Jul 31, 2009

Walt Disney profits, revenue slide

WALT DISNEY said today the media and entertainment conglomerate was seeing signs that the US economy was stabilising.

Walt Disney profits, revenue slide

Characters Russell and Carl Fredricksen are shown in this still image from the animated feature Up, produced by Walt Disney's Pixar. Picture: Bloomberg

But the company remained uncertain about the pace and strength of an economic recovery.

"We do see signs of economic stabilisation, but the pace and strength of recovery remain uncertain, and we are managing accordingly," chief executive Robert Iger said during a conference call with analysts after the company reported that fiscal third-quarter revenue fell short of analysts' expectations.

Mr Iger added that the company's parks and resorts, which include Walt Disney World Resort, Disney Vacation Club and Disneyland Paris, have "clearly been impacted by the weak economy".

Disney, the largest US media company by market value, is less dependent on advertising dollars than are other media giants, but the recession has nonetheless forced Disney to offer discounts and other promotions to boost attendance at its parks and resorts.

Mr Iger said parks and resorts promotions have been "quite good" for the business, which wouldn't be as strong without them. He declined to be specific about future promotions.

"We're going to be really strategic in terms of the discounting that we're doing," he said.

Chief financial officer Tom Staggs added that, while the company had seen signs of stabilisation in the overall ad market, the local ad market remained soft.

Reverse osmosis

Formally, reverse osmosis is the process of forcing a solvent from a region of high solute concentration through a membrane to a region of low solute concentration by applying a pressure in excess of the osmotic pressure.

The membranes used for reverse osmosis have a dense barrier layer in the polymer matrix where most separation occurs. In most cases the membrane is designed to allow only water to pass through this dense layer while preventing the passage of solutes (such as salt ions). This process requires that a high pressure be exerted on the high concentration side of the membrane, usually 2–17 bar (30–250 psi) for fresh and brackish water, and 40–70 bar (600–1000 psi) for seawater, which has around 24 bar (350 psi) natural osmotic pressure which must be overcome.

This process is best known for its use in desalination (removing the salt from sea water to get fresh water), but it has also been used to purify fresh water for medical, industrial and domestic applications since the early 1970s.

Osmosis describes how solvent moves between two solutions separated by a semipermeable membrane to reduce concentration differences between the solutions. When two solutions with different concentrations of a solute are mixed, the total amount of solutes in the two solutions will be equally distributed in the total amount of solvent from the two solutions. Instead of mixing the two solutions together, they can be put in two compartments where they are separated from each other by a semipermeable membrane. The semipermeable membrane does not allow the solutes to move from one compartment to the other, but allows the solvent to move. Since equilibrium cannot be achieved by the movement of solutes from the compartment with high solute concentration to the one with low solute concentration, it is instead achieved by the movement of the solvent from areas of low solute concentration to areas of high solute concentration. When the solvent moves away from low concentration areas, it causes these areas to become more concentrated. On the other side, when the solvent moves into areas of high concentration, solute concentration will decrease. This process is termed osmosis. The tendency for solvent to flow through the membrane can be expressed as "osmotic pressure", since it is analogous to flow caused by a pressure differential.

In reverse osmosis, in a similar setup as that in osmosis, pressure is applied to the compartment with high concentration. In this case, there are two forces influencing the movement of water: the pressure caused by the difference in solute concentration between the two compartments (the osmotic pressure) and the externally applied pressure.

What Carol Bartz Got

Wall Street is punishing Yahoo! for telling them what time it is.

Shares of Yahoo! ( YHOO - news - people ) fell 11% as analysts kicked the long-awaited deal that sold its search business to Microsoft ( MSFT - news - people ). Instead of the upfront payment of as much as $2 billion they had hoped for, Yahoo! Chief Executive Carol Bartz is taking a longer payout based on a share of ad revenues Microsoft derives from being on the pages of Yahoo! and its search affiliate partners.

Yahoo! put the value of the 10-year deal at an annual level of $500 million in operating income, plus $200 million in capital expenditure savings, as Yahoo! will no longer invest in search technology. Those savings were much less than many analysts expected.

Like most of us, investors do prefer the cash up front to a possibly more lucrative deal over time. Assuming Bartz was not simply desperate to get out of the search business, she seems to be betting that Microsoft, with its big research and marketing push behind the Bing search engine, will pick up market share from Google ( GOOG - news - people ). The terms she got for search revenue sharing with Microsoft, 88%, are good only for the first five years. Assuming she hopes to hold revenues steady, that means a growing share if the revenue deal is negotiated lower in 2014.

If the revenue number comes down to a call on whether Microsoft can actually take share from Google, it is still not the fundamental issue to Bartz. The real question: What will Yahoo! become?

Supercritical Method of Converting Chicken Fat Into Biodiesel

Chemical engineering researchers at the University of Arkansas have investigated supercritical methanol as a method of converting chicken fat into biodiesel fuel. The new study also successfully converted tall oil fatty acid, a major by-product of the wood-pulping process, into biodiesel at a yield of greater than 90 percent, significantly advancing efforts to develop commercially viable fuel out of plentiful, accessible and low-cost feedstocks and other agricultural by-products.

“Major oil companies are already examining biodiesel as an alternative to petroleum,” said R.E. “Buddy” Babcock, professor of chemical engineering. “With the current price of petroleum diesel and the results of this project and others, I think energy producers will think even more seriously about combining petroleum-based diesel with a biodiesel product made out of crude and inexpensive feedstocks.”

Much ado for very little gain

The Prime Minister's inability to prioritise areas of "reform" bodes ill for the proposed health-care fix.

IS THIS it? Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has announced the long-awaited report of the health reform commission and is sounding like he may accept the recommendations he says are ‘‘the most substantial reform to the structure of our health and hospitals system since the establishment of Medicare’’.

So, are we on the cusp of achieving the big improvements in health care most of us have long believed necessary? Perhaps - but I’m not yet convinced. In the short time he’s been in office, Rudd has established a record of over-promising and under-delivering. One of his greatest weaknesses is an inability to set priorities. He has a thousand things he wants to do and problems he wants to fix, and while he’s focused on fixing something, it’s his top priority. He invariably claims the fix he cobbled together is the biggest and best in ages. But then he moves on and something else becomes top priority.

Consider climate change. This one really ought to be his highest priority. Before the election, he said acting to limit global warming was the greatest moral challenge of the age. He was right, it is.

But look at how his resolve has withered. He announced a plan for a pathetically inadequate reduction in emissions, with far too many exemptions and concessions to big polluters. But even that wasn’t sufficient to satisfy the blatant rent-seekers of the business community, so before long he watered it down further.

And now he’s turned it into just another political football. He seems far more intent on wedging and embarrassing the divided Opposition than on persuading enough of them to vote for it in the Senate.

Trailing far behind climate change as a priority is responding to the global financial crisis, something he’s handled well so far. But after that my vote would go to the reform of health care.

Why? Because all the many studies of future pressures on the budget over the coming decades nominate health care (not pensions) as by far the biggest. That’s partly because of ageing and our growing susceptibility to chronic disease, but mainly because of continuing advances in medical science, which are invariably expensive.

Jul 30, 2009

Global warming is the new religion of First World urban elites

Ian Plimer has outraged the ayatollahs of purist environmentalism, the Torquemadas of the doctrine of global warming, and he seems to relish the damnation they heap on him.

Plimer is a geologist, professor of mining geology at Adelaide University, and he may well be Australia's best-known and most notorious academic.

Plimer, you see, is an unremitting critic of "anthropogenic global warming" -- man-made climate change to you and me -- and the current environmental orthodoxy that if we change our polluting ways, global warming can be reversed.

It is, of course, not new to have a highly qualified scientist saying that global warming is an entirely natural phenomenon with many precedents in history. Many have made the argument, too, that it is rubbish to contend human behaviour is causing the current climate change. And it has often been well argued that it is totally ridiculous to suppose that changes in human behaviour -- cleaning up our act through expensive slight-of-hand taxation tricks -- can reverse the trend.

But most of these scientific and academic voices have fallen silent in the face of environmental Jacobinism. Purging humankind of its supposed sins of environmental degradation has become a religion with a fanatical and often intolerant priesthood, especially among the First World urban elites.

But Plimer shows no sign of giving way to this orthodoxy and has just published the latest of his six books and 60 academic papers on the subject of global warming. This book, Heaven and Earth -- Global Warming: The Missing Science, draws together much of his previous work. It springs especially from A Short History of Plant Earth, which was based on a decade of radio broadcasts in Australia.

That book, published in 2001, was a best-seller and won several prizes. But Plimer found it hard to find anyone willing to publish this latest book, so intimidating has the environmental lobby become.

But he did eventually find a small publishing house willing to take the gamble and the book has already sold about 30,000 copies in Australia. It seems also to be doing well in Britain and the United States in the first days of publication.

Plimer presents the proposition that anthropogenic global warming is little more than a con trick on the public perpetrated by fundamentalist environmentalists and callously adopted by politicians and government officials who love nothing more than an issue that causes public anxiety.

While environmentalists for the most part draw their conclusions based on climate information gathered in the last few hundred years, geologists, Plimer says, have a time frame stretching back many thousands of millions of years.

The dynamic and changing character of the Earth's climate has always been known by geologists. These changes are cyclical and random, he says. They are not caused or significantly affected by human behaviour.

North Korea launchs new stress control method: beer

When asked, Sonya Grewal, award-winning creative director for Young & Rubicam in Chicago, told Global Post about the North Korean Youtube ad:

It's 2 minutes and 34 seconds too long. I think we're looking at a viral version. The unedited, director's cut that got out of hand. Frankly, it's a low-budget production with zero concept. Looks like some kid learning computer graphics put a short video together and posted it on YouTube.

The spot won't be a contender at Cannes anytime soon, but does it really deserve a Westerner's lashing? It seems kind of fun in a way, like an old school arcade game.

GFC kings hits Generation Y in the hip pocket

This month, I received a letter from the bank saying that I no longer have an interest-free overdraft. For three years, I have survived in London – the city where half of your net salary goes on rent and the other half on food and transport – by having a £2,000 buffer from the bank. And when it really gets tight, the credit card is my saviour. The interest-free bit has been shrinking year on year since graduating. Now it's totally gone. I've got to pay about £20 a month for an overdraft.

When will the indebtedness end? That is the question for the newly graduated. Most twentysomethings earn between £20k and £25k a year (pdf). A third of the income goes on tax and National Insurance. The student loan has to be paid back each month. And then there's council tax. About 50% of earnings have gone already. The other half goes on the cost of living.

My granddad says youngsters today just spend – they don't save. Proof that financial education is needed in our schools. But we are not idiots. We want to save. But we just don't have the money to do it.

Sony going down the gurgler

SONY today said a slide in consumer spending, the strong yen and hefty restructuring costs pummelled it into a net loss for the first fiscal quarter ended last June.

Sony, the home of the Walkman music player and Playstation videogame system, said that it made a net loss of Y37.1 billion ($470 million) in the quarter, compared with a net profit of Y35.0bn in the same period a year earlier.

That was better than a consensus forecast for a net loss of Y109.6bn, compiled by Thomson Reuters from 16 analysts' estimates.

But Sony said it still expected losses in the current fiscal year to be worse than last year's as it continued to restructure unprofitable businesses like its TV operations, to cope with the downturn that has hit a slew of Japan's technology companies.

Sony is predicting a net loss of Y120bn for the fiscal year through March 2010, compared with a net loss of Y98.9bn last time.

Ballmer-Bartz dating done.

Negotiations between the two were no doubt explosive. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive, is known for his wild expostulations while Yahoo!'s Carol Bartz delights journalists with her expletive-peppered press conferences. We can only imagine what the pair were like behind closed doors. Whatever sparks flew when thrashing out a deal, it was clear that both parties needed one. Neither was succeeding in search, apparently regardless of the amount of money they threw at it.

According to Comscore, Microsoft handled 8.4pc of searches in America in June, compared with Yahoo! on 20pc and Google on 65pc. Search advertising sales at Microsoft were flat last quarter, while Yahoo!'s search revenues dropped 15pc. Miss Bartz explained what took them so long: "We wanted to make sure we were committed. Dating is one thing, having a partnership is quite another."

The 5 Biggest Winners

As companies' quarterly results have rolled in over the past couple weeks, there's been considerable talk of brightening skies in the IT sector. Starting with Intel, a series of organizations have turned in performances that were better than expected.

Even organizations with disappointing numbers have used words like "stabilization" and suggested that business will be picking up in the second half of the year.

However, some companies' reports have obviously reassured the tech industry more than others. Who were the big winners? Let's take a look.

And check out for our list of 5 losers. Any guesses as to who leads that pack?

Stop Being Human and You'll Make More Money

It wasn't too long ago that we were worried about what to do when the Dow fell to the unthinkable level of 7,500. And recently, the Dow seemed to be making a beeline for 6,500 or lower. Everyone was, to put it mildly, freaking out.

But that's OK. That's what everyone was doing on the way up, too. And today, many are doing it again, thinking the last two months have signaled the end of the bear market.

Consider: During the last two bubbles, we had companies with no earnings and negative cash flow valued as if they were big blue chips ... commodity prices climbing and climbing ... risk diluted away to nothing ... and stock and housing prices seeming to go in only one direction: up.

With just a little bit of thought, you'd recognize that all those things were crazy.

During this bear market, we've had people willing to pay the U.S. government to hold their money ... credit card companies paying customers to close accounts ... Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway losing its AAA credit rating ... and stock and housing prices only seeming to go in one direction: down.

With just a little bit of thought, you'll hopefully recognize that all these things are crazy, too.

Investors -- heck, humans in general! -- suffer from something called recency bias. That is, we tend to give more weight than we should to stuff that's happened in the recent past. When stock prices go up, we think they'll always go up – and vice versa. Really, both should seem absurd, because we know things change all the time. But we still think this way.

So what can you do?
It’s impossible not to be human, of course, but human emotions are sometimes the biggest barrier between you and multibagger returns. To fight recency bias in your own investing, try these three strategies -- all centered on keeping a long-term, forward-looking focus.

First, invest in companies with a sustainable competitive advantage, such as Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) or Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ). These companies sell stuff people use every day, generating intense brand loyalty. (My wife and I have used P&G's Tide for 20 years.) With loyalty like that, these companies should be around a long time, growing earnings. As earnings grow, so does the stock price. Sustainable competitive advantages can give you some peace of mind during rocky times.....(more)

Film studios aim broadside at Pirate Bay

Thirteen film studios led by Disney, Universal and Columbia have decided that the best way to deal with file-sharing site Pirate Bay is to kill it off for good. Under the auspices of the Motion Picture Association of America, the studios have launched a new legal action in the Swedish courts aimed at closing down the site permanently. They say that despite the three founders - Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij and Gottfrid Svartholm Warg - having been sentenced to a year in jail, they are nonetheless continuing their operations.

The suit also alleges that Reservella, the Seychelles-based company that The Pirate Bay founders insist owns the web site, is in fact merely a front company owned by Neij. The three former Pirate Bay principals deny this assertion. The Pirate Bay founders were fined $3.6m (£2.2m) in the Swedish courts in April after losing an earlier lawsuit brought by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and the entertainment companies it represents.

Yahoo!'s Deal With Microsoft Is a Mistake


CEO Carol Bartz doesn't look much like Wile E. Coyote, but she sure has a funny way of falling into the same animated traps her predecessors did.

Despite the colorful "Microsoft, Yahoo! Change Search Landscape" headline blaring out at us all this morning, the announcement of a partnership with Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) really doesn't change much at all.

  • Yahoo! is outsourcing its search platform to Microsoft's Bing -- and in doing so, Yahoo! is repeating the mistake it made when it let Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) power its engine.
  • Yahoo! may have set the tone in self-serve advertising several years ago, when it acquired pioneer Overture -- the juiciest part of the online-advertising market -- but now it's letting Microsoft's fledgling AdCenter take over. In other words, Yahoo! is back to milking the less lucrative display advertising market.
  • There will be cost savings and incremental operating profits, but the end result is that Yahoo! will continue to fade in relevance. There's no joy in calling "shotgun," even in a shotgun wedding.

Silly Yahoo!, rifling through the Acme Products catalog -- as if it will ever come up with a third-party contraption to catch up to Google's speedy roadrunner.

Meep-meep!

Terrorism, Swine Flu, and Beating Today's Market

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, air travel plunged for obvious reasons. People were scared. Flying, they presumed -- perhaps rightly so -- was now more dangerous. As air travel decreased, auto travel increased. But since the fatality rate of auto travel is higher than air travel, the influx of drivers had mortal consequences. A 2005 study by a team of Cornell University professors concluded that the surge of auto travel linked to 9/11 was responsible for 2,170 driving deaths -- not much less than attributed to the attacks themselves.


Stop. Drop. Panic.
Here's a similar story: A good friend of mine, an emergency room physician, noted the number of healthy people visiting the ER to be tested for swine flu earlier this year -- even if they had no symptoms. They just wanted to err on the side of caution. Better safe than sorry.

But how many of these perfectly healthy people were exposed to legitimate illness sitting in a hospital waiting room with coughing, sneezing, and infectious patients? I've yet to see an actual study, but intuition should tell you that if there's one place where you're susceptible to catching swine flu, it's a hospital waiting room filled with people who may actually have it.

It's an unglamorous part of being human: We have an innate urge to overreact to perceived threats, creating problems more dangerous than what we're trying to avoid in the first place. President Franklin Roosevelt was onto something when warned, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

ITunes: the virus

Within the last 24 hours, AVG has taken iTunes abuse to another level. Actions speak louder than words, after all, and an antivirus deciding to classify iTunes components as trojans? That's hard core.

AVG reports two core files - iTunes.dll and iTunesRegistry.dll - are infected with Small.BOG. As Inquisitr points out, that name doesn't appear in any other major antivirus provider's databases. Now, it's possible that AVG picked up on something nasty going on before every other provider in the world. It's much more likely, however, that this is a giant screw up.

And of course, that's exactly what AVG is reporting. If you run both programs, it's your call. If you hate iTunes, go ahead and let AVG burn it to the ground. If you'd rather not screw things up, make sure you choose not to quarantine the files and update your definitions right away. Based on what's been posted in the AVG forums, the new defs correct the problem.

Four apps that will/might keep your wife from killing you

Jason's writeup of PMS Buddy inspired me to write a sort of Public Service Announcement. Since I'm sure a lot of our loyal readers are "the friend that knows about computers," I thought I'd share some programs that I should've used long before my wife's hard drive took a dirt nap.

Prepping a close one's computer for a catastrophic event is kind of like stockpiling supplies for a fallout shelter. When the proverbial bomb drops, you'll be safe - as long as you've got the right provisions.

1. GMail. I took the liberty of setting up what I think is a phenomenally crafty stealth email backup. Step one: enable IMAP and copy all the old messages to GMail. Step two: set up GMail to automatically check our ISP's crappy POP server. Step Three: set Outlook Express to access GMail via POP and leave the original copy on the server. Step four: twiddle thumbs. All emails are now stored in the cloud where a hard drive is a lot less likely to take a steaming hot bath in coffee.

I've chosen to use POP instead of IMAP because of the odd problem we've had with our GMail for Domains access. Phone calls from home that start "Why is it telling me the server can't be contacted?" aren't good for my health.


2. Cobian Backup. I've used Cobian for a while now. Well, that's not totally accurate. It was installed, and I had a job created to back files up to my trusty old XBox's FTP server, but it kept failing and I never bothered to correct the problem. Since I took ten minutes to fix the issue, it's been working great. I've currently got it saving archives to an external SATA drive as well as the XBox.

Cobian is set to grab the bulk of the important stuff: My Documents, Music, Application Data, Local Settings, Desktop, and the like. It's set to run nightly, and shadow copy support means it'll back up even if certain apps (like Firefox, OE, and Photoshop) are left running.


3. GBridge. Ok, this might not work for everyone, but I work for a smallish family business and I'm "the computer guy." That means I get to build my own workstation and hand-pick the parts in it. The RAID mirror makes an ideal location for offsite storage of encrypted data, and GBridge is a handy way to get it there.

Its Hamachi-like VPN and autosync make maintaining a spare set of fonts, Photoshop brushes, and other things I usually forget so easy it almost hurts (actually forgetting these causes a great deal more hurt). As a bonus, GBridge also gives me zero-config VNC access to troubleshoot other problems I've caused on my wife's laptop from the safety of my office.


4. XXClone. XXClone is a very easy-to-use app for cloning a system drive while still in Windows. It's been faster than Macrium Reflect for me, and Macrium's free version doesn't support incremental backups. After the initial copy, synching the new changes is obviously a lot quicker than re-cloning the entire drive.

One downside is that you can't get rid of the confirmation dialog in the free version - which puts the kibosh on scheduling with command line switches. Cloning a drive on a schedule is definitely the best way to cover your butt, and it may be worth paying for in your case.

For me it's the initial clone with all the vital apps that matters. If I remember to do a few incrementals here and there, GREAT. If not, well, it's the data that's most important and I think I've got that covered.

I won't guarantee that running these four programs will allow you to escape totally unscathed, but if they prevent one angry phone call to your workplace then I've done my job.

Rage as Organic food fails laboratory tests


Organic food is no healthier than other produce, according to the Government’s food watchdog.

The largest ever review into the science behind organic food found that it contained no more nutritional value than factory-farmed meat or fruit and vegetables grown using chemical fertilisers. The findings challenge popular assumptions about the organic industry, worth £2 billion in the UK. Consumer groups said that shoppers may now think twice before buying organic.

The report, commissioned by the Food Standards Agency, was carried out by experts from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who studied data collected over 50 years.

Organic groups were incensed by the findings. The Soil Association accused the FSA of ignoring up-to-date evidence and pre-empting EU research for political reasons. Lord Melchett, its policy director, said that he had urged the FSA to delay its report. “They have jumped the gun,” he said.

The FSA researchers were led by by a public health nutritionist, Dr Alan Dangour. They found that there was no significant benefit from drinking milk or eating meat, vegetables, fruit, poultry and eggs from organic sources, as opposed to the products of conventional farm systems.

Pro-organic groups criticised the findings of the year-long review, which cost £120,000. They said that the conclusions, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, failed to take into account the impact of pesticides and herbicides. Organic farming bans artificial chemical fertilisers and has stricter animal welfare rules than conventional farming.

Dr Dangour said that, as a nutritionist, he was not qualified to look at pesticides. “There is a possibility that organic food has less pesticide residues, but this was not part of the review,” he said. “Potentially this may be an area for further research.”

He added: “A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance.

Drinking Beer for Peace

Late-night comics found a few things to laugh about in the racially charged arrest of a Harvard professor — once beer was added to the equation.

President Barack Obama's invitation to the two men involved to hoist a few at the White House on Thursday opened the comedy floodgates. Before that, the late-night TV world dominated by white comics largely stayed away from the subject of Harvard University scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s confrontation at his home with white police officer Joseph Crowley.

"Alcohol usually cools things off — have you noticed that?" CBS' David Letterman said on Tuesday night. Letterman joked that Vice President Joe Biden has already been put to work buying a keg for the meeting. "If it goes well, then President Obama is going to invite (South Carolina) Gov. and Mrs. Sanford to come up and have a beer," he said.

NBC's "Tonight" show host Conan O'Brien said that if the White House meeting works out, "Obama is going to have Ahmadinejad and Netanyahu over for Jaeger bombs."

Jul 29, 2009

E-health shock for Roxon

THE final report of the long-running National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission must have come as a complete shock to federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon and her state counterparts.E-health shock for Roxon

Heaven knows why the health ministers buried Deloitte's strategy under a tonne of concrete after agreeing to adopt it as official policy.

After an embarrassing e-health blindspot in the commission's interim report, and a rushed paper suggesting patients could make their own arrangements for online records, someone flicked them a full copy of Deloitte's considered, and modest, National E-Health Strategy.

Fortunately, it's a very useful lifeline, and the reformers are wise to embrace it.

Heaven knows why the health ministers buried Deloitte's strategy so deep in the filing cabinet after agreeing to adopt it as official policy but clearly it's now time to put the whole document into the public domain.

Even the commission had to rely on the slim executive summary before a truck dropped a copy on its doorstop.

In a nutshell, the NHHRC wants every Australian to have a personal e-health record by 2012, and medical provider capabilities for accessing, sharing and transmitting medical information.

It agrees with Deloitte that a nationwide health IT infrastructure is not only achievable, but essential for healthcare reform.

Things like the smart use of data, information and communication across care channels and, more broadly, for population health initiatives including better planning and service delivery.

The NHHRC wants electronic systems that alert doctors to potential medication errors, surgical mistakes and other adverse events while slashing the costly duplication of unnecessary tests and ineffective treatments.

And shareable personal health records to support co-ordinated care between multiple providers, and encourage individuals to take greater responsibility for their own well-being.

The NHHRC also does not believe more of the same will produce these results.

Sunbeds a major cancer hazard – international panel

SUNBEDS have been branded a major cause of skin cancer, confirming "what many Australians have long suspected", an expert says.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has elevated tanning machines into its top-most cancer risk category. University of Sydney Professor of Public Health Bruce Armstrong was a member of the IARC working group that reviewed ionising and solar radiation, and rated sunbeds as "carcinogenic to humans''. "We can now say unequivocally that artificial sources of solar radiation - including ultraviolet-emitting tanning devices - can cause both skin and eye melanomas,'' Prof Armstrong said.

"The IARC has confirmed what many Australians have long suspected, tanning devices emitting ultraviolet (UV) rays are dangerous and can cause cancer.'' The IARC, which is tasked by the World Health Organisation to review and report on causes of cancer, last reviewed solar and ultraviolet radiation in 1992. Prof Armstrong said at that time sunlight was ruled to be a cause of cancer but the IARC determined there was insufficient evidence to show artificial sources of UV rays were also carcinogenic.

"Evidence considered in the latest review - much of which wasn't available in 1992 - found using UV-emitting tanning devices increases a person's risk of developing skin melanomas by about 15 per cent overall,'' he said. Alarmingly, Prof Armstrong said research also showed that if a person began using a sunbed before they turned 30 their skin cancer risk increased by 75 per cent. Most Australian states moved to ban minors from using tanning beds, and increase regulation of the industry, following the well-publicised plight of Melbourne woman Claire Oliver, who died of melanoma in 2007 at age 26.

Alcoholics will not be cured by liver transplants

I wish everyone could understand that alcohol misusers rarely get better on their own, and that stopping drinking without medical supervision is itself very dangerous; it can often lead to seizures. One of the certainties around addiction is that it normally gets worse, not better. Addicts and alcoholics need professional inpatient help; it is not a question of willpower, or a lack of determination.

Most alcoholics are seriously, if not terminally, ill and they need the appropriate treatment as early as possible. The liver is a very robust organ, and it can often repair itself in three to four months of abstinence, provided sobriety is achieved before permanent damage is done. An alcoholic is on a train journey to premature death. He can get off at any station along the way to get into rehab, but too often he will choose to stay on, to the terminus.

While seemingly harsh, the decision to refuse Gary a liver transplant is understandable when decisions have to be made about who receives one of the very few livers available. It is a sad fact that alcoholics are most unlikely to recover just by giving them a liver transplant; this is not treating the problem. The correct inpatient treatment must precede the transplant, and the real concern is that either there was no NHS rehab bed available for Gary or it was too late to access one. The liver specialist Dr Nick Sheron rightly states that "the reasons for alcohol misuse are always multifactorial". My staff deal with numerous alcoholics every week, and around 85% of our clients have a genetic connection to alcoholism. Some addiction experts believe that you can identify an addict from as young as five years old.

It would make more sense therefore to identify at-risk adolescents and attempt to shield them from a life of addiction. Millions of pounds are being wasted on drug and alcohol programmes which are far less successful than inpatient rehab. Considerably more people die from the effects of alcohol than from drugs – at least 30 times as many.

Is Twitter Sending You Traffic More Google Analytics Counts?

Earlier I posted that Google Analytics and other JavaScript-based tracking tools might be undercounting visits from Twitter. I’ve done some more digging, which supports the case. In my test, Twitter seems to have sent 500% to 1600% more traffic than log files or hosted stats packages like Google Analytics might show.

How Twitter Might Send Far More Traffic Than You Think is my earlier article that explains how I’d often seen big gaps in how many people apparently clicked on a tweeted link as measured by Bit.ly versus how many page views that Google Analytics was showing.

To test this further, I tweeted a particular page on my personal blog along with tracking code designed to especially help ensure it appeared in Google Analytics. I’m going to toss out a bunch of numbers as part of this analysis. If they get confusing, skip to the end for the conclusion....

You're not losing a Yahoo, you're gaining a Micro-Hoo!

Ever since Microsoft (MSFT) made its $45 billion bid for Yahoo (YHOO) in early 2008, it was clear the software giant was serious about taking on arch-rival Google (GOOG) in the lucrative Internet search business. And now, after more than a year of more limited talks after Yahoo denied that bid, it seems Microsoft has achieved its goal. If reports of an impending deal between the companies prove true, Microsoft will emerge as the clear No. 2 player in search.

In a deal that presages its departure from a market it once dominated, Yahoo will essentially scrap its own efforts to best Google in search and instead rely on Microsoft's recently debuted Bing search engine, according to reports in The Wall Street Journal and the BoomTown blog. Ads placed next to those search results would be served up not by Yahoo's ad platform, dubbed Panama, but by a Microsoft technology called AdCenter, says another report from Advertising Age. Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz "is essentially giving up on search," says Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Land.

Yahoo salespeople likely will continue to sell the search ads that appear both on Yahoo sites and on Bing. And the company that sells an ad—in this case, Yahoo—may get as much as 80% of the resulting revenue. But Microsoft would nevertheless reap a reward that's more valuable in the long run. The data on computer users' online search and buying habits would ultimately reside on Microsoft's computers, thereby improving its ability to automatically serve up the most relevant ads. "If Microsoft is running the underlying ad technology, it doesn't matter who is selling the ads," Sullivan says. "In the end, Microsoft will hold all the cards."

Housing speculators take note

While attention understandably focused on Governor Glenn Stevens' nods and winks about interest rates yesterday, two other important Reserve Bank messages skated by without headlines.

The first is that the RBA, flushed with the success of being the decade's best-performed central bank, is looking to lead the way in taking on asset bubbles as well as common-or-garden variety inflation.

The second was a sly shot at the gross incompetence of various Australian governments over housing. The RBA boss didn't single out any particular government, but if you guessed the buffoons disguised as the NSW administration were at the front of the queue, you wouldn't be wrong.

(And just while I'm on about sly messages, it's possible the markets have read too much into Stevens' declaration of independence from the unemployment rate. The RBA saying it doesn't have to wait for unemployment to peak before raising rates doesn't mean it won't wait.)

The RBA has been building up a considerable body of work on housing, the price thereof and how it performs through the cycle. Some of that has been driven by its now unofficial prudential role - keeping an eye of the health of the financial system - as well as interest in an important part of our economy, especially in recovery mode.

Fiasco on DHS withholding alarm for Kyneton woman

A KYNETON, Victoria stroke victim found lying on the floor after three days has been told she is not eligible for a personal alarm. Sally Stabback lay on her bedroom floor half-naked and incapacitated for three days last month after a stroke. When police broke into her house, they found the 65-year-old suffering hypothermia and on the brink of renal failure.

The retired pensioner, who lives alone, has since applied for a personal response unit, an alarm triggered by a button on a pendant. But the Department of Human Services (DHS) said she was ineligible.

GFC: All-you-can-eat marketing for oldest profession

A POLICE blitz on red-light establishments could spell the end of a pioneering attempt by German brothel owners to fight the economic downturn with special offers. Customers were sent scurrying for cover on Sunday when 400 police raided four establishments that have started to offer flat-rate services, based on all-you-can-eat evenings run by restaurants. At the Berlin Pussy Bar, clients were offered sex with as many of the in-house prostitutes as they wanted for E70 ($120).

"So far our investigations are directed only against the owners of these establishments," a police spokesman in Berlin said. "The working women and the clients are being considered only as witnesses." The raids are due to continue, however, because the flat-rate principle has been catching on in the market-sensitive business.

Prostitution is legal in Germany and, according to the Verdi service sector union, approximately 400,000 officially registered -- and taxpaying -- sex workers account for up to E14 billion of turnover annually. That is about twice the figure recorded by registered self-employed electricians, yet electricians are among the many beneficiaries of state support. Turnover in brothels has dropped by an estimated 30 per cent since the economic crisis began last year.

Maroons' stilnox inquiry turns to farce

THE Queensland Rugby League was under attack yesterday for its handling of an investigation into allegations that Maroons players had dabbled with a home-made party drug in the lead up to State of Origin III.

QRL managing director Ross Livermore said there was no hard evidence to substantiate the damaging claims before defending the speed and strength of the inquiry.

However, he admitted the investigation, into a matter which has drawn nationwide coverage, consisted of not much more than coach Mal Meninga and team management talking to some of the players.

Livermore was locked in a meeting with Meninga and team manager Steve Walters for three hours yesterday.

Queensland captain Darren Lockyer was also called in but Livermore admitted the veteran player's views on team clothing were of more concern. "Darren sat in on the start of the meeting because we always like to get the captain's opinion regarding the camp over all and the uniforms," Livermore said.

"Darren's always been a bit of a leader for the team when you are talking about the styles of the uniforms and that type of thing. So he was here for that but nothing major on the other issue."

The Australian broke the story last week that several Queensland players had broken curfew while in camp and some were alleged to have used a drug made up of the sleeping tablet Stilnox combined with the high energy drink, Red Bull, to achieve an affect similar to cocaine or ecstasy.

GPS renders London' black cabs obsolete

For decades, London's black cabs have been as much an emblem of the city as Buckingham Palace or Big Ben - but now their drivers fear the industry is under threat.

The problem, they say, is minicabs - ordinary-looking cars licensed to take advance bookings over the telephone or the internet, while traditional black cabs pick up customers who hail them on the street.

With the recession already hurting business, frustrations have come to a head over proposals by airport authorities to let some minicabs take bookings from passengers arriving at Heathrow.

Black cabbies say this would damage their trade and highlights a wider problem of minicabs encroaching on their turf, particularly in the buzzing West End entertainment district.

"What to do about minicab drivers? I could tell you, but it might be a bit mediaeval. Burning, tarring, public execution," said one black cab driver, stopping for an afternoon cup of tea at one of London's 19th-century cabmen's shelters near the River Thames.

He took part in a protest in February when black cab drivers blocked Trafalgar Square and says "the same thing will happen again and again and again" if the authorities do not help black cabs.

"We think we're going to go the way of the Routemaster buses and red telephone boxes," said another driver, referring to two other London icons which are now largely obsolete.

Both cabbies asked not to be named, with one citing fear of reprisals from rival drivers.

But minicab firms hit back, saying black cabs are increasingly outdated, while new technology like satellite navigation systems - known as sat navs - means minicabs can do a similar job more cheaply and with minimal training.

"The taxi trade's got to be careful because if they don't move on, they will die," said John Griffin, founder and chairman of Addison Lee, London's biggest minicab firm, which could operate at Heathrow if the plan goes through.

He says black cabs could learn lessons from his firm, which is proud of hi-tech innovations like a multi-million dollar booking system which sends customers text messages automatically when their car is on its way and arrives.

A piece of history is demolished for a slice of retail sameness

The reasons given for revamping this part of the city are spurious.

IN EXPLAINING his decision to allow the demolition of the art deco building Lonsdale House yesterday, Planning Minister Justin Madden trumpeted the reorientation of the revamped Myer retail complex as one of the benefits.

The north-eastern corner of the new complex, which will replace part of Lonsdale House, will, he said, create symmetry with the QV centre, on the south-western corner of Swanston and Lonsdale Streets. The complex’s new, medium-rise glass tower will open up that part of the street via pedestrian entry and exit points that will supposedly look across to QV. This will ‘‘freshen up’’ the corner, he told ABC radio.

Which is great, except that the QV and the new buildings won’t face each other. They can’t. The building that is diagonally across the Swanston-Lonsdale intersection from QV is a former bank, now a McDonald’s outlet and it’s not part of the redevelopment. It fronts Swanston Street and its northern wall runs west along Lonsdale for about 30 metres.

At the rear is Caledonian Lane, a narrow one-way carriageway, and then there’s Lonsdale House. So the new development will actually be about 35 metres from the Swanston-Lonsdale corner and will have no genuine spatial relationship with the QV. It will not form part of a community of buildings with QV.

The much-vaunted egress point of the new complex will spill shoppers out right next to a widened and much busier and wider Caledonian Lane, which is to be the main service thoroughfare for the redevelopment. Pedestrians will have to dodge vans and trucks. Great.

Lonsdale House is not the best example of what we have all come to know as art deco in Melbourne. Right now, with its ground level doorways and windows boarded up and blackened, its five storeys painted a sickly pale green, and its highlights - especially its miniature tower - picked out in a garish sort of turquoise, it looks distinctly down-at-heel...

Jul 28, 2009

Media Moguls Rethink Web Advertising in Downturn

The recession-fueled advertising downturn underlines the urgency of using the Web to glean data and target consumers directly, rather than blasting them with a barrage of TV-style ads, media executives say.

At the Fortune Brainstorm: TECH conference in Pasadena this week, Walt Disney Co Chief Executive Robert Iger opened a discussion about new ways to market to consumers, when he described himself as, "pretty bullish about what technology is going to allow in terms of behavioral tracking."

Executives from AOL, a division of Time Warner Inc, News Corp and IAC/InterActiveCorp echoed similar hopes about the potential to reach consumers online.

As advertising dollars grow ever more scarce, companies have been forced to rethink how they reach consumers and have moved away from the traditional 30-second spot to the kinds of targeted, Internet-driven marketing campaigns that have been talked about for years.

Internet advertising in the United States — a $23.4 billion market in 2008 — was down 5 percent in the first quarter of this year and Iger and other executives say the sector may not return to the historic growth trajectory seen before the recession.

Jonathan Miller, head of News Corp's Digital Media Group, believes advertising is undergoing, "fundamental changes ... and you have to tease them out of the recession effects.

"Marketing is on an arc to become more efficient. My dollar should go further. And that says the advertising pool may not grow at the rate that it's traditionally grown at, even out of this recession."

Plastic Surgery Tax Eyed As Revenue Raiser

Face-lifts, tummy tucks and hair transplants could be hit with a new tax to help finance the trillion-dollar healthcare overhaul plan, according to sources familiar with the Senate talks. The Senate Finance Committee has discussed imposing a 10 percent excise tax on cosmetic surgery deemed unnecessary for medical purposes. The idea was broached in a meeting with OMB Director Orszag in mid-July, after which Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus told reporters he had heard some "interesting," "creative," and "kind of fun" ideas.

The tax, which has not been officially scored, would plug some of the revenue gap senators are seeking to fill to keep on schedule for a markup the week of Aug. 3. It would target procedures prohibited under Section 213 of the tax code, which deals with itemized deductions for medical expenses not covered by health insurance.

Pork barrel US potty network

The feds are spending tens of millions of stimulus dollars to repair and build toilets across the nation, in an outflow of taxpayer funds that critics have branded "potty pork." From humble sylvan outhouses to "historic" restrooms, cash from the $787 billion stimulus is going to spruce up or completely replace aging toilets, government releases show.

In New Mexico alone, the feds are spending $2.8 million for toilets in national forests. The bathroom bonanza runs across myriad federal agencies, from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the Veterans Affairs Administration and the Army.

Rambo goes to Bollywood to sing and dance

John Rambo, the troubled Vietnam veteran whose quests for revenge notched up some of the highest body counts in cinematic history, appears to have brushed up on his Hindi — and possibly his dance moves.

Sylvester Stallone, the Hollywood star who played the lead in four ultra-violent Rambo films, is to make his Bollywood debut this summer. He will again play John Rambo, this time in an Indian production.

Do not expect a rerun of the bloody antics of past Rambo outings. Stallone’s project, Kambakht Ishq (Incredible Love), is a romantic comedy that the producers claim is the first Bollywood movie to feature A-list Hollywood actors in proper roles.

In his new incarnation Rambo is a successful Hollywood actor, not a misunderstood killing machine. The plot centres on his stuntman double who falls in love with a supermodel. The leads are played by Akshay Kumar and Karina Kapoor, two of India’s biggest stars. The film also features the former Bond girl Denise Richards and Brendon Routh, who played the latest incarnation of Superman. The producers will not reveal the details but a slushy song-and-dance routine seems inevitable.

Mumbai attacks given the Bollywood treatment in India

Bollywood has a record of spinning dubious fiction out of real-life events, but the first film to be based on the Mumbai terror atrocity is likely to test the limits.

Total Ten purports to tell the life story of Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, 21, who is alleged to be the sole terrorist gunman caught alive after the attack in November last year in which nearly 200 people died. The plot, which pitches a band of bearded Islamist baddies – Mr Kasab’s alleged Pakistani handlers – against a brigade of heroic, moustachioed Mumbai cops, could have come from any number of Bollywood potboilers.

The problem is the ending. It shows Mr Kasab, who is on trial and has pleaded not guilty to murder and the waging of war against India, being convicted and hanged.

The producers have shrugged off suggestions that they could prejudice the case, which is being heard before a judge without a jury. They want their film to be released as soon as possible, before it is beaten to the screen by one or more of the 17 others based on the attacks that are in production

Nearly 10% of Health Spending Due to Obesity, Report Says

New research shows medical spending averages $1,400 more a year for an obese person than for someone who's normal weight. Overall obesity-related health spending reaches $147 billion, double what it was nearly a decade ago, says the study published Monday by the journal Health Affairs. The higher expense reflects the costs of treating diabetes, heart disease and other ailments far more common for the overweight, concluded the study by government scientists and the nonprofit research group RTI International.

RTI health economist Eric Finkelstein offers a blunt message for lawmakers trying to revamp the health-care system: "Unless you address obesity, you're never going to address rising health-care costs." Obesity-related conditions now account for 9.1% of all medical spending, up from 6.5% in 1998, the study concluded. Health economists have long warned that obesity is a driving force behind the rise in health spending. For example, diabetes costs the nation $190 billion a year to treat, and excess weight is the single biggest risk factor for developing diabetes. Moreover, obese diabetics are the hardest to treat, with higher rates of foot ulcers and amputations, among other things.

Google Increases Federal Lobbying Efforts

Google (NSDQ: GOOG) continues to significantly increase its lobbying efforts, according to public disclosures posted online. The company spent $950,000 on lobbying in the second quarter, 30% more than the company spent during the same period last year, and 64% more than the company spent the entire first half of 2007.

As the company has become more and more visible, it has on one hand become a target for regulation, while on the other gaining enough prominence that it can potentially have significant effects on issues it cares about, from advertising to intellectual property reform.

In 2005, Google still had only one person working on public policy. By now, Google has so joined the game of outreach to the federal government that CEO Eric Schmidt is a member of President Obama's economic advisory board and the company makes more than a dozen posts each month to its public policy blog.

Last quarter, it focused its efforts on a number of areas, including advertising, intellectual property reform, cybersecurity, green technology, censorship, the Internet, and broadband regulation.

For example, on the topic of advertising, Google lobbied Congress and the Federal Trade Commission on regulation of online advertising, privacy and competitive issues, and the FTC's behavioral advertising principles. In the past year, Congress has held multiple hearings on the privacy implications of online advertising.

Google has also been lobbying for intellectual property form, approaching Congress and the FTC on issues like fair use and copyright issues related to a $125 million settlement with book publishers over Google Books. The Department of Justice has opened an inquiry to look at potential legal issues stemming from that settlement.

Google's War on your privacy

As Congress and the FTC continue their review of online behavioral targeting, Google, Omnicom, Phorm and other web advertising providers are moving forward with plans to end privacy online — as long as they have your consent.

Silicon Alley Insider recently got hold of Google’s behavioral targeting policy document (see below). It states that Google wants to see a system in which ads contain a label that consumers can click on for more info about what private information the advertiser may have gathered. That link would take users to a page where users can manage their privacy settings, much like a Google Alert page, only for ads instead of news.

But the label Google proposes for ads says only “Feedback - Ads by Google,” rather than something more accurate, such as “Change Your Ad Privacy Settings Here.”

Within the privacy manager, users are essentially asked to opt-in to based on their interests to receive relevant advertising. This is all well and good on the day the consumer has been reading the New York Times. But a couple of days later that same reader will likely be surfing Fleshbot, and will forget that Google’s advertisers are scooping up info on their sexual preferences.

Sexual preference privacy is not, interestingly, a main priority for the advertising industry lobby groups that recently published their own proposals on online privacy. That document, signed by the ANA, AAAA, the DMA et al, states:

The Principle calls for entities not to collect financial account numbers, Social Security numbers, pharmaceutical prescriptions, or medical records about specific individuals for Online Behavioral Advertising purposes without Consent.

The last two words are crucial: They mean, “we do want to collect that information, as long as we obtained your click-wrapped consent at some earlier point.” The FTC recently nailed Sears for failing to do that.

Does Google Know Too Much About You?

Do you trust Google? If you use its multitude of online services on a daily basis you might, but is that assumption wise? For some, Google is a wonderful company with a broad selection of useful online tools that make life easier, but for others Google is a looming, unregulated monster just waiting for the moment to drop the ‘don't' from the company's unofficial motto, "Don't be evil."

Recently, at the Aspen Ideas Festival, WNYC talk show host Brian Lehrer asked Google CEO Eric Schmidt if Google's constantly growing importance to users in the United States and around the world meant that Google needed to be regulated as a utility by the Federal Government. The surprise wasn't in Schmidt's response (which was "no"), but the fact that everyone in the room laughed at Lehrer's suggestion.

But is it that funny? Google tracks your online behavior to deliver relevant advertising; the company inadvertently controls a large amount of what you see online through its search results; it's amassing the greatest library since Alexandria; it has a huge share of the online video market; and offers a wide range of services that bring more and more of your daily online habits into its online sphere. Heck, Google has even flirted with offline advertising.

Medical privacy: Dr Google will see you now

Essential in life, Google may soon play a part in death. Earlier this month the company added an option to its Google Health site allowing users – so far only in America – to state their final wishes. "One of the most important documents you may want to store and share in Google Health is an advance directive," announced the Google blog. "An advance directive allows you to determine your end-of-life wishes so that your family and doctor can honor them if you get sick and are unable to communicate. The decision to sign an advance directive is an important and personal one, and Google Health now makes it a little bit easier."

Some people will find this sinister. A company that began by creating a brilliant search tool is straying into the most intimate of areas. Google has grown by being good at what it does, but also through what it knows. It tracks search histories, tailors advertising to email, and agglomerates content from every source it can get access to, fulfilling its corporate mission "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful". To that, Google might add profitable, since the way to internet riches is to know the details of users' lives.

In the Times yesterday David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, turned on his party over reports that British patients might be encouraged to use Google Health and its counterparts, rather than persist with the expensive and much-delayed NHS database. "Google is the last company I would trust with data belonging to me," he wrote. Rather than increase personal control over medical data, he argues that it would end it. Google is not subject to ministerial orders, or European regulation. It promises never to sell advertising alongside medical information, but it has done deals to get access to the detailed prescription records of 100 million American patients.

I wouldn’t trust Google with my personal info

When I read in the pages of this newspaper this month that the Conservative Party was planning to transfer people’s health data to Google, my heart sank. The policy described was so naive I could only hope that it was an unapproved kite-flying exercise by a young researcher in Conservative HQ. If not, what was proposed was both dangerous in its own right, and hazardous to the public acceptability of necessary reforms to the state’s handling of our private information.

There are powerful arguments for people owning their own information and having rights to control it. There are massive weaknesses in the NHS’s bloated central database and there are benefits from using the private sector. But there are also enormous risks, so we are still a long step from being able to give personal data to any company, let alone Google.

Google is the last company I would trust with data belonging to me. In the words of human rights watchdog Privacy International, Google has “a history of ignoring privacy concerns. Every corporate announcement has some new practice involving surveillance”. It gave Google the lowest possible assessment rating: “”. It was the only company of the 20 assessed to get this rating. It also said Google was leading a “race to the bottom” among internet firms, many of which did little to protect their users.

Another IT project on the edge of failure

THE watchdog on the Australian Tax Office's $725million IT overhaul has warned that even the smallest delay to the rollout could seriously threaten to blow out the project's July 2010 deadline.

The project's independent assurer Capgemini -- dubbed the "conscience" of the project by former tax office chief information officer Greg Farr -- told the ATO in December there was "zero contingency" and substantial action needed to taken for the project to succeed.

The consultancy did not believe the project, which aims to update the technology and tax processing systems, would deliver its full results within the current timetable.

The Capgemini report seen by The Australian said that to achieve the ambitious deadline the department would need a near flawless deployment of two superannuation systems (Super A and B) and the first-home saver account (FHSA) systems in the first half of this year.

"There is practically zero contingency (schedule, resource and environment) remaining in the current plan and every release having a risk profile of moderate to severe," the Capgemini report said.

In December, Capgemini believed the FHSA build and test period would not occur by this month because of the delay to deliver Super A systems which has tied up necessary resources.

Outrage over risque slogans

Child advocates have slammed a risque range of baby clothes that created a storm of controversy in Australia and are now on sale in New Zealand. The T-shirts and suits are on sale in Australian chain Cotton On Kids' 17 Kiwi stores and feature slogans including "I'm a tits man", "The condom broke", "I'm living proof my mum is easy" and "Mummy likes it on top".

Family groups and child psychologists in Australia said they sexualised children and called for them to be withdrawn. National Council of Women of New Zealand president Elizabeth Bang agreed and said the slogans were "awful".

"We've noticed more and more of this and we think it's time it stopped. There's quite a lot of research showing the sexualisation of children can be harmful to their mental and physical health." Moyna Fletcher, of anti-child abuse trust CPS, said the clothing exploits children for adults' entertainment.

Food fight! Palm and Apple out of sync!

Palm Inc.'s decision to re-enable syncing to iTunes in its new Web OS update has an element of Palm taunting Apple Inc. But could it lead to a legal battle? At least one expert in intellectual property rights thinks so.

"Palm has a fairly large market share and is doing this [sync to iTunes] so visibly, which leads me to believe Apple has no choice but to retaliate, probably through litigation," said Ivan Zatkovich, an engineer who provides consulting help to attorneys involved in intellectual property disputes. He works for EComp Consultants in Tampa, Fla., and has been closely watching the tussle between Apple and Palm over the sync from the iTunes media player to the WebOS and Palm Pre.

The iTunes media player is "valuable property" to Apple, Zatkovich added, "I understand why Apple is protecting it." Apple also has a fairly long history of fighting to protect its IP that dates back to its Macintosh computer in the 1980s and its involvement in digital rights management battles with the creation of the iPod this decade, he said.

The Geek's oldest friend: Palm

If you missed Palm’s keynote yesterday, be sure to check out TreoCentral’s coverage of all things Palm, Pre, and webOS! To quickly recap: Palm held their keynote showcasing their new device and platform. Here are Android Central's impressions on the events.

When word started spreading about a new Palm device and the Nova OS, we at Android Central ignored it—mostly because we only focus on Android happenings—but also because in recent years Palm has been just trudging along, barely innovating, and minimally surviving that it didn’t warrant any extra attention. Our honest expectations of the Palm keynote? Announce a barely evolutionary device with another limited OS. Miss crucial opportunity. Everyone walks away disappointed. And then fade to obscurity.

Suffice to say, that didn’t happen. In fact, it was the exact opposite. Instead of the predicted eulogy of a keynote, we got a stunning showcase of innovation. Palm hit it out the proverbial ballpark and the industry just got a jolt sent through every platform: Android isn’t polished enough. iPhone is too limited. Blackberry is outdated. Windows Mobile isn’t as user friendly. Announcement: The smartphone market just gained a shiny, trusted & capable competitor. Welcome back to the mix, Palm.

Jul 27, 2009

Will Palm Pre slow the Apple Markening Machine?

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, but the crew at Engadget has been talking about a Linux-based Palm phone since way back in 2004. Through the now-distant years that followed, we were speculating, pontificating, and wishfully-thinking about a new device from a company that we'd come to expect innovation from. But we waited. And waited. And waited. We waited so long, in fact, that we actually penned a lengthy open letter to Palm, pleading for the company to get back on its game. Only when the picture looked really, truly bleak for the folks in Sunnyvale (you know, like $2 a share bleak) did we actually see a spark of hope -- two sparks, in fact -- called the Pre and webOS.

Yes, this is epic stuff. The Pre (and its accompanying operating system) could likely decide the fate of the company largely credited with ushering in the age of the do-everything phone. Since Palm's announcement at CES this year, news surrounding the Pre has been a veritable whirlwind of activity: rumors, half-truths, hate, love, fear-mongering, fanboyism, rampant gadget-lust... and even a little late night celebrity for the pint-sized phone. Finally the time has come to put rubber to road and get into the guts of this thing once and for all. Can the Pre and webOS live up to the hype -- the kind of hype we haven't seen since the launch of the original iPhone -- or do they snap under the pressure? Click following links for the Engadget review...

Part 1: Hardware, webOS / user interface
Part 2: Synergy, phone, media, applications
Part 3: Data speeds, backup, battery, Bluetooth, pricing, wrap-up

How to stop WASTING time

"Took an incredibly long time and a lot of effort, but in the end it was worth everything that I put into it."

Bill Gates quits dysfunctional Facebook

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates says he was forced to abandon Facebook after too many people wanted to be his friend.

Gates, the billionaire computer geek-turned-philanthropist who was honoured on Saturday by India for his charity work, told an audience in New Delhi he had tried out Facebook but ended up with "10,000 people wanting to be my friends".

Gates, who remains Microsoft chairman, said he had trouble figuring out whether he "knew this person, did I not know this person".

"It was just way too much trouble so I gave it up," Gates told the business forum.

Gates was in the Indian capital to receive the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development, awarded by the government for his work for the charitable organisation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

When Job Seekers Invade Facebook

As the downturn continues, millions of corporate managers—gripped by the job jitters—are rushing to join online social networks in a scramble to build their social capital. The popularity of sites such as LinkedIn is soaring: less than a year ago the site had little brand profile and was seen mostly as a venue for corporate suits trolling for professional contacts while plotting their next career move. Facebook, by contrast, has largely attracted individuals seeking a compelling site for fun social networking.

Today LinkedIn’s year-on-year growth is up nearly 200 percent in the United States and it now has more than 35 million members—many of whom were formerly employed within the hard-hit financial sector. And it’s just one of the many sites to which recession-struck managers are flocking: Xing (based in Germany), with its 7 million members and special Lehman Brothers alumni section, and Meet the Boss (based in the United Kingdom), which restricts membership to C-level financial types, are also experiencing burgeoning membership levels.

This surging popularity of online social networking is transforming the nature of business networking, with profound implications for the way business people manage their careers. But it also augurs profound change for social networking itself.

Five Ways to Speak Like Obama

Now that we’ve got your attention, you should realize, of course, that you don’t want to speak like Barack Obama. You want to speak like you. Nevertheless, as a student of the art of public speaking, you can — and should — observe Obama’s oratorical skills. The greats all learn from other greats, so don’t hesitate. Study Obama’s repertoire, take what you like, and use what you can to improve your own public speaking.

Obama is a master at grabbing and keeping his audience’s attention, which is the number one goal of any public speaker. How does he do it? Here are five key lessons from Obama’s rhetorical playbook....

  1. Talk About the Audience’s Concerns
  2. Keep It Simple
  3. Anticipate What Your Audience Is Thinking
  4. Learn to Pause
  5. Master the Body Language of Leadership

Emerging markets & terrorism, kidnapping, robbery...,

The U.S. and the U.K. may be mired in what was once thought of as a Third World style of financial crisis, but what was once considered the Third World is not. As the centre of economic growth shifts away from the West and Japan, emerging markets like the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), Mexico, South Africa, and parts of South America are ripe for Western investment. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that doing business in those parts can still be downright dangerous. In recent years Brazil’s murder rate has matched that of some war zones. Since 2007, crime networks in Johannesburg have increasingly targeted foreigners, following them as they leave the airport in taxis and then robbing them at gunpoint down the road. Or consider the attacks last year on Mumbai’s Taj Mahal hotel, where executives from Tata and consumer giant Unilever happened to be staying at the same time.

None of this means that you need to steer clear of these markets. It does mean, however, that you need to prepare for a business trip in certain markets more thoughtfully than you would for a trip to Europe or the U.S. It’s always possible to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, anywhere in the world. But with some advance preparation, you can range the globe without unnecessary risks and return from your small corner of global trade both profitable and safe.

Brush Up On Getting Things Done With An Updated Flow Chart


Since the release of his new book Making It All Work, (Amazon link) David Allen has updated the original GTD workflow chart to include the new elements from the book.

Peter Mara, an attendee at this year’s GTD Summit, snapped a great picture of an updated GTD flowchart. The new chart includes an updated layout and elements from Making It All Work, (Australian Like) like the 3-fold nature of work.

Check out the link to Peter’s Flickr account below to get a closer look at the chart. If you happen to know where a PDF file of the chart resides for download or purchase, share the link in the comments—we’ve searched high and low to no avail.

iPhone 3G Build quality issues

I upgraded to the new 3G and about 2 weeks after I got it, the screen started experiencing about 5-10 randomly placed and sometimes flickering stuck pixels. I went to my "local" apple store (about 65 miles away) and swapped it out. The guy at the genius bar got it all up and running for me, and I immediately pocketed the phone and took my girl out to dinner. I checked to see what time it was and noticed that I had a no sim card installed error I know the SIM was in there because I watched him put it in. I then got to looking closer at the phone... here was my mistake: I looked at the sim slot and it is recessed into the phone-not even with the plastic back. I then felt the edge opposite the buttons - the white plastic is not flush with the metal bezel. It actually feels like it's going to cut me if it slides in my hand.

I took it back the the apple store and showed them the error and told them that it looks like it's happening because of the suppressed SIM slot. the Concierge hard reset the phone and it got signal again and said that since it's no longer showing the error, the Genius could not help me today, and I would have to make another appointment tomorrow.

What has happened to Apple? I used to recommend their products to people, and now I'm afraid to do so.

Cynicism abound in our conspiracy theory world

THE moon landing was faked, the final of MasterChef was rigged and the British backpacker missing in the Blue Mountains only pretended to be missing. It's been a big week for the cynical.

Cynicism may be the defining characteristic of our age. No one wants to be thought a mug. No one wants to be taken for a ride. And so we take a cynical attitude to everything.

The result is the Blue Mountains effect: a 19-year-old boy survives 12 days in the bush, his own father having assumed his death, and people don't even take a moment to celebrate this tiny miracle. "Must have faked it," comes the gruff response.

It's a strange world that cannot take a moment's pleasure in a boy's survival and a father's relief without instantly assuming the worst.

Yes, the media now pay money for such stories of survival and so there's always the chance such a tale could be faked. But without any evidence, why is it now our first response? Why is cynicism our default setting? It is as if naivety is now considered the worst of all possible failings: better to falsely accuse a hundred honest people than be caught having one's heart-strings pulled by a single charlatan.

And so there is the smug knowingness that greets every news story. Michael Jackson faked his own death, Joanne Lees must have killed her boyfriend in the desert (whatever the jury thought) and that British couple, on holiday in Portugal, reacted a little strangely to the disappearance of their daughter and so - most likely - they killed her.

Scepticism, of course, is useful. Not everything is as first reported. But neither is there a lie at the heart of every claim. A default setting of cynicism is as illogical as a default setting of blind faith.

And cynicism exacts a terrible cost - in terms of cruelty towards the people we falsely accuse; in terms of our own sense of the world and its possibilities.

Television shows like The Thick of It and The Hollowmen depict politics as if it were entirely populated by people with no moral compass. In The Thick of It, we follow the story of a government minister who is depicted as a shameless charlatan. We feel some sympathy for him but only because his superiors are even more corrupt and venal.

We are stewing in our own oven


You, reader, live in a primitive city. In a hundred years from now, the society we are building will look back and marvel at how little we really understood about the world we have constructed for ourselves.

We are stewing in our own juices.

Last Wednesday, a night of driving rain, I attended a seminar where more than 100 professionals, a standing room-only crowd, had gathered to learn about practical, cheap, achievable ways of stopping Sydney's pot from simmering. These were not wide-eyed utopians. In purely parochial terms, the heating of our biggest cities is even bigger than the global warming debate. Because the rise in temperature is mostly and demonstrably caused by outdated thinking.

The story starts on Observatory Hill, at the southern end of the Harbour Bridge, where weather records have been kept daily since 1860. What the observatory has recorded is a rise in the average temperature at the centre of Sydney from 20.5 degrees to 22 degrees. This is a 7.3 per cent increase over 149 years. As Sydney grows, Sydney heats.

At last Wednesday's seminar we learnt why - 27 per cent of the surface of the metropolitan area is covered by bitumen, the black tar which soaks and retains heat and thus changes the city's climate.

Nearly all the rainwater run-off on this 27 per cent of the city is lost to productive use, flowing into Sydney Harbour because it is designed that way. The city's rooftops also gather heat. Roads and pavements maximise the waste of arable land. Tree-planting is stunted for legal reasons. Topsoil is "scalped" by roadworks. The increasing use of air-conditioners is creating more energy. More heat begets more heat.

It is not just a Sydney story. The most telling detail lost amid all that was written and broadcast about the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, which killed 173 people, was that more people died from heat stress in Melbourne than in the fires. During the oven-like temperature peak (three consecutive days above 43 degrees) Melbourne saw a spike of 1400 emergencies requiring an ambulance.

An extra 374 people died in Victoria that week compared to the average week. Most were heat stress related.

"To break this heating cycle we don't need more money, we need more intelligent use of what we already have," says the person who organised Wednesday's seminar, Michael Mobbs, the creator of Sydney's most famous experiment in sustainable housing. He was stunned by the size and quality of the turnout. The room was full of planners from councils across Sydney. He was especially pleased that the gathering was addressed by Arjan Rensen, a senior executive from ARRB, the company which writes the specification guidelines for all the road agencies in Australia.

"It was hugely symbolic having him there, willing to be associated with what we're trying to do," Mobbs told me. "It means the road authorities are at last starting to deal with the impact their roads are having on our cities."

The roads are Mobbs's starting point for reform, because they take up so much room and are so taken for granted. "We should just use existing bitumen and gravel but choose pale gravel, and mix it so that the gravel shows through the bitumen," Mobbs says. "We could also use dyes like those used in bus lanes, but paler than green or red. These were first used in the Harbour Tunnel, which was privately owned, because the owners wanted to cut the cost of their electricity bill. On streets with low traffic volume, these dyed surfaces will last 15 to 20 years."

Then there is the overlooked space, the humble pavements. They should be planted and widened where possible because of the cooling powers of plants and trees. Fruit trees and vegetable gardens should also be grown in public space such as roadsides. The practice is common in Germany

Funding shortage curbs swine flu scheme

A KEY part of the nation's defence against swine flu -- an influenza monitoring scheme run by GPs -- is still surviving on a shoestring $100,000 annual budget and two paid part-timers, almost six weeks after the government promised to boost the network.

On June 17, the federal government announced Australia would abandon attempts to contain the novel A/H1N1 virus in all except at-risk populations but would ramp up monitoring of its spread.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon said at the time that so-called "sentinel testing" for swine flu in the community would start the following week, with more GPs being recruited to randomly sample patients with flu-like illnesses.

Over a month later, the only national community-based influenza surveillance scheme -- the Australian Sentinel Practice Research Network (ASPREN) -- still has no extra funding for the promised expansion.

Billions 'wasted' in health system: report

KEVIN Rudd's hand-picked health reform adviser has warned that Australia is wasting much of the $94 billion it spends each year on health services and will not be able to afford even the current, flawed system without major reforms.

The Prime Minister's National Health and Hospital Reform Commission will publicly release more than 120 recommendations in Canberra today, handing the government a blueprint for change, but allowing for "long-term" implementation that pushes the most politically sensitive reforms beyond the next election. Among its recommendations will be taking responsibility for some health services away from the states and giving it to the commonwealth.

The commission, set up early last year to help redesign Australia's health system, will warn that healthcare services, already under strain, will be swamped by the rising tide of chronic illness, an ageing population and costly new health technologies.

Google faces property ads war

GOOGLE is facing the greatest challenge yet to its might in Australia as two of its largest media customers threaten to pull their business in retaliation against the internet company's decision to enter the real estate listings market.

Fairfax Media and News Ltd are independently weighing up whether to pull the millions of dollars they collectively spend on buying key search terms on Google following the latter's decision to list properties for sale on Google Maps.

Fairfax-owned Domain and Realestate.com.au — which is controlled by News — dominate the market for properties being searched on the internet and the $144 million of classified advertising revenue that goes with it.

If the two companies carried out their threat then Google faces the loss of millions of dollars of revenue in Australia.

It would also put further pressure on what has been up till now a symbiotic relationship between Google and its media partners in Australia, but which has been showing signs of strain. Earlier this year News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch fired the first shot, accusing Google of not paying the media for content that it was using to aggregate and sell ads against

Jul 26, 2009

Blame Michael Jackson

Public mourning for Michael Jackson crowded out other news last week, including the long-awaited papal encyclical on economics. Somehow that seems appropriate. Since 1985, this pontiff has argued that markets can be no better than the moral character of their participants. What we call "youth culture" for lack of a better word ...

The public's grief was unfeigned and profound, for Jackson embodied the desire of a generation, that is, never to grow up. Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray had a portrait that revealed his inner decay, and Michael Jackson had a nose. If one image captures the spirit of the times, it is that nose, which narrowed, shrank and finally fell in, in emulation of the failing youth of his fans.

They forgave Jackson his dysmorphia and even his alleged pedophilia, for Jackson only expressed in extreme form his generation's refusal to age. In his self-disfigurement and eventual self-destruction, this fey child-man fought madly against maturity with a reckless abandon that his fans secretly admired. They loved him, not in spite of his personality failures, but because of them.

America's cult of youth persists, despite the rapid aging of its population. During the next 10 years, the country's elderly dependent ratio will rise to 25%, after holding steady for three decades at around 19%. Still, the baby boomers flee from the awful reality. Between 1997 and 2007, the number of cosmetic procedures per year rose tenfold, from 2 million to 10 million, according to the industry association. Its polling data states that 29% of Americans without children, and 24% of Americans with children, would consider plastic surgery.

Early Android 2.0 "Donut" build available, up and running on G1

Android's official code repository has been updated with a fresh load of Donut stuff in the past day or so, and as you might imagine, the dev community is already having a field day with it. Early reports show that all of the features demoed at I/O this year have made it into this cut in one form or another, including universal search, text-to-speech, and gesture support, allowing users to draw symbols on the screen to trigger actions. What's more, though, the codebase is showing signs of CDMA support -- a must for Sprint and Verizon, of course, both of whom will almost certainly have Android sets at one point or another -- and a cool 5-in-1 bank of toggle switches in a home screen widget that can be used to control common features like Bluetooth and WiFi.

Perhaps more excitingly, the community is hard at work on a couple major fronts here: first off, the Donut build is actively being ported to current handsets, and an Android Dev Phone 1 / T-Mobile G1 version is already available (though very, very crashy and incomplete right now). Secondly, work is being conducted to extract major elements of Donut (some of the new widgets, for example) and roll them into cooked 1.5 builds, making the best stuff available in a more solid, accessible form without having to wait for 2.0 to become stable. If you're an adventurous -- nay, borderline mental -- G1 owner, though, you can start your journey to Donut right now.

Ubuntu to make Linux application installation idiot proof

There's really nothing that hard about installing programs on Linux. Anyone who still uses shell commands like say, "apt-get install some-program-or-the-other," is doing so because they want to do it that way, not because they have to. Programs like Debian and Ubuntu's Synaptic, Fedora's yum or openSUSE's YaST makes installing programs little more than a matter of point and click. Still, some people have trouble, so Ubuntu is reviving a dusty, old project, AppCenter so that anyone can install Linux programs.

I was pointed to the newly refurbished site by some Ubuntu insiders in response to some questions I had about an earlier rumor about their being plans for an Ubuntu App Store afoot. I guess Apple's App Store's roaring success has everyone App Store happy these days. That site, apperi, which describes itself as a Linux app store, wasn't the one though that Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, was working on.