerry, said.

Jun 22, 2009

Palm Pre Naked, US170

You know the deal—as fast as companies can churn out gorgeous, functional gadgetry, nerds worldwide are waiting in the shadows to tear them apart. The Palm Pre barely survived the night before being torn up.


It looks like a reasonably painless disassemble job, at least at first, though they don’t recommend removing the heat shield. Once all the parts were arranged on a table, the guys at Rapid Repair estimated the hardware cost of the Pre at just about $US170, which makes the smartphone’s $US199 price tag a pretty good deal for us consumers. Go check it out if you like seeing your gadgets unadorned and forcefully stripped. [Rapid Repair]

Phones Palm Pre Review

One last effort. A slow, but firm, shove of the chips. All in. Palm’s only hope to save a company once synonymous with smart handheld devices: the Pre. Their eyebrow raised, daring you to call. They flip. Full house. Respectable. Decent. Impressive even. But not the highest hand.

That’s not to say that the phone isn’t good, because it is. The software has quite a few interesting innovations that push the concepts of what people can do with smartphones, like Google Android when it debuted—only better. The market needs this. The industry needs this. We need this. But the hardware? Cheap. Flimsy. Dangerous even.

I’ve used the Pre as my main device for a week, forwarding my number through Google Voice so I could see what it was like living with it. I was able to pull my contacts from Facebook and Google into the phone quite easily, despite the Pre not supporting syncing to OS X Address Book, so it was a near-seamless transition. Sprint reception is unfortunately bad enough at my house to give me horrible voice quality, but not bad enough to drop calls. The device felt great in my pocket and in my hands, and the text and email notifications are informative without being intrusive. Other than trying to be discreet when I went to my usual exotic locales—the supermarket, Costco, restaurants and San Francisco—there wasn’t anything incredible to note. In short, it’s definitely a capable smartphone, one that I would have no problem using full time.

Palm Pre (Preview)

It's no secret that Palm's been struggling to keep up with the competition and has come under heavy criticism for its lack of innovation and delays in releasing its new operating system. So can you blame us for thinking that Palm might disappoint again?

User interface and OS
To us, the real highlight of the Pre is the user interface and OS. The UI reminded us a little of HTC's TouchFlo interface, with the various swiping gestures and cool animated motions, but Palm certainly put a fresh take on it. It's beautiful and smooth, and just plain cool. It's pretty evident that Palm put a lot of thought into the UI, as everything seamlessly works together to give you the best user experience and making the smartphone a really useful tool in your daily life.

The smartphone makes multitasking easy with the Deck of Cards feature that lets you scroll through various applications and toggle between them without having to open and close windows. It's slick, but most importantly, it's easy. We also think Synergy is a huge player, since it brings all your email accounts, contacts and calendar information from various sources into one place. Again, it's about simplicity and whether you're a consumer or business user, you have to love that.

Transaction Engines to Power Your Online Business

Payment: the bottom line of every business An income stream is the life blood of any business. Whatever your business, Xilo Online can provide the payment engine to streamline and automate the handling of your customer payments. Money flows straight through to your bank from the point of sale, whether on your website, from your office computer or from your mobile phone. Secure, low cost, quick to setup and easy to use.

See Solution Overview to find the solution that suits you best.

Back end e-commerce

A payment gateway is a separate service and acts as an intermediary between the merchants' shopping cart and all the financial networks involved with the transaction, including the customers' credit card issuer and your merchant account. Think of it as a EFTPOS terminal in cyberspace. It checks for validity, encrypts transaction details, ensures they are sent to the correct destination and then decrypts the responses which are sent back to the shopping cart.

This is a seamless process and your customer does not directly interact with the gateway; as data is forwarded to the gateway via your shopping cart and a secure (SSL) connection. The shopping cart is configured via plugins to send information in a format that is acceptable to the particular gateway.

The proper choice of payment gateway is another vital element which will contribute to your success or failure as an online business.

Manage phone calls for your business or call center

Axon is a virtual IP PBX for Windows or Linux designed to manage phone calls in a business, call center, or home.

* Slash your phone bills using VoIP phone companies
* Installs and ready to handle calls in minutes
* No hardware or telephone cabling required

This software works as a fully featured telephone switch connecting to phone lines and extensions using state-of-the-art VoIP technology, offering all the normal features of a traditional PBX routing all calls within a business.

This software is designed to be very easy and intuitive to use. Within minutes you will be able to start making phone calls. The best way to see what this software can do is to give it a try, download the free basic edition, or try Axon Enterprise free for 14-days.

BRE vs CEP

One consistent question we get from outside the CEP market is: what is the difference between a “standard” Business Rules Engine (or BRE) and a (rule-driven) Complex Event Processing engine? This is particularly interesting because a rule-based CEP engine like TIBCO BusinessEvents shares many features with normal BREs.

Let us look at the main extensions that CEP requires over “standard” BREs, and then in a later post we’ll look at the advantages the BRE approach brings to CEP.

1. Optimization for stateful rule services

Most BREs today are deployed as “decision services”, and are used in “stateless” transactions to make “decisions” as a part of a business process. A CEP application is instead processing multiple event streams and sources over time, which requires a “stateful” rule service optimized for long running. This is an important distinction, as a stateful BRE for long-running processes needs to have failover support - the ability to cache its working memory for application restarting or distribution. And of course long-running processes need to be very particular over issues like memory handling - no memory leaks allowed!

2. Rule language including event references

Obviously a CEP application needs to reason over (new) events, so the concept of event-driven or Event Condition Action rules is required.

3. Rule language including temporal and historic constructs

More complex event rules will be interested in comparing event histories over time. This means that the rule engine needs to incorporate mechanisms to store events (or have seamless access to stored events) and their associated metadata (such as timestamps). Such storage obviously needs to be resilient and fast, for example using distributed caching technology.

4. Internal structures to help organize and manage event correlations etc

Although optional, CEP rule engines do not need to rely just on rule processing (and rulesets) for organizing behavior. A typical mechanism for organizing event-based information aggregation is a state model, event processing being defined as state transitions encoded as rules.

5. Links to an Event Driven Architecture

The idea behind CEP is real-time event processing - which in turn necessitates a real-time event infrastructure to “feed” the CEP system with events.

Situational decision making

Every CIO faces the need to maximize their budget to support as many business-positive projects as possible. In fact, many CIOs today have built multiple budgets based on contingencies around the business climate, sudden new challenges, and updating technology. And every CIO has an IT backlog – a long list of situational application projects that are important and impactful to different divisions of the business but maybe can’t be realized because of resource constraints, money, or where the level of project complexity requires too much time to complete or specialized talent.

Over time, those situational applications take a toll operationally and on general productivity as they grow into independent silos of operations. And business constituents come to rely more and more on their own makeshift solutions, including large, complex spreadsheets, home-grown databases and even custom software development, all beyond the oversight, control and expertise of IT.

Situational application projects can become a hindrance to business growth if they become full-blown productized software projects. Businesses that have broken productivity areas collect a sea of missed opportunities to improve corporate performance, competitive position, IT governance, or increased revenues. In most cases, these departmental and situational solutions could have been quickly developed and delivered by IT if there was corporate adoption of a central application platform.

Tibco rules meet the cloud

Combining platform as a service (PaaS) with a built-in ability to integrate and manage hybrid cloud deployments, TIBCO Software today threw its hat in the cloud computing ring by taking its middleware and Java development and deployment platforms to new heights.

Coinciding with the JavaOne conference and coming on the heels of other PaaS announcements this week, TIBCO debuted TIBCO Silver via an online virtual conference. While general availability of Silver is not due until 2010, private beta launches begin this month, as the start of a rolling series of expanding beta launches this year. [Disclosure: TIBCO is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect Analyst Insights Edition podcasts.]

TIBCO's take on PaaS is notable for its emphasis on global 2000 enterprises, with a target on custom business applications, and with a largely automated means to integrate cloud applications and processes with on-premises IT resources and data. Silver is also working to appeal to corporate developers via initial support of Java, Spring, POJO, and Ruby. Later, Silver will add support for Python, Pearl, C, C++, and .NET. That covers a lot of development territory.

As for deployment, TIBCO is starting out on Amazon EC2, but will provide ease in portability for applications and services built with Silver onto other popular clouds provider offerings. The goal is to provide a universal middleware and runtime platform layer—as a service or as a private install—that can accommodate mainstream corporate developers with the choice of any major cloud and any major tool and framework, said Rourke McNamara, product marketing director at TIBCO.

Do not arm wrestle with this product. You will lose.

Even The Economist newspaper is worried about cloud lock-in. And a lot of people talk about open clouds, but not many necessarily do anything about it. LongJump’s announcement today of an enhanced platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering — the LongJump Business Applications Platform — is a strong contender for a best-of-breed cloud computing development and deployment approach that reduces the risk of cloud lock-in.

Designed with independent software vendors (ISVs) that want to go to the cloud in mind, LongJump’s PaaS 6.2 version allows applications to be deployed almost anywhere — on Amazon, Rackspace, on an enterprise data center, or any standards-based runtime stack, says Pankaj Malviya, Founder and CEO of LongJump.

That’s flexible deployment among public clouds, private clouds or both (with an ability to manage among them to come in a future release, I’d wager). LongJump’s extensible PaaS gives organizations options in hosting environments including third-party clouds such as Amazon EC2, or a private cloud safely tucked behind the company’s own firewall.

LongJump won’t be alone in seeking the holy grail of a truely open, portable, extensible and neutral cloud PaaS approach, but they have my attention. We’ll need to keep an eye on Salesforce, TIBCO Software, IBM, and Oracle/Sun on the topic.

For now, LongJump’s one-size-fits-all model (to build with Java, Ajax, SOAP, REST, Eclipse) helps ISVs, businesses and developers as they seek a sleek path to cloud-based custom applications. The tools also provide a common way to build thin, fit and fat app UIs.

And integrated modeling, workflow and rules capabilities allow the applications behave as serve components, as parts of extended business processes. Cool.

Tibco gets serious with the cloud

Middleware stalwart Tibco is getting ready to launch Tibco Silver, a tool for building enterprise grade applications on top of public cloud infrastructure. Initially, it will only run on top of Amazon EC2, with plans to support other cloud providers in the future. Tibco, which cut its teeth with superfast guaranteed messaging for Wall Street traders, intends to bring governance and other enterprise traits to the frontier of cloud.

Silver aims to bring the benefits of cloud architectures to businesses by automatically supporting all of the features required for mission critical applications. Rourke McNamara, director of product marketing at Tibco, noted, "We have been looking for a way to make the cloud useful to enterprise customers, and have talked to them about stumbling blocks such as the lack of governance, lack of portability of skill sets and code, and security."

The Tibco platform is designed such that every single application has governance control points built in, regardless of whether the developer thought about it. An IT manager can see what is going on with an application, check an audit log, add security or change permissions to access services to ensure enterprise compliance.

Developers can use existing code and write applications using most common languages and frameworks including Java, C++, Perl, Python, .NET, Spring and Ruby. They can compile the code using a Tibco Silver build of Eclipse, which does all of the back end work of adding governance, elasticity, and security capabilities.

A novel feature of Silver is the ability to automatically add or remove capacity without any special scaling code. McNamara said, "With traditional cloud scaling, it would be as if you had to call the electric company when you plugged in an air conditioner. With Tibco Silver, you just plug it into the outlet and then use the power you need."

Kodak wakes up to the need for reinvention

For many print service providers, making the transition to marketing service provider is key to continuous business growth and profitability. At Print 09 in Chicago this September, Kodak will showcase its Unified Workflow solutions - designed from the ground up to help commercial printers, publishers, and package printers make this transition, and more importantly, understand their clients' needs and supply services that make those clients more effective at marketing and more efficient in supply.

‘Today's print service providers are looking for creative ways to establish a partnership and deliver fresh, new, and innovative ideas to their clients,’ said Jon Bracken, vice president, enterprise solutions, Kodak. ‘This is paramount to the future success of all print service providers. And it's why we've developed a robust set of value-added tools to help print service providers collaborate on and deliver more effective marketing communications materials.’

Visitors to Kodak's stand at Print 09 will see Kodak Unified Workflow solutions and the benefits of a single cohesive workflow solution that integrates and unifies the many aspects of business and production, colour and data. From Kodak Web to print solutions and Kodak Insite Campaign Manager to Kodak Prinergy Workflow and Kodak Colorflow software, these tools can help print service providers change the way their business operates and support their growth into new service offerings and new markets. Through hands-on software demos, attendees will learn how to transform the way they interact with print buyers and specifiers, and fundamentally improve the way they perceive themselves and their business.

Quality of Apple depends on the liver

SOME Apple investors are advocating the unthinkable: Apple without Steve Jobs running it.

The charismatic chief executive, they say, should become an adviser when he returns in a week or two from a six-month medical leave, removing him from the rigours of day-to-day operations.

His impending return has spurred fresh speculation about his health and the future of the Californian computer, iPod and iPhone maker.

Mr Jobs, 54, had reportedly undergone a liver transplant in Tennessee two months ago and had recovered enough to return to work on schedule at the end of the month, said The Wall Street Journal.

Although investors welcomed the report as a sign that his health had improved, a few are openly discussing whether Mr Jobs should surrender the title of chief executive to the man who has run the company successfully in his absence, the chief operating officer, Tim Cook.

They believe Mr Jobs, who co-founded Apple 33 years ago, should conserve his fragile health by serving as chief visionary and technology evangelist.

Ill artist linked to first swine death

A WELL-KNOWN Aboriginal artist, who lived with the first swine flu sufferer to die in Australia, travelled to Melbourne and returned to his remote community with flu symptoms but says he was cleared by local health authorities.

Bobby West Tjupurrula, whose 26-year-old son-in-law died in Royal Adelaide Hospital on Friday, said he had returned to Kiwirrkurra in remote central Australia from Melbourne a week before his younger relative fell ill.

Suffering flu symptoms, Mr West attended a clinic at Kintore, 180km east of Kiwirrkurra, about 10 days ago, and says he was cleared of swine flu.

"They told me I was all OK," said Mr West, a traditional owner of Kiwirrkurra and a spokesman for Papunya Tula Artists. "I had a flu, but it was just the normal flu."

Mr West said that after the clinic visit, he returned to his home in Kiwirrkurra to find his son-in-law -- who suffered from chronic heart, lung and kidney problems -- shivering and ill.

"When I came back he was coughing and he wanted to stay with the fire, to keep warm," Mr West said. "He was asking for the Log Cabin tobacco and I was thinking 'he's already sick, he shouldn't keep smoking'."

Jun 21, 2009

Zoloft won't help this depression

AUSTRALIA'S sharemarket will halve in value, house prices will slump as much as 40 per cent and unemployment will climb to 10 per cent. That's the bold prediction from economic forecaster Harry Dent, who says a bigger crash is ahead for the global economy within the next two years.

And while Australia's strong financial system, links to China and young working population have cushioned the nation from the economic turmoil so far, Mr Dent says smart investors are cashing up in preparation for "the Mother of all depressions".

Paris Hilton Drops BlackBerry for Sony Ericsson


Paris Hilton, heiress and socialite, said she replaced her BlackBerry phone with a Sony Ericsson handset after Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications Ltd. sponsored her reality TV show that will be filmed in Dubai.

Wearing a floor-length green dress, Hilton told reporters in Dubai yesterday that the 22 female contestants in the Middle Eastern version of “My New BFF” won’t be requested to pole- dance because ” where a previous series was filmed.

“That was Las Vegas and that will stay in Las Vegas. I will not make the girls do anything like that because I respect the culture here,” Hilton, 28, said at a news conference at the Intercontinental Hotel in Dubai.

NSW hospital misses man's broken neck

A Sydney man says he's incredibly lucky not to be a paraplegic after he was sent home from hospital with an undiagnosed broken neck.

Paul Curtis was told to go home and take some Panadol when he went to Ryde Hospital on May 29 after accidentally knocking heads with a friend at a youth group activity.

The 31-year-old spent two days in agony before returning to the same hospital complaining of continued head pain.

Mr Curtis, from Carlingford, said he was astonished to discover he had a chip out of his spine that could have severed his spinal cord.

Email: The new political weapon

AUSTRALIAN Federal Police have been called in to hunt down the author of a ''fake email'' which has embroiled Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in a political scandal. Mr Rudd announced yesterday the investigation would centre on whether someone had impersonated a public servant and forged the email, which was an ''extremely serious offence''.

It came after Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner suggested opponents had spread the ''fake email'' that implicated Mr Rudd in the controversy. He has also taken a swipe at the bureaucrat whose explosive evidence to a Senate inquiry underpinned the Opposition's call for Mr Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan to resign. The controversy centres on efforts to help Brisbane car dealer John Grant the Prime Minister's neighbour and friend who provided a second-hand ute for MrRudd to use in his electorate.

Tamiflu effectiveness under doubt

Writing in the journal Nature, scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, working with researchers in Asia, have reported a worrying finding regarding avian flu. It seems that the virus may already be altering itself to become resistant against the drug oseltamivir, marketed under the name Tamiflu.

A Vietnamese girl, provided with a prophylactic dose of the drug after experiencing mild influenza symptoms, subsequently developed a strain of the virus that was highly resistant to the drug. Tamiflu had previously been regarded as the best existing frontline defense against the much feared avian influenza pandemic. Tamiflu, used in combination with quarantine, was intended to slow the spread of the disease until a vaccine can be produced, which could take up to six months.

Recent reports indicate that governments around the world are stockpiling Tamiflu, with the U.S. government alone planning to increase its stockpile from 12 million to 81 million doses. "This is the first line of defense," said virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a professor in the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine. "It is the drug many countries are stockpiling, and the plan is to rely heavily on it."

Tamiflu works by binding to and inhibiting one of the surface enzymes the virus uses to exit infected cells. "The virus is still able to replicate inside a cell, but is unable to get out and infect other cells," explained Kawaoka.

WOULD you rather have a root canel than fly on Airbus?

If' you're a fearful flyer (and it's likely that you are considering you're reading this post), which would you pick: Door #1, Having a Root Canal or Door #2, Flying on an Airplane?

If you picked the root canal, this is your lucky week! March 29 to April 4 is National Root Canal Awareness Week, and you are now officially aware that you prefer the trauma of a root canal to flying. You are not alone. (How many people died in root canel accidents? Editor)

According to a press release that details a recent survey by the American Association of Endodontists, 57% of those surveyed are afraid to fly on an airplane during a storm compared to the 54% who fear having a root canal. The fearful flyer group doesn't win by many votes though. But fear of flying outnumbers fear of public speaking. Only 42% of those surveyed feared speaking in public.

Notice that the survey qualified flying by combining it with flying through a storm. That implies turbulence to most people. According to a survey on FearlessFlight.com, 40% of the 5500 people who responded fear turbulence.

It's interesting because the National Root Canal Awareness Week's purpose is to dispel long-standing myths and lessen anxiety about the feared dental procedure. Gee...this is exactly what we do for fearful flyers! We educate them about flying and help to lessen anxiety through coping strategies.

Change Destiny with geek sci-fi


It’s been a tough season for prime time sci-fi as NBC’s My Own Worst Enemy, Fox’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and ABC’s Life on Mars all got whacked. Still, judging from its new time-warp drama FlashForward, ABC remains bullish on series packed with head-spinning mythology.

The show, created by The Dark Knight co-writer David S. Goyer, explores the aftermath of a two-minute, 17-second, blackout experienced by the whole of humanity.

At a Wednesday screening on ABC’s lot, the 44-minute pilot episode of FlashForward, set to premiere in September, unspooled as a fast-paced, well-shot and adequately acted drama anchored by Joseph Fiennes, pictured above, who plays personally flawed FBI agent Mark Benford. (Wired.com will have a full review of FlashForward closer to the show’s air date.)

Besides the car wrecks, botched surgeries and bruised bodies resulting from 6.8 billion earthlings losing motor function simultaneously, Episode 1 (which includes a cameo from Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane) sets up two overarching questions: a) What the hell happened? And b) During the global blackout, each human experienced a “memory” of events that happen six months in the future. Can they, or should they, try to change destiny?

Flying Swine hit Dandenong Council

SWINE flu has hit the Greater Dandenong Council with one victim now in quarantine. Greater Dandenong councillor Peter Brown was clinically diagnosed with the H1N1 virus last Wednesday.

Cr Brown, who attended the council meeting held last Tuesday night, contacted all executive staff and councillors who were present advising them of the diagnosis on Wednesday morning.

During the course of the day on Tuesday Cr Brown said he experienced a “very rapid onset” of symptoms. “Tuesday morning I woke up and felt really good,” Cr Brown said.

“By 11am I started to develop a cough and by 2pm I was feeling a bit ordinary.” “The cough worsened and by 11pm I had a fever.”

Cr Brown was prescribed Tamiflu, within 48 hours of the symptoms being detected, and advised by his GP to take the week off work.

On Monday of this week Cr Brown said he was still experiencing a slight headache and occasional viral cough. “The Tamiflu does appear to work quite well now I have completed the five-day course,” he said.

Swine flu chaos? Blame victims: Shoot messengers

For several years now, public health practitioners have been asking, lobbying, nagging and cajoling general practices, hospitals, councils, non-government organisations and businesses to prepare for an influenza pandemic. Stockpile protective masks, gowns and goggles, we advised. Have a designated isolation room, we requested. Develop, test and refine your business continuity plan, we suggested, have procedures in place for communication of public health messages to your patients, students, clients and customers, we begged.

It has been mission impossible. There has been complete lack of interest at best, and active resistance at worst.

Meanwhile, public health workers have been planning and preparing for a pandemic event with a large number of unknowable variables. Not just with documents, but with training in Emergency Management processes, designated spaces for Emergency Operations Centres, identifying logistical needs such as PCs, telephones, physical space and management systems and getting them ready to go at a minimal notice.

Facebook's contribution to identity theft

The rate of identity theft-related fraud has risen sharply since 2003, a report from research firm Gartner suggests. Gartner's study, released Tuesday, shows that from mid-2005 until mid-2006, about 15 million Americans were victims of fraud that stemmed from identity theft, an increase of more than 50 percent from the estimated 9.9 million in 2003.

It should be noted that the 2003 statistics and the mid-2006 statistics came from two different sources--and hence, two different statistical methodologies. The original 9.9 million figure came from the Federal Trade Commission, whereas the 15 million statistic is Gartner's own.

For its study, Gartner surveyed 5,000 U.S. adults who use the Internet. The research firm found that identity theft victims are losing more money and getting less of it back. The average loss of funds in a case of identity theft was $3,257 in 2006, up from $1,408 in 2005. Additionally, the average loss in the opening of a fraudulent new account has more than doubled over that time, from $2,678 to $5,962.

According to Gartner, identity theft victims are also recovering less of the lost cash. In 2005, an average of 87 percent of funds were recovered; in 2006, that had dropped to 61 percent

Fat Greek Married Men have more sleep apnea

The aim of this work was to study whether social factors are risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). A second objective was to investigate gender differences in relation to referral to a sleep laboratory for sleep-related breathing symptoms. STUDY DESIGN: A retrospective cross-sectional study was conducted in the referral sleep disorders laboratory in the tertiary University Hospital in Patras in southwest Greece.

A sample of 362 subjects originated from this geographic region was screened for social characteristics, i.e., marital status, occupation, and education. RESULTS: The apnea hypopnea index (AHI) was approximately three times as high in men as in women (p < 0.05). Snoring was reported to be a symptom by 76.6% of males and 75% of females. Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) was reported by 25.5% of males and 15% of females. Arousals during sleep were reported by 5.7% of men and 10% of women.

The ratio of subjects with concomitant disorders or symptoms did not differ between sexes (p > 0.05). The influence of age, body mass index (BMI), gender, smoking, and social characteristics on AHI was examined by multinomial logistic regression. The following factors remained independent risk factors for the presence of moderate to severe OSA (i.e., AHI > 15/h compared with AHI < ci =" 1.89-20.5).">30.5 kg/m(2) in comparison to those with lower BMI was 3.83 (CI = 1.86-7.86). (3) Marital status: The OR of married subjects to singles was 2.30 (CI = 1.01-5.32). (4) Occupational status: The OR of subjects outside the work force was 3.85 (CI = 1.16-12.74) and that of the self-employed was 1.70 (CI = 0.70-4.10) compared to a reference group of clerks/employees.

CONCLUSION: In our study factors associated with the presence of sleep apnea include gender (men), obesity, marriage, and self-employment or being outside the work force.

Fund sleep apnea? Yawn

An independent link between sleep apnea and mortality has been discovered by a group of Australian researchers, suggesting the prevention and treatment of this condition should be a higher priority for government bodies working to improve community health.
The study conducted by the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney found moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) was associated with 33% mortality over 14 years compared to 7.7% mortality in people with no sleep apnea.
This is the first report to demonstrate an independent association between all-cause mortality and obstructive sleep apnea in a population-based cohort. The community-based sample of 380 people comprised men and women from the Western Australian town of Busselton who underwent investigation with a home sleep apnea monitoring device in 1990...

Does Zoloft kill you? What about Eleva?

The worst withdrawal symptom and I mean the worst is this: Pure unadulterated rage! I literally freaked out on people for no reason at all. I almost became violent with people I didn’t know. I’d snap at everybody. I’m telling you, this kind of rage is not normal at all. When I hear about people killing people because they were on Zoloft, I hate to say this, but I can see how that could happen. I didn’t want to kill anyone, but I could not control my anger, and I’m a very, very mellow person.

Zoloft is the only drug that can get me out of a bad depression. It really is magical in that regard.

Incidentally, there were two times I was tired of the weight gain, sexual dysfunction, etc. So I tried to get off of Zoloft, and went through all those lovely withdrawals – I ended up having full blown depression one time – another breakdown and had to get back on it again and go through 4 weeks of absolute hell (but I did drop about 20 lbs or so). The other time, I saw the writing on the wall (one gets good at depression after a while) and got right back on it when I realized I was going back into the hole. My psychiatrist tells me I might have to take Zoloft, or something like it, for the rest of my life if I want to continue to be “normal”.

So now, I’m getting off the Lorazepam (again) and doing my best to drop the weight and lower the blood pressure. I like the way Zoloft makes me think, but I don’t like heart attacks, stroke, or type 2 Diabetes. Being fat is not cool, and it’s certainly not helpful for somebody already battling depression.

Twitter on the Barricades in Iran: Six Lessons Learned

Political revolutions are often closely linked to communication tools. The American Revolution wasn’t caused by the proliferation of pamphlets, written to whip colonists into a frenzy against the British. But it sure helped. Social networking, a distinctly 21st-century phenomenon, has already been credited with aiding protests from the Republic of Georgia to Egypt to Iceland. And Twitter, the newest social-networking tool, has been identified with two mass protests in a matter of months — in Moldova in April and in Iran last week, when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to oppose the official results of the presidential election.

But does the label Twitter Revolution, which has been slapped on the two most recent events, oversell the technology? Skeptics note that only a small number of people used Twitter to organize protests in Iran and that other means — individual text messaging, old-fashioned word of mouth and Farsi-language Web sites — were more influential. But Twitter did prove to be a crucial tool in the cat-and-mouse game between the opposition and the government over enlisting world opinion. As the Iranian government restricts journalists’ access to events, the protesters have used Twitter’s agile communication system to direct the public and journalists alike to video, photographs and written material related to the protests. (As has become established custom on Twitter, users have agreed to mark, or “tag,” each of their tweets with the same bit of type — #IranElection — so that users can find them more easily). So maybe there was no Twitter Revolution. But over the last week, we learned a few lessons about the strengths and weaknesses of a technology that is less than three years old and is experiencing explosive growth.

Sleeping With a Snorer

After writing this week about the link between marriage and better sleep, I heard from several skeptical readers who were the long-suffering bed partners of snorers.

“I’m happily married, but never get a good night’s sleep because of the noise!” wrote Lisa.

“Are you kidding me?” Caroline wrote. “My husband snores louder than a lawnmower, and I kick him harder than Beckham with a soccer ball. We both slept much better when single.”


It’s true that sleeping with a snorer can take a toll on your health. People who sleep next to snorers report high levels of fatigue and sleepiness and may even be at higher risk for hearing loss.

Often, snoring is due to obstructive sleep apnea, which is characterized by episodes of interrupted breathing during sleep, which leads to regular nighttime awakenings linked with a number of health problems.

But studies show that the person with sleep apnea isn’t the only one waking up. When the apnea is accompanied by loud snorts and snoring, the bed partner may wake up as often during the night as the person with the actual sleep disorder. One study from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., found that spouses of snorers woke up, at least partially, an average of 21 times an hour, nearly as often as the 27 times the snorers were awakened by their sleep apnea episodes.

In a 2005 study from Finland of 37 male snorers and their bed partners, half of the bed partners reported being disturbed by snoring every night or almost every night. One third of the bed partners reported relationship problems as a result of the snoring.

In a 2003 study published in the journal Chest, doctors from the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., tracked the spouses of 54 patients with sleep apnea. Once the sleep apnea and snoring were treated, the spouses’ quality-of-life scores surged more than those who received the actual treatment. And treating the apnea also improved sleepiness scores among the spouses by 20 percent.

Second-hand snoring also may take a toll on hearing. In a pilot study of just four snorers in Kingston, Ontario, all the patients had slept next to a snorer for at least 15 years. The study showed that the bed partners had significant noise-induced hearing loss in the one ear that was most exposed to the snoring.

Solutions are difficult. One study found that earplugs can be a simple and effective treatment for bed partners of snorers, but for some people, especially parents of young children, earplugs aren’t a practical option. Often, treating sleep apnea can help reduce snoring, and snorers should be evaluated by a sleep specialist. Weight loss can also improve sleep apnea, although many snorers aren’t overweight. Some snorers get relief using dental appliances that open up the airway, or surgical treatments that reduce the size of the soft palate.

To find out if second-hand snoring is taking a meaningful toll on your health, doctors suggest taking a “sleep vacation” from your partner by moving into another room to determine if your sleep, mood and daytime alertness improves. The test may help convince your partner that his or her snoring is more than just an amusing annoyance and a real medical issue that is affecting the health of both you and your relationship.

Tanning salons are fading fast

VICTORIA'S solarium industry is on the brink of collapse, with increased skin cancer fears and a crackdown on rogue operators sparking a 45 per cent drop in the number of tanning salons.

Government figures obtained by The Sunday Age show that 196 businesses have either closed or removed their sunbeds since State Government regulations were introduced in February last year.

Owners say customers started abandoning tanning salons following the public cancer battle of 26-year-old Clare Oliver, who died in September 2007 from melanoma she and her oncology team linked to solarium use.

Since the introduction of the laws, which ban children from using solariums and force operators to display health warnings or risk $1 million fines, the number of tanning salons across the state has plummeted from 436 to 240. But while cancer experts celebrate the news, the industry claims it is a victim of a scare campaign that saw solarium operators compared to heroin dealers.

Jun 20, 2009

Air chance jets had 9 speed probe incidents in past year

AIR France Airbus jets experienced at least nine incidents in which airspeed probes iced over in the past year, according to an internal company report obtained by AFP.

A probe into the June 1 crash of the airline's Flight 447, in which an A330 jet flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris plunged into the Atlantic Ocean with the loss of all 228 people on board, has focused on contradictory readings from its "pitot" speed probes.

French aviation investigators as well as the companies Airbus and Air France-KLM have each said there was no firm evidence so far linking speed monitors and the crash.

On Friday, the European Aviation Safety Agency said there wasn’t enough evidence now to require that the sensors be replaced on all of Air France's A330s, but it pledged to continue examining that question.

Nevertheless, Air France has upgraded all sensors on its long-haul fleet as a precaution after protests from pilots.

In an internal note sent to Air France pilots on Thursday, the company said it informed the aircraft maker Airbus and Thales, which makes the pitot probes, of eight incidents on A340 jets and one on an A330 over a year-long period.

Much money flows from parents to young adults

Between ages 18 and 34, young adults receive an average of $38,000 in cash and two years' worth of full-time, 40-hour-a-week labor from their parents, according to a study by researchers at the Institute for Social Research (ISR). The study also tracks changes in parental support for young adults since 1970.

"A successful transition to adulthood depends, perhaps more than ever, on continuing support from parents," says lead author Robert Schoeni, an economist at ISR. "Today's middle-income families spend $170,460 on each child through age 17, studies have shown. But this study provides the first empirical evidence that the giving goes on for another 17 years, during which parents spend 23 percent of the amount they provided during childhood and adolescence."

The study, which appears in "On the Frontier of Adulthood," forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, was conducted by Schoeni and graduate student Karen Ross. It is based on an analysis of data on more than 6,000 young adults from the ISR Panel Study of Income Dynamics and on U.S. decennial census trends.

On average, the researchers found, the proportion of people in their 20s living with their parents increased 50 percent between 1970 and 1990. As a result of this increase in living at home—along with rises in college attendance, college costs, age at marriage, and rates of divorce and single parenthood among young adults—the amount of financial help parents provide to adult children has jumped by at least 13 percent over that time period and now is estimated at an average of slightly more than $2,200 a year.

The analysis examined support provided by parents to adult children who were living at home and to those who lived independently.

"It's very common to receive assistance from parents," Schoeni says. "In any given year, 34 percent of youth ages 18 to 34 get cash from their parents and 47 percent get time help.

Jun 19, 2009

Jobless surge cuts swathe in well-heeled suburbs

UNEMPLOYMENT among men in normally prosperous inner Melbourne suburbs is approaching double digits after the loss of thousands of professional positions in the finance sector.

A breakdown from the Bureau of Statistics shows that in suburbs including St Kilda, Prahran and Richmond, male unemployment hit 9 per cent in May, on a par with the 9.4 per cent recorded for men in Melbourne's outer west.

Unlike in the outer west, unemployment among men in the inner suburbs has shot up from levels as low as 2 per cent and 3 per cent in just a few months.

The jump reflects a collapse in full-time employment in Victoria's finance sector. The bureau says one in 10 full-time jobs in the finance sector has vanished over the last year — a loss of about 9000 full-time positions. Part-time employment has slipped 4000.

By contrast, employment in Victoria's retail sector has grown, surging 3500 between November and February, the same time as the Federal Government's first stimulus package was having its greatest impact.

Jun 18, 2009

Boeing watches as Airbus adds to air show tally; Airbus defends state financing

AIRBUS racked up more aircraft orders today at the Paris Air Show while rival Boeing's tally remained at zero. Regardless, Boeing officials were quick to dismiss the relevance of the order disparity.

"Airbus and Boeing approach air shows in a different way," Charlie Miller, Boeing's vice president for international corporate communications, is quoted as saying by The Associated Press. "Boeing doesn't save up orders to announce at air shows. That has been our policy for years. Our policy is to announce orders as soon as they are firm. And the tally is updated weekly."

As for Airbus, it announced firm orders from Vietnam Airlines (16 A321 jets and a memorandum of understanding for two additional A350-XWB jets) and Cebu Pacific, a low-cost carrier from the Philippines. Cebu Pacific's order included five A320 jets. Airbus also announced an order from Malaysian low-cost carrier Air Asia, which ordered 10 A350-900 jets and placed options for five more, AP reports.

Meanwhile, the Boeing-Airbus rivalry looked like it could expand on a second front at the Paris Air Show. That's following comments from Airbus CEO Tom Enders in which he defended $15.2 billion in state financing for the European manufacturer's A350 XWB program. That financing, Enders says, simply gives Airbus a "level playing field" with U.S. planemaker Boeing.

"The United States says EU subsidies have enabled Airbus to capture long-standing Boeing customers,” AP writes. "The EU counters that Boeing receives U.S. federal and state tax breaks, development funding and grants, as well as a large amount of military contracts," AP adds. The news agency says the issue threatens to "re-ignite an old trade dispute" between the rival companies.

Photo: Airbus CEO Tom Enders (left) poses with AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes (center) and France's Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau after Fernandes announced his company would buy 10 Airbus A350 XW planes at the Paris Air Show.

Air France crash sparks black box debate

While search teams scour the Atlantic ocean for the black boxes of Air France flight AF447 before their signals die out, aviation experts are considering satellite data streaming to collect vital flight data in future.

An airliner's black box -- which is made up of a flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder -- is designed to withstand a crash and emit a signal for about 30 days afterwards. If it is not found by then, the data is unlikely to be recovered.

Many military aircraft already use data streaming, sending flight information real-time via satellite to ground stations.

But the massive bandwidth and sophisticated infrastructure needed to manage and process data from tens of thousands of commercial flights per day could make it prohibitively expensive.

"There have been studies on this for years. There are arguments both for and against, and also there are costs," Paul-Louis Arslanian, France's chief air disaster investigator said, after reporting that the search was progressing, but hampered by difficult search conditions.

"Data streaming is currently technologically possible, but technologically impractical," Dan Elwell, Vice President Civil Aviation of the U.S.-based Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) industry group, told Reuters at the Paris Air Show.

Air France crash passengers had multiple fractures

BODIES recovered in the Air France disaster show multiple fractures in the legs, hips and arms consistent with the plane breaking up in the air, officials said.
A spokesman for Brazilian medical examiners told The Associated Press (AP) that autopsies on an undisclosed number of the 50 bodies recovered so far showed the fractures.

The description of the bodies and large pieces of the plane recovered point to the jet breaking apart in the air, said Frank Ciacco, a former forensic expert at the US National Transportation Safety Board.

"Typically, if you see intact bodies and multiple fractures - arm, leg, hip fractures - it's a good indicator of a midflight break up," Mr Ciacco told AP.

"Especially if you're seeing large pieces of aircraft as well."

Yesterday, the O Estado de S Paulo newspaper - citing unnamed investigators - reported the pattern of fractures and said some of the victims were found with little or no clothing. The newspaper earlier reported the bodies also showed no signs of burns.

The Airbus 330 crashed into the sea en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on June 1, killing all on aboard.

The French military is using a mini-submarine to search the sea for the "black box" data and voice recorders which may offer clues to the cause.

First-ever link between missing DNA and cancer: study

Scientists reported Wednesday the first link ever found between cancer and a type of genetic defect, called copy number variation, characterised by missing or extra bits of DNA.

The breakthrough came in a study on neuroblastoma, a devastating paediatric disease of the nervous system that accounts for 15 percent of all cancer deaths among young children.

Researchers led by John Maris of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia discovered that a copy number variation (CNV) on chromosome 1 can play a key role in the development of the disease, which strikes most commonly in infancy and is often fatal.

The absent stretch of DNA occurs within a group of genes involved in the development of the nervous system, and affects how much one of these genes is manufactured within both normal and the cancerous cells.

"This is a brand new area -- we never suspected that this family of genes played a role in neuroblastoma," Maris said in an phone interview.

In research published last year, Maris and others isolated another gene, known as ALK, that can by itself give rise to a rare hereditary form of the disease.

Last month, they unveiled common variants in a third gene, BARD1, that also enhances a child's susceptibility, though less dramatically.

The new research, published in the British journal Nature, is significant not only because it adds yet another piece to the neuroblastoma puzzle, but also because it implicates a whole new category of genetic material as potential cancer agents.

It has been widely suspected that CNVs could lead to cancerous tumours, but evidence had remained elusive.

Using powerful computers, Maris compared long stretches of DNA in cancer patients and healthy persons to conduct what is called a genome-wide association study.

The technique has, over the last decade, uncovered hundreds of links between disease and DNA, but was designed to hunt for a different kind of genetic glitch, not copy variation.

"The achievement here was proving the hypothesis that CNVs do, indeed, predispose to this paediatric cancer," Maris said in a phone interview.

"We can infer that it's not just going to be true for neuroblastoma. My expectation is that there will be many reports following on this of similar types of associations in other cancers," he said.

The study also highlights the fact that, when it comes to disease, including cancer, there is no hard-and-fast definition of what is hereditary.

Only a handful of conditions -- the so-called Mendelian diseases, such as muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis -- are caused by mutations in a single gene.

Most are triggered by a complex web of genetic and environmental factors that are difficult to tease apart.

"Like all human cancers, a small percentage of neuroblastoma runs in families -- usually one or two percent -- and the rest seemingly occur by chance," explained Maris.

"The genome-wide association field is showing that it is not chance. There actually is a genetic susceptibility, but it takes a perfect storm of inheriting the right mix of these risk factors from Mom and Dad."

With some variation worldwide, approximately 100 in a million children under 15 develop neuroblastoma. Incidence decreases with age, and is up to 10 times higher among infants than young teenagers.

Fantastic plastic too good to waste

In the midst of the northern Pacific Ocean is a liquid desert, a vast floating garbage dump, devoid of complex ocean life, prone to doldrums, seldom visited by fishing vessels, away from main shipping lines, and thus rarely seen by visitors.

It offers, by all accounts, a disturbing vision. Anyone sailing through this liquid dump will encounter, from horizon to horizon, concentrations of bobbing rubbish, in every direction, for day after day. Most of what is floating is not even visible, because it is plastic which has broken down into microparticles.

This degenerating soup is much larger than NSW and Victoria combined. It is about the same size as Britain, Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal. It has been created by a giant spiral of clockwise ocean currents, known as the North Pacific Gyre, which carries human-created garbage that is slowly collected and consolidated by wind and currents.

The phenomenon has a name: the Eastern Garbage Patch. It was first properly documented, quite recently, by a Californian sailor and ocean researcher, Charles Moore, after he took a shortcut by motoring his yacht through the doldrums on his way back from the 1997 Trans-Pacific Yacht Race. A second giant floating mass, created by the same gyre, has been discovered thousands of kilometres away between Hawaii and Japan. Together they are commonly referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

A research expedition is being prepared in San Francisco to sail a plastic boat, the Plastiki, into the Eastern Garbage Patch as part of a wider study of sustainability in the Pacific.

The expedition is taking physical shape inside Pier 31, in the heart of San Francisco's Embarcadero waterfront. As tourists stream by in their hundreds, the only evidence that an adventure is taking shape inside is a small sign on a side door with the words: "Adventure Ecology."

I was in San Francisco recently, and opened that door. Inside was a vast and mostly empty building, like a row of disused aircraft hangers. A handful of people, almost lost in the space, were at work near the outline of a catamaran that was just beginning to take shape. The first person I encountered was a young Englishman, Matt Grey, who turned out to be the project manager. He was pleased the message was getting all the way to Australia.

"What we are doing has never been done before," he said. "We are having to make the machines that make the material that makes the boat. It has to be a real boat that we can be really proud of. We have to inspire people through our use of this material." The Plastiki is being made from polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, the same material used to make water bottles.

This is pointed, because the PET bottle is one of our great environmental follies. We spend $14 billion a year on bottled water, but recycle only 20 per cent of the plastic. Plastiki has been designed to highlight the potential for recycling the same material that is polluting the oceans.

This is not a standard green-scream, anti-plastic exercise. "We are moving into a time where there is a lot of green fatigue," the creator and head of the expedition, David de Rothschild, a 31-year-old Englishman, said in a media statement provided by his company, Adventure Ecology. "People are starting to feel increasingly frustrated by a bombardment of environmental issues without being given the tools for solution."

He is a member of the famous banking family, which assures the expedition of financial viability. The point of the expedition is to both study and depict the toxic soup being created and to change popular thinking about how plastic can be reused and recycled.