Oct 31, 2010

Super-caffeinated alcoholic drinks called 'blackout in a can' worry officials

The first time Florida Atlantic University student Lorraine Chaljub tried the drink college students are calling a "blackout in a can," she pursed her lips at how syrupy sweet it was.

She had no idea the kind of punch a Four Loko actually packed. The 23.5 ounces of caffeine-charged fruity malt liquor has an average of 12 percent alcohol, a combination experts equate to about five beers and a triple shot of espresso.

What came next? She can't remember.

"You think, 'I can have another one.' And the next thing you know, you're passed out," Chaljub said. "For sure, one can can get you wasted."

And that has college and health officials all over the country concerned. At Central Washington University, nine students were hospitalized after an Oct. 8 party. They were found passed out, strewn from a nearby supermarket to the lawn of a private house where they had been drinking Four Loko.

At Ramapo College in Mahwah, N.J., another six were rushed to an emergency room, where their alcohol levels after drinking cans of caffeinated alcohol beverages were found to be as high as .40 ­- a blood alcohol level between .40 and .60 is usually fatal.

Both schools have banned those kinds of alcoholic beverages on campus. And attorneys general from 18 states, including Florida's Bill McCollum, have asked the FDA to answer whether drinks that combine alcohol and high-octane caffeine are safe.

In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, Phusion Projects LLC of Chicago, which manufactures Four Loko, said it is "upset when our products are abused or consumed illegally by underaged drinkers." It also pointed out that other booze, including beer and hard liquor, had been consumed by the Washington students.

Mixing alcohol and caffeine is by far nothing new: rum and coke, and, more recently, Red Bull and vodka.

The danger, some experts say, is twofold with these drinks: Adding high doses of caffeine, a stimulant, to a natural depressant, alcohol, means a person who might be passed-out drunk instead is able to keep drinking. Plus, the drinks are sold in mammoth 23.5-ounce cans.

Four Loko, the most popular of the brands, gets its name from the four kinds of stimulants it uses: caffeine, taurine, guarana and wormwood, the active ingredient in absinthe. Other popular brands are Joose, which ranges from 9.9 to 12 percent alcohol, according to their website, and Sparks, which has between 6 percent and 8 percent alcohol.

"You're wide-awake drunk," said Rosemary Dunbar, the wellness director at FAU in Boca Raton. "And that means some get into their cars thinking they can drive."

The first responders at parties where caffeine drinks such as Four Loko were found originally thought someone had spiked drinks with a date-rape drug. And that added element of high-risk behavior is another of the drink's pitfalls, Dunbar said.

However, emergency room doctors at nearby hospitals, Boca Raton Regional and West Boca Medical Center, said they haven't yet seen a rash of blackouts from students drinking Four Loko and their like.

What makes the drinks so popular? Price and access. For less than $3, anyone of legal drinking age can buy a can of Four Loko at a gas station or convenience store. Some students say they drink it before going to a football game or club instead of buying high-priced drinks inside.

"You get a quarter of the way through one and you're buzzed," said junior Mario Miranda. "It's not something you drink all night long."

It has been showing up on college campuses since last spring and seen a rise this summer.

"Now, literally, everyone drinks it," Miranda said.

And it's already entrenched its reputation. A Facebook page for Four Loko already has nearly 29,000 fans. The page's creator boasts this grammatically challenged ditty in its front-page description.:

Four loko: big sizes which make you do surprizes...

Tastey and makes you wastey...

"You hear people say it: Four Loko you drink one and you're done," said first-year student Ashley McCoy said.

Homecoming parties will be in full swing this weekend at FAU. And there's no question but that the new drunk-fast beverage will be flowing .

"There will definitely be a lot of Four Lokos going around," Chaljub said.

Oct 29, 2010

Microsoft Touts Azure Cloud Services, Features

Bob Muglia, President of Microsoft's Business and Tools Division, used his keynote at the Microsoft Professional Developer Conference to push the company's Window Azure as a platform as a service. He introduced some new features, introduced a number of new demos and examples, and talked about how he thought Azure was the only general-purpose platform as a service and how cloud computing is changing software development.
Muglia started by comparing the launch of Windows Azure and its impact on cloud computing with the July 6, 1992 Professional Developer Conference where the company introduced Windows NT, and talked about how that marked the start of a change towards industry-standard services; let smaller companies created internal applications; and allows the movement toward the Internet.
Muglia talked about how Microsoft will offer Infrastructure as a service, Platform as a Service, and Software as a service offerings, with its Office 365 as its Software as a service (SaaS) offering, and Infrastructure as a service being pushed by virtualization on Windows Server, etc. (saying there would be more on that next week at a conference in Berlin).
But he focused on Platform as a Service (PaaS), saying that was critical, because developers don't have to infrastructure stuff, such as servers, virtual machines, network, or storage. He said that in a Platform as a Service offering developers don't need to think about things like patches, service releases, or new versions, because it is maintained for you. In addition, he said, platforms had more ready-made services rather than the "assembly required" method used in most current development. He said these were advantages of "Platform as a service" over "Infrastructure as a service" offerings.
He said one of the great opportunities PaaS systems have is that they mean you don't have to worry about custom and inconsistent data centers or about planning for peak load; instead you focus on a standardized platform with "on-demand scale." And he said instead of focusing on avoiding and recovering from failure, in a PaaS world, applications are designed to expect and withstand failure.
Windows Azure is "the operating system for PaaS," he said, bringing a very large number of services, with all sorts of things like authentication, caching. He said Microsoft has been working on these looks for a long time, saying it was "not a set of rag-tag operations we acquired over the past 12 months. He talked about how the Microsoft tools built on the products it created for traditional servers and re-engineered them for the cloud. For example, he talked about how SQL Server was designed to run on a single server or a cluster; but SQL Azure runs on thousands of servers across six data centers globally, so developers don't have to think about it.
Muglia called Azure "the only general-purpose platform as a service on the planet." He said the platform was "very open" letting the developer choose the language, developer framework, development tools, management tools, and even the datacenter (through the Azure appliance.) He said Java would be a first class language under Azure, and Microsoft was making sure things like Eclipse, PHP, Ruby on Rails, etc. were well supported in addition to Microsoft's own tools like Visual Studio and .Net
Renderman at PDC.jpgChris Form from Pixar Animation Studios talked creating a version of company's Renderman , which he said was used in about 70 percent of movies that use special effects, for Azure. He talked about how making the tool available in cloud will let many more moviemakers use the software, since they won't have to build render farms. He also talked about how Azure can be scaled very quickly, how Pixar trusted Microsoft to be around; and that it "just worked," moving the existing code to Azure (although he said the final product would be changed.) The demo showed taking a file from a desktop version of Autodesk Maya and uploading it to the cloud, where a user can purchase a number of "rendering units," getting faster rendering with more units (but at an additional cost).
The announcements include a Windows Azure Virtual Machine role (letting you take a virtualized machine from Windows Server 8 with Hyper-V and just move it directly to the cloud) and Server Application Virtualization (a server version of Microsoft's App-V, which lets you take an existing application and deploy it into a Windows Azure role).
He also announced a number of smaller new enhancements, including an extra small instance, remote desktop capability, full IIS support, virtual networking to connect apps from existing corporate data centers (formerly Project Sydney); elevated privileges, and Windows 2998 R2 roles; and support for multiple applications. All of these should be out this year, Muglia said
Microsoft Developer Mark Russinovich showed running the company's Channel 9 video service on Azure, with both a "worker" role (for uploading and managing content) and a "view" role (which hosts the actual web site). He showed many of the new features, including remote desktop and connecting to a local server for video.
Muglia said that Visual Studio Team Foundation Server (TFS) will be coming to Azure next year. Then Brian Harry showed the product including using a custom environment for building code, and talked about the process of porting TFS, a very large application, to Azure.
Other upcoming features include the Windows Azure App fabric, with access control, caching, and a service bus; and SQL Azure is going to gain reporting services and data sync (to sync multiple instances within the cloud and with existing data centers).
Don Box and Jonathan Carter showed those features, moving an application from IIS to Azure, adding access control both using corporate logins and a Facebook login; connecting to a cache service; and adding SQL Azure reports.
Muglia also announced the Windows Azure Marketplace, including a Data Market (formerly called Dallas) with more than 40 control partners offering tools now.
Muglia also talked about a "composition service" that takes all the services available on Azure or elsewhere on the Internet to create the "backbone" of an application in Azure. James Conard demonstrated that, showing adding linking together multiple services in Visual Studio 2010 through the AppFabric composition service.
This year's Professional Developers Conference was different than in years past.  It was held at Microsoft itself, and thus has far fewer live attendees, just 1,000.  But it was oriented instead towards the web, with Microsoft saying there were 30,000 online attendees.

Seagate Momentus XT hybrid drive

Winner in bang per buck race
Second Time's the Charm
The Momentus XT is a 2.5-inch, 7200 rpm drive that fits into a standard 9.5mm z-height drive slot. The drive comes in 320GB and 500GB; each of these uses two disk platters to achieve its areal density. Also inside: 4GB of flash memory, up from the paltry 256MB integrated into the company's first attempt at a hybrid drive.

Another difference: Where Seagate's first hybrid hard drive required operating system support (which was lacking in full at the time it came out), the Momentus XT achieves its performance independently of the operating system, and of the motherboard, too, according to Seagate. The drive is designed to boost read performance, but it will also help write performance, too.
Improved specs and engineering can sound great on paper, but does the Momentus XT truly deliver? We tested the 500GB model against an SSD drive (the OCZ Summit Series 120GB), a 5400-rpm 2.5-inch drive (the Western Digital Scorpio Blue 750GB), and a 7200-rpm 2.5-inch drive (the Western Digital WD3220BEKT) to see how the hybrid drive compares. Before we began testing, Seagate warned us that, due to the architecture of the drive, we shouldn't expect to see the maximum benefits of flash integration on the first few test passes (typically, we run three timed passes for every test we perform). Instead, the Momentus XT would show its true performance colors, consistently, at between passes four through six. For that reason, we ran all four drives through seven passes on all of our tests.
Seagate has released an interesting video that shows how the Momentus XT performs in comparison to other hard drives and SSDs. We've embedded the video below:
Let's see how their results compare to ours.
Test results
In terms of raw performance, the SSD unsurprisingly led the pack: It had the fastest boot time and the fastest times on our file read and copy tests. In second came the Momentus XT: It fell somewhere between the SSD and the 7200-rpm drive.
On our boot-up tests, the SSD took 86 seconds. That compared to the 110 seconds for the Momentus XT hybrid, 149 seconds for the 7200-rpm drive, and 159 seconds for the 5400-rpm drive. As Seagate indicated, not until pass number three did the drive begin to show stable, consistent results.
The Momentus XT consistently outpaced the 7200-rpm drive on our performance tests, typically almost precisely between the SSD and the 7200-rpm drive. For example, on our read 3.7GB of files test, the SSD required 26.7 seconds to complete the task, the hybrid drive 40.4 seconds, and the 7200-rpm drive 54.4 seconds (the 5400-rpm drive was just a little farther behind, at 54.4 seconds.
The hybrid drive performed similarly relative to the SSD and the 7200-rpm drive when it came to our write 3.7GB of files test. There, the hybrid drive logged 44.6 seconds, compared with the SSD's 25.2 seconds, the 7200-rpm's 61.5 seconds, and the 5400-rpm's 125.5 seconds.
The differences were less pronounced for the malware scan; there, the hybrid drive and 7200-rpm drive performed comparably, with the SSD leading the way. Ditto with regard to our PC WorldBench 6 tests; there, the system with the hybrid drive performed comparably to the 7200-rpm drive (scoring 130 for the hybrid drive, and 129 for the 7200-rpm); by comparison, the system with the SSD scored 139, and the system with the 5400-rpm drive scored 125.
Hybrid Future?
For now, the Momentus XT is a lone duckling in a sea of options. But now that the drive has proven itself, it will be interesting to see if other drive makers decide to go the route of hybrid technology. If sheer performance is what you want, SSD remains king. But it also remains expensive, and limited in capacity (a 120GB drive such as the OCZ used in this comparison costs $400, while a 256GB SSD runs about $750).
But if you want a performance boost on a budget, and you value capacity too, this second-gen hybrid drive makes a good compromise. The Seagate Momentus XT won't give you nearly the same speed boost as an SSD, but it will definitely improve upon what you'd get with a standard 5400-rpm hard drive, and even a 7200-rpm drive, in some scenarios.

Oct 26, 2010

Bad Google privcy practives

GOOGLE has admitted secretly copying millions of passwords and private emails from home computers. After months of denial, the internet search giant has finally confessed to downloading personal data during its controversial Street View project, when it photographed nearly every street in Britain.  Australia's Google spokesman refused to comment when contacted yesterday.  But in an astonishing invasion of privacy, Google in Britain said that emails, web pages and even passwords were "mistakenly collected" by antennas on its hi-tech cars.

Privacy campaigners accused the company of spying and branded its behaviour "absolutely scandalous". Scotland Yard is considering whether the company has broken the law. In the UK, Google executive Alan Eustace issued a grovelling apology and said the company was mortified.  "We're acutely aware that we failed badly," he said.

Critics seized on the admission as the latest example of technology's ever-expanding ability to harvest information about ordinary households, often without their knowledge or consent.  Google sent a fleet of cars around Britain in 2008, armed with 360-degree cameras to gather photographs for its Street View project.   There were immediate complaints that the pictures were a security risk after householders complained house numbers and car registrations were easily identifiable.

Privacy fear followed when it emerged that individuals could be seen, including a man emerging from a sex shop in London's Soho. Earlier this year the California-based firm admitted the cars' antennas had also scanned for wireless networks, including home wi-fi, which connect millions of computers to the internet.  Google registered the location, name and identification code of millions of networks in Britain alone and entered them into a database to help it sell advertisements.  It has now emerged that emails, web pages and passwords were copied.

s and stored during that split-second.

"It's absolutely scandalous that this situation has developed," said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International.

Oct 19, 2010

Life's a breach for Facebook

TEN popular Facebook applications have been transmitting users' personal information to dozens of advertising and internet tracking companies.
The Wall Street Journal reported last night the breach involved even users who set all their information to be private. In some cases, it said, the apps also provided access to friends' names.
A Facebook spokesman told the Journal the company would introduce new technology to contain the breach.
It is not clear how long the breach went on.
The paper said Facebook had acted to disable all applications that violate its terms. Most are created by independent software companies, not by Facebook.

Oct 18, 2010

Criminals plunder websites

ORGANISED criminals are stealing Australians' identities by plundering the information they place on websites and using it to commit fraud, according to the head of the nation's elite criminal intelligence agency.

Crime Commission chief executive John Lawler warned that criminals were taking personal information from social networking sites and using it to fraudulently obtain credit.

''Young people often build online profiles that include such things as interests, pets, relationships, travel plans and life stories. Criminals can take such personal information to fraudulently obtain credit,'' Mr Lawler will tell an international organised crime conference in Melbourne this week.
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''There are also instances where criminals target online chat rooms and instant messaging systems to gain personal information for fraudulent use.''

Mr Lawler highlighted the problems caused by the failure to require companies that run online sites to report criminal activity to police.

The issue was highlighted in August when Facebook was accused of ignoring warnings of an international child pornography ring operating on its pages. After the revelation, Facebook said it would improve the way it assists policing agencies.

Mr Lawler's conference speech says police are still frustrated that a lot of online information is still not reaching them. ''Victims of … online fraud typically don't report it to authorities, rather to whichever organisation is the face of the transaction for them, such as eBay.

''Currently there is no process or requirement in place for organisations to on-report cyber fraud to authorities and this means we have only limited visibility of the nature and extent of the problem.

''We want them to report incidents to us. We want that information, that data.''

At the two-day conference in Melbourne, Mr Lawler is one of a number of senior policing officials and experts calling for a renewed focus on battling organised crime.

Former Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner Andrew Hughes, who until last year was the United Nations' chief police adviser, writes in The Age today that the AFP's focus on counter-terrorism had meant the agency had lost momentum in the fight against crime bosses.

''In informal discussions I had with some senior US federal law enforcement officers in New York last year, they admitted that due to counter-terrorism priorities they had lost ground on organised crime. They are now making desperate attempts to recover it,'' Mr Hughes said.

''Following recent discussions with senior AFP officers in Canberra, I believe they are in a similar position. Commendably, the AFP has re-established serious and organised crime as a high priority.''

Most senior police in state and federal agencies privately believe that Australian policing agencies lost focus in the fight against trans-national organised crime due to competing priorities, including terrorism.

Policing sources said that recent efforts to build momentum had been slowed by continuing inter-agency hostility, inadequate resourcing of some agencies and the failure of new anti-organised crime laws to fulfil their intent.

The AFP and customs also face fresh pressure from the federal government to direct resources to combat people smuggling.

Mr Hughes called for more political debate about organised crime.

Oct 14, 2010

Qatar Airways captain dies during flight from Philippines to Qatar

THE captain of a Qatar Airways flight from the Philippines to Qatar died as it was in the air, forcing the plane to be diverted to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, the carrier said.

"Qatar Airways regrets to inform that the captain of Flight QR645, operating from Manila to Doha, passed away on board,'' the airline said.

According to the Malaysia Star newspaper, the 43-year-old pilot, an Indian national, complained of chest pains, and the co-pilot requested to land at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Qatar Airways said the flight was diverted to Kuala Lumpur, where a new crew boarded.

The flight "is due to land at Doha International Airport later today,'' the statement said, without providing additional details.

The airline declined to elaborate on the cause of death or release the name of the deceased pilot.

The first miracle drug

Every few months some miracle drug or other is rolled out with bells and confetti, but only once or twice in a generation does the real thing come along.

PIONEERING Elizabeth Hughes and her mother, Antionette, in 1918. Elizabeth, once the most famous diabetic child in the United States, received early doses of injectable insulin.

These are the blockbuster medications that can virtually raise the dead, and while the debuts of some, like the AIDS drugs, are still fresh in memory, the birth of the first one is almost forgotten. It was injectable insulin, long sought by researchers all over the world and finally isolated in 1921 by a team of squabbling Canadians. With insulin, dying children laughed and played again, as parents wept and doctors spoke of biblical resurrections.

Visitors to a new exhibition opening Tuesday at the New-York Historical Society will find a story made particularly vivid by dramatic visuals, for insulin’s miracle was more than a matter of better blood tests. As in Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones, it actually put flesh on living skeletons.

But the miracle went only so far: insulin was not a cure. In 1921, New York City’s death rate from diabetes was estimated to be the highest in the country, and today the health department lists diabetes among the city’s top five killers. Now though, it is adults who die, not children. What insulin did was turn a brief, deadly illness into a long, chronic struggle, and both the exhibit and the book, “Breakthrough,” by Thea Cooper and Arthur Ainsberg, on which it is based highlight the complicated questions that inevitably follow medical miracles: Who will get the drug first? Who will pay for it? Who will make enough for everyone? And, of course, who will reward its developers as they feel they deserve?

In the first decades of the 20th century, half a dozen different research groups were hot on the trail of insulin, a hormone manufactured in the pancreas but difficult to separate out from the digestive enzymes also made there.

Without insulin the body is unable to use glucose, its primary fuel. Most diabetic children lack insulin completely, while adults with so-called Type 2 diabetes often associated with obesity are resistant to the hormone’s action. Either way, sugar and starch in the diabetic’s diet turn into poison, clogging the bloodstream with unusable glucose: the glucose is eliminated in sweet-tasting urine as the body’s cells literally starve in the midst of plenty. Insulin-deficient patients are both thirsty and ravenous, but the more they eat, the faster they waste away.

Before insulin was available, doctors understood enough of this sequence to cobble together a stopgap treatment: diabetics were put on salad- and egg-based diets devoid of sugar and starch, with only the minimum number of calories needed to survive. Already thin, these patients became skeletal, but the excess glucose disappeared from their blood and urine, and they survived far longer than untreated contemporaries.

Dr. Elliott Joslin, whose Boston clinic was and remains a renowned diabetes center, recalled that before insulin one of his dieting patients was “just about the weight of her bones and a human soul.”

The other great authority on diet therapy was New York’s Dr. Frederick Allen, now long forgotten, who founded a residential hospital for diabetics, first on East 51st Street in Manhattan, and then in rural New Jersey.

It was to Dr. Allen that the eminent American jurist and Supreme Court justice Charles Evans Hughes turned when his daughter Elizabeth was diagnosed with diabetes in 1919, at age 11.

Elizabeth Hughes was a cheerful, pretty little girl, five feet tall, with straight brown hair and a consuming interest in birds. On Dr. Allen’s diet her weight fell to 65 pounds, then 52 pounds, and then, after an episode of diarrhea that almost killed her in the spring of 1922, 45 pounds. By then she had survived three years, far longer than expected. And then her mother heard the news: insulin had finally been isolated in Canada.

The unlikely hero was Frederick Banting, an awkward Ontario farmboy who graduated from medical school without distinction, was wounded in World War I, then more or less forced himself into a laboratory at the University of Toronto with an idea of how to get at the elusive substance. Over the miserably hot summer of 1921 Dr. Banting and his assistant Charles Best experimented on diabetic dogs, with only limited success until finally dog No. 92, a yellow collie, jumped off the table after an injection and began to wag her tail.

Meanwhile, Dr. Banting’s mentor and lab director, Dr. John J. R. Macleod, was summering in Scotland.

Dr. Banting never forgave Dr. Macleod for arriving back in the autumn, rested and refreshed, and taking over. His bitter hostility lasted years, long after the Nobel Prize ceremony in 1923 which Dr. Banting refused to attend, for although he shared the physiology prize with Dr. Macleod, he would not share a podium.

Meanwhile, mothers all over the globe were writing him heart-wrenching letters: “My dear Dr. Banting: I am very anxious to know more of your discovery,” wrote one, going on to describe her daughter’s case: “She is pitifully depleted and reduced.”

That was from Elizabeth Hughes’s mother, Antoinette. Charles Evans Hughes had by that time temporarily left the Supreme Court, and was serving as secretary of state in President Warren G. Harding’s administration. Dr. Banting, unimpressed, replied no, sorry, no insulin available — for, in fact, the team was having difficulty making enough for more than a handful of patients.

And then a few weeks later, Dr. Banting changed his mind.

Presumably higher powers had intervened, or perhaps Justice Hughes himself — a rigid, unsmiling man whom Theodore Roosevelt had nicknamed “the bearded iceberg” — had pulled strings. Either way, Elizabeth traveled posthaste to Toronto and the lifesaving injections.

Oct 11, 2010

Fake or fact? Shining the light on the Facebook phenomenon

Fifteen hundred friends! He wouldn't know 1500 people! The insecure little p----.''

This is my hairdresser, harrumphing last week about one of his friends, a flight attendant, who lists 1500 ''friends'' on his Facebook page.

This allegedly popular flight attendant is one of more than 500 million Facebook members around the world. Or Fakebook, as my friend Lucinda likes to call it. I quote her because the more you learn about Facebook, the more like Fakebook it becomes.

Some of the fakery will be on display when the movie The Social Network opens in Australia this month. The film has been a box-office smash in the US, not surprising given there are 60 million Facebook users in America and the one thing Facebook users love to know about is other Facebook users. It is thus a given that The Social Network will be a hit here because Facebook has colonised Australia even more successfully than it has colonised America. One in four Australians has a Facebook account.

The Social Network is not fair to Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook in October 2003. It portrays him as treacherous and manipulative. But that is karma, because Zuckerberg has had a habit of not playing fair.

The original material he used to create the prototype for Facebook was not only stolen from private databases but an invasion of privacy on a grand scale. It was then used in a cruel and competitive way.

Zuckerberg arrived at Harvard University in 2002 as a schoolboy prodigy, with great skill in writing computer software code. In his second year, he came up with an on-line guide, called Facesmash, for other Harvard students.

The raw material for Facesmash, the predecessor to Facebook, was obtained by Zuckerberg allegedly hacking into the databases of nine residential colleges at Harvard and copying the photographs and biographies of the students. He then began posting photos, two at a time, asking other students to choose which was the ''hotter'' person.

Facesmash was an instant online sensation within the undergraduate community at Harvard. The university closed it within days. But the model had been established.

The next year Zuckerberg produced Facebook and was immediately accused by three Harvard seniors, with whom he had previously collaborated, of stealing their idea and sabotaging their similar project.

As Facebook became successful, litigation began. It was settled in 2008 with Zuckerberg paying $US65 million to make it go away, though that payment, too, has been the subject of another lawsuit.

The discovery process turned up emails that Zuckerberg wrote when he was creating Facebook. These emails have leaked and they do not enhance his reputation. Here is an email from a friend, asking what he is going to do about the website set up by his original collaborators: ''Friend: so have you decided what you are going to do about the websites? Zuckerberg: yeah, I'm going to f--- them.''

Then there is this exchange with another friend about the information he was gathering about fellow students to post on Facebook: ''Zuckerberg: I have over 4000 emails, pictures, addresses, sms.

''Friend: What? How'd you manage that one?

''Zuckerberg: People just submitted it … don't know why … they 'trust' me … dumb f---s.''

Why did people give away private information for public consumption then, and continue to do so now? Because Facebook, at its essence, is adolescent. It is built on the need to be part of a group, to be seen, not to be a wallflower.

The foundation on which Facebook is built is conviviality and insecurity. The construction of a network of ''friends'' is at the core of the project. As with any network of any kind, once you have scale, you have power.

Facebook is among the top 10 most visited websites in the world. The power of social networking sites is its customised tribalism and, with Facebook, a large dose of narcissism.

The typical number of ''friends'' is about 200. Having few friends is social death. Requests for someone to become your ''friend'' can be ignored.

Some people go to extremes to build an audience. One irritating persistent ''friend'' seeker turned out to be using Facebook as a blog for his political commentary. And the commentary was cliche. Cyberspace is paradise for bores shouting into a void of few readers and even fewer comments.

Facebook often provides too much of the wrong information. Zuckerberg has constantly been in the wars over the company's loose and self-serving attitude towards members' privacy.

It seeks to have everything for public consumption. He calls it ''transparency'', as if it were a moral imperative, when in fact it is his company hoovering up and using as much information as it can about its customers.

Exhibitionism can be dangerous to one's career. The majority of employers now check job applicants' Facebook pages to see what habits or indiscretions can be found online. It has also proved a happy hunting ground for voyeurs and bullies.

As Facebook grew exponentially, Zuckerberg churned through a series of senior executives and close allies. He has declined repeated offers to sell the company for billions of dollars because his ambition is even bigger than that of his competitors.

He wants Facebook to match Google. The business model he is developing is a customised search model where Facebook will become the information channel for its members as they get gossip, news, reviews, photos, video and entertainment sent to them by their ''friends''.

Your ''friends'' become both your news source and your social filter, even if most Facebook ''friends'' don't have the time or the inclination to write or speak to you, personally.

Oct 7, 2010

Israeli Company Debuts Tilt-Rotor Drone

An undated handout photo of the Panther drone from Israel Aerospace Industries shows the aircraft on a runway.
The Panther, Israel Aerospace Industries' tilt-rotor unmanned aerial vehicle for tactical missions, will be exhibited for the first time internationally at a U.S. Army trade show in Washington D.C., later this month.

Israel, one of the world's leading makers of unmanned aircraft, unveiled today a new, small drone that can hover like a helicopter and fly like an airplane.  Israel Aerospace Industries debuted its Panther unmanned aerial vehicle in Israel, touting its ability to take off without a runway and then fly for up to six hours. "An intriguing option is the Panther's ability to hover or land quietly in enemy territory, conduct surveillance like a ground sensor and then take off again," industry magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology reported.

Like the American V-22 Osprey, the Panther is a tilt-rotor, meaning it has rotors mounted on the end of its wings that can rotate and allow the aircraft to transition between hovering and fixed-wing flight. This gives the aircraft the ability to take off like a helicopter without the need for a runway, but then fly like fixed-wing aircraft.  As an unmanned aircraft, however, the Panther is much smaller than the V-22 Osprey, which is designed for transporting troops. The Panther weighs in at just over 140 pounds and is designed for spying rather than transporting.

Israel Aerospace Industries is expected to display the aircraft later this month at a U.S. Army trade show to be held in Washington. The company says that special forces in other countries are interested in buying the vehicle, according to Flight International.

Oct 3, 2010

Nearly One in 10 Americans Depressed, Study Reveals

Nearly one in 10 Americans is depressed, and one in 30 meet the criteria for major depression, with the rate higher among the unemployed and those who can't work, a study said Thursday.

Nine percent of more than 235,000 adults surveyed between 2006 and 2008 across 45 U.S. states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, met the criteria for depression, and 3.4 percent for "major" depression, according to the study by US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Among people who classified themselves as unable to work, nearly a quarter -- 22 percent -- met the criteria for major depression, as did nearly 10 percent of those who said they were unemployed.

Although the survey did not ask respondents why they were unable to work, study co-author and clinical psychologist Lela McKnight Eily said they were probably disabled or suffering from illness.

In sharp contrast to the unemployed, only two percent of people with jobs had symptoms of major depression, according to the study published in the CDC's weekly Morbidity and Mortality report.

Participants were deemed to be suffering from major depression if they met five of eight criteria on a questionnaire that asked how often during the previous two weeks they had feelings of hopelessness or disinterest, if they had trouble falling asleep or if they slept too much.

The questions also inquired about respondents' appetite, concentration, restlessness, lethargy or feelings of failure.

The real rate of depression among adult Americans was likely to be significantly higher because key groups -- the homeless and the incarcerated -- were not included in the survey, McKnight Eily told AFP.

The survey also found that just under seven percent of people who had not completed high school suffered major depression compared to four percent of high school graduates.

Women were more susceptible to depression than men, young people were more likely than those over 65 years old to suffer from depression, and blacks and Hispanics were more likely than whites to be depressed, it said.

Depressive disorders are also "more common among persons with chronic conditions", such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma, arthritis and cancer, the study said.

"A person who has a chronic disease and becomes depressed may stop following the directions on their prescription medications and their condition could get worse, which might make them even more depressed," McKnight Eily added.

Depression was the third leading cause of disease burden -- a measurement of the impact of a health problem in an area based on factors such as cost and mortality -- worldwide in 2004 and it is expected to be second only to cardiovascular disease by 2020, the CDC said.

The findings were issued a week before U.S. National Depression Screening Day on October 7.

The new freedom fighter

What is a bad mother? It used to be one that abused or neglected her kids. New York journalist Lenore Skenazy did neither, but found herself labelled "America's Worst Mom" after she let her nine-year-old son travel on the subway by himself.

The backlash was phenomenal. A newspaper column she wrote about the experience somehow ignited a global firestorm over what it means to keep children safe. In no time at all she had reporters calling from China, Israel, Australia and even the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta, where there are no trains, let alone subways.

Skenazy's life changed as a result. Realising she had a fight on her hands, she has gone on to become a polemic voice in a revolt against the bubble-wrap generation. Wanting the best for our children, she feels, has taken us by stealth to the brink of insanity; a journey that started with innocuous stove-knob covers and bath thermometers and escalated to child DNA kits and nanny spy cams hidden in clocks or radios. The column led to a blog, a syndicate and finally a book, Free-range Kids: Giving Our Children The Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry, in which she argues for a child's right to play without grown-ups hovering on the periphery waiting for disaster to strike. She is over in Australia for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas to discuss the notion that perhaps the world isn't so, well, dangerous, after all.

"Times are indeed changing, but for the better, not for the worse. Crime rates have dropped in America and are dropping in Australia. What makes us think they have changed for the worse is that we live in a media-saturated society that has so many more channels and websites to fill that you have to come up with the worst news," she says.

"A terrible story of something happening to a child stabs us through the heart and keeps us watching. If you don't want to bore your audience, you need to find something worse than before. In our parents' time news was a half-hour segment every night. Now there it is running 24/7."

Speaking from her home in the Borough of Queens, Skenazy talks fast, hardly pausing for breath as the smoothly practised sentences roll easily off her well-oiled tongue. She is a woman primed in defence because she has needed to be. Since the subway incident, she has been berated by parents, policemen and psychologists alike; one telling her that what she did was stupid; that she should have followed her son, or found safer ways for him to test his independence.

"If I thought what he was doing was so dangerous that I would have had to follow him, I wouldn't have let him do it," she says. "I've been appalled at people who have said I didn't care about my son. Like they could care about him more than me?"

Clearly there is a fine line between free-range parenting and neglect. Skenazy has talked to hundreds of people who reminisce about their own childhoods wandering the streets or countryside alone — but wouldn't let their own child do it. Why? Skenazy blames the media, but perhaps there is something more; she and her husband made a conscious decision to let their son, Izzy, take the subway. He was armed with a map and a sense of adventure — he'd been begging them for months to let him try. When they left him among? the handbags in Bloomingdales, he had quarters in his pocket to call them if he got lost (they didn't give him a mobile, as they thought it might go missing). This is very different to previous generations who were sent off to play without so much as a backward glance by parents too busy or unaware of their child's needs to give them much thought. In other words, Skenazy and her husband were responding to Izzy's needs, rather than the other way round.

Skenazy, herself the product of a free-range childhood, is unsure: "I don't know if we were under-parented . . . if we were, then so was every generation until now. I do think that parents worry that their children feel they don't care enough, but I don't know if that comes from anything more than the current zeitgeist." What has changed, she feels, is that parenting has become more of a science and less of an art; bookshelves are groaning under the weight of child-rearing manuals. "Parenting has become something you feel you have to be good at, and there's a right way to do it. All you have to do is bone up on it, as if you are studying for your college entry exams. You feel you are judged if you haven't read the latest study which says you can't feed them apple juice any more. And if you give your baby formula, it's like giving them rat poison. The constant message is that your child is doomed."

Skenazy breaks off to scrabble around her desk for a full-page editorial she saw recently in a national magazine about the dangers of mosquito bites. She can't put her hands on it but its message is emblazoned on her brain anyway. "It said the best way to protect your child was to bathe them before they went outside and to keep them calm. What sort of advice is that? It's bullshit! Bug bites are so minor, but when you raise it from being an everyday event to something worthy of a page of advice and tips in a national magazine to be read by millions of mums, then you realise we are living in a crazy society which is going to drive you nuts."

From an evolutionary perspective, we are primed to keep our children safe, but safety has been redefined from whooping cough, diphtheria and sabre-toothed tigers, to include economic failure: "The reality is that it will be harder for our kids to find well-paid jobs. I can understand parents wanting their children to get an education but the notion that your kid has to go to the right college to get a head start has been vastly overrated."

Skenazy, herself a Yale graduate and Ivy League scholar, pauses to take a call from her son, Izzy?. Now aged 12, he still zips around Manhattan on his own or with friends, but is less likely to be stopped these days by a well-intentioned cop wondering where his parents are (in the end he carried a letter from home explaining that he had permission and pointing out that the legal age to travel alone was eight).

Both her sons were in Manhattan when a recent tornado struck at Queens, killing a woman behind the wheel of her car. A lightning bolt split a tree only two blocks from the family home in one of those random events ?that can never be predicted. "I don't have all the answers," says Skenazy. "I find it difficult to get my children away from the computer and ?Facebook and spend time outside when it's a beautiful day. It's very difficult to raise a free-range kid because America is not a country like, say, Guatemala where kids go out and kick a ball in the street. It's just not a free-range society."

Lenore Skenazy is speaking at the Wheeler Centre, 176 Little Lonsdale Street, on Tuesday, October 5,? at 6.15pm. It's a free event but bookings are recommended. Contact The Wheeler Centre.