Gunman kills four people in Finnish shopping mall

Thursday, December 31, 2009

HELSINKI (Reuters) – Four people were killed when a gunman opened fire

at a Finnish shopping mall on Thursday, police said, in the country's third multiple shooting incident in as many years.

A 43-year-old suspect, Ibrahim Shkupolli, was still at large and considered armed and dangerous, they said in a statement. The victims of the attack, staged in the town of Espoo near Helsinki as shoppers stocked up for the New Year holiday, were three men and a woman, they added.

National newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reported on its website that a fifth victim, which it identified as the suspect's ex-wife, had been found dead in an Espoo apartment.

Finland was rocked by two school shootings in 2007 and 2008, after which it tightened gun control regulations.

A Reuters reporter at the Sello Mall in Espoo saw helicopters overhead and fire trucks around the entrances of the shopping center, which was now closed.

"When we were going out I heard sounds like shots from the third floor, and then I left," said a mall employee, who declined to give her name.

"I paid for my groceries and I wanted to go to my car when I was told that you cannot go there," shopper Jorma Romo told Reuters outside of the mall. "They were hurrying people out and people were asking (why)."

Ilta-Sanomat newspaper said on its website that at least seven shots were fired, but gave no source for the information.

(Additional reporting by Terhi Kinnunen)

(Reporting by Brett Young: editing by David Stamp)


AT&T: The most hated company in iPhone land

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

NEW YORK ( -- Consumer outrage about AT&T's 3G service for iPhones is boiling over, but the dropped calls and spotty service reflect a greater lack of foresight in the wireless industry.

Analysts say AT&T's problems would have happened on any network that carried Apple's (AAPL, Fortune 500) iPhone because of the overwhelming amount of data downloaded by iPhone users. Over the past three years, AT&T's data traffic increased 5,000% because of the iPhone.

"The challenges that AT&T has are being faced by a lot of operators around the world: Very rapidly growing usage coupled with dense populations," said Daniel Hays, wireless expert and partner at consultancy PRTM. "Would it have been different on Verizon? Probably not."

AT&T accurately states that it has the nation's fastest 3G network but it "probably bit off more than it could chew," said Doug Helmreich, program director at consultancy CFI Group. "Now some of their customers are paying the price."

IPhone users in New York and San Francisco in particular have been up in arms about frequent service interruptions. Earlier this month, AT&T's head of mobility, Ralph de la Vega, admitted at an investors' conference that the company's service in those two cities was "below our standards."

It's not just New York and San Francisco iPhone users who are grumbling. An annual Consumer Reports study recently rated AT&T (T, Fortune 500) the worst in customer satisfaction in 19 cities across the country. (Rival Verizon Wireless rated No. 1 in the study.)

In nearly three-quarters of the surveyed areas, AT&T was rated lowest for availability of service, frequency of dropped calls and quality of voice service.

Verizon vs. AT&T

Verizon (VZ, Fortune 500) has had a field day at AT&T's expense.

"There's a map for that" commercials have poked fun at AT&T's smaller 3G footprint. And that has helped Verizon take market share, according to Piper Jaffray.

But studies show that AT&T's network is actually faster than Verizon's, and Verizon's ad campaign may be a bit misleading.

Four recent independent studies from wireless industry analysis firms Global Wireless Solutions and Root Wireless, investment bank Piper Jaffray and tech blog Gizmodo all concluded that AT&T's 3G network was the fastest in the United States.

"We drove millions of miles across the country, and our data support AT&T's claim that it has the fastest 3G data network," said Global Wireless CEO Paul Carter.

The map that Verizon shows in its ads is correct, but AT&T's 3G network still covers nearly 80% of the U.S. population, said Carter. And AT&T's non-3G coverage is also broader than its 3G network.

With that kind of pedigree, analysts say AT&T was likely the best-equipped network to handle the iPhone.

"For Verizon ... we still wonder if the network has the capacity and backhaul to support a device with an adoption curve of the iPhone," said Piper Jaffray analyst Chris Larsen in a client note.

Perception vs. reality

AT&T admits that it has had problems keeping up with the data demands of iPhone users, which has prompted the company to accelerate scheduled improvements in its network.

"There's more work to be done and a sense of urgency to do it, but we feel like we're on the right track with our investments," said Fletcher Cook, spokesman for AT&T.

In the next few years, AT&T said it would double its network speed, and Cook said AT&T has already improved overall network quality by 25%. The company has also deployed more than 20,000 Wi-Fi hotspots across the country, which it says may help alleviate stress on its 3G network.

PRTM's Hays applauded the Wi-Fi solution and AT&T's dedication to improving its network, calling them "critical levers in addressing AT&T's network performance issues." He expects AT&T to go even further, perhaps by integrating tiered data plans that would force iPhone users to pay for the data they download.

Still, perception has hurt AT&T.

AT&T's network is the No. 1 hangup for people who are in the market for an iPhone, according to a CFI Group study. The company's woes have even become the butt of jokes on late-night TV.

"It was reported this week that Google would soon launch its own cell phone as a challenge to the iPhone," said "Saturday Night Live's" Seth Meyers on Dec. 19. "Also a challenge to the iPhone? Making phone calls."

The building frustrations led some angry consumers to take matters into their own hands. "Operation Chokehold," which took place on Dec. 18, was an attempt to overload AT&T's network by running data-intensive apps to try and send a message that consumers "are sick of their substandard network." The ploy failed.

"Unfortunately for AT&T, when it comes to network quality, perception is reality and right now Verizon has a more positive public perception," said Larsen. "If AT&T can continue to show improvement in network throughput, it may blunt some of the impact."


Solution to killer superbug found in Norway

OSLO, Norway – Aker University Hospital is a dingy place to heal. The floors are streaked and scratched. A light layer of dust coats the blood pressure monitors. A faint stench of urine and bleach wafts from a pile of soiled bedsheets dropped in a corner.

Look closer, however, at a microscopic level, and this place is pristine. There is no sign of a dangerous and contagious staph infection that killed tens of thousands of patients in the most sophisticated hospitals of Europe, North America and Asia this year, soaring virtually unchecked.

The reason: Norwegians stopped taking so many drugs.

Twenty-five years ago, Norwegians were also losing their lives to this bacteria. But Norway's public health system fought back with an aggressive program that made it the most infection-free country in the world. A key part of that program was cutting back severely on the use of antibiotics.

Now a spate of new studies from around the world prove that Norway's model can be replicated with extraordinary success, and public health experts are saying these deaths — 19,000 in the U.S. each year alone, more than from AIDS — are unnecessary.

"It's a very sad situation that in some places so many are dying from this, because we have shown here in Norway that Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) can be controlled, and with not too much effort," said Jan Hendrik-Binder, Oslo's MRSA medical adviser. "But you have to take it seriously, you have to give it attention, and you must not give up."

The World Health Organization says antibiotic resistance is one of the leading public healthtuberculosis and malaria, making them harder and in some cases impossible to treat. threats on the planet. A six-month investigation by The Associated Press found overuse and misuse of medicines has led to mutations in once curable diseases like

Now, in Norway's simple solution, there's a glimmer of hope.


Dr. John Birger Haug shuffles down Aker's scuffed corridors, patting the pocket of his baggy white scrubs. "My bible," the infectious disease specialist says, pulling out a little red Antibiotic Guide that details this country's impressive MRSA solution.

It's what's missing from this book — an array of antibiotics — that makes it so remarkable.

"There are times I must show these golden rules to our doctors and tell them they cannot prescribe something, but our patients do not suffer more and our nation, as a result, is mostly infection free," he says.

Norway's model is surprisingly straightforward.

• Norwegian doctors prescribe fewer antibiotics than any other country, so people do not have a chance to develop resistance to them.

• Patients with MRSA are isolated and medical staff who test positive stay at home.

• Doctors track each case of MRSA by its individual strain, interviewing patients about where they've been and who they've been with, testing anyone who has been in contact with them.

Haug unlocks the dispensary, a small room lined with boxes of pills, bottles of syrups and tubes of ointment. What's here? Medicines considered obsolete in many developed countries. What's not? Some of the newest, most expensive antibiotics, which aren't even registered for use in Norway, "because if we have them here, doctors will use them," he says.

He points to an antibiotic. "If I treated someone with an infection in Spain with this penicillin I would probably be thrown in jail," he says, "and rightly so because it's useless there."

Norwegians are sanguine about their coughs and colds, toughing it out through low-grade infections.

"We don't throw antibiotics at every person with a fever. We tell them to hang on, wait and see, and we give them a Tylenol to feel better," says Haug.

Convenience stores in downtown Oslo are stocked with an amazing and colorful array — 42 different brands at one downtown 7-Eleven — of soothing, but non-medicated, lozenges, sprays and tablets. All workers are paid on days they, or their children, stay home sick. And drug makers aren't allowed to advertise, reducing patient demands for prescription drugs.

In fact, most marketing here sends the opposite message: "Penicillin is not a cough medicine," says the tissue packet on the desk of Norway's MRSA control director, Dr. Petter Elstrom.

He recognizes his country is "unique in the world and best in the world" when it comes to MRSA. Less than 1 percent of health care providers are positive carriers of MRSA staph.

But Elstrom worries about the bacteria slipping in through other countries. Last year almost every diagnosed case in Norway came from someone who had been abroad.

"So far we've managed to contain it, but if we lose this, it will be a huge problem," he said. "To be very depressing about it, we might in some years be in a situation where MRSA is so endemic that we have to stop doing advanced surgeries, things like organ transplants, if we can't prevent infections. In the worst case scenario we are back to 1913, before we had antibiotics."


Forty years ago, a new spectrum of antibiotics enchanted public health officials, quickly quelling one infection after another. In wealthier countries that could afford them, patients and providers came to depend on antibiotics. Trouble was, the more antibiotics are consumed, the more resistant bacteria develop.

Norway responded swiftly to initial MRSA outbreaks in the 1980s by cutting antibiotic use. Thus while they got ahead of the infection, the rest of the world fell behind.

In Norway, MRSA has accounted for less than 1 percent of staph infections for years. That compares to 80 percent in Japan, the world leader in MRSA; 44 percent in Israel; and 38 percent in Greece.

In the U.S., cases have soared and MRSA cost $6 billion last year. Rates have gone up from 2 percent in 1974 to 63 percent in 2004. And in the United Kingdom, they rose from about 2 percent in the early 1990s to about 45 percent, although an aggressive control program is now starting to work.

About 1 percent of people in developed countries carry MRSA on their skin. Usually harmless, the bacteria can be deadly when they enter a body, often through a scratch. MRSA spreads rapidly in hospitals where sick people are more vulnerable, but there have been outbreaks in prisons, gyms, even on beaches. When dormant, the bacteria are easily detected by a quick nasal swab and destroyed by antibiotics.

Dr. John Jernigan at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they incorporate some of Norway's solutions in varying degrees, and his agency "requires hospitals to move the needle, to show improvement, and if they don't show improvement they need to do more."

And if they don't?

"Nobody is accountable to our recommendations," he said, "but I assume hospitals and institutions are interested in doing the right thing."

Dr. Barry Farr, a retired epidemiologist who watched a successful MRSA control program launched 30 years ago at the University of Virginia's hospitals, blamed the CDC for clinging to past beliefs that hand washing is the best way to stop the spread of infections like MRSA. He says it's time to add screening and isolation methods to their controls.

The CDC needs to "eat a little crow and say, 'Yeah, it does work,'" he said. "There's example after example. We don't need another study. We need somebody to just do the right thing."


But can Norway's program really work elsewhere?

The answer lies in the busy laboratory of an aging little public hospital about 100 miles outside of London. It's here that microbiologist Dr. Lynne Liebowitz got tired of seeing the stunningly low Nordic MRSA rates while facing her own burgeoning cases.

So she turned Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn into a petri dish, asking doctors to almost completely stop using two antibiotics known for provoking MRSA infections.

One month later, the results were in: MRSA rates were tumbling. And they've continued to plummet. Five years ago, the hospital had 47 MRSA bloodstream infections. This year they've had one.

"I was shocked, shocked," says Liebowitz, bouncing onto her toes and grinning as colleagues nearby drip blood onto slides and peer through microscopes in the hospital laboratory.

When word spread of her success, Liebowitz's phone began to ring. So far she has replicated her experiment at four other hospitals, all with the same dramatic results.

"It's really very upsetting that some patients are dying from infections which could be prevented," she says. "It's wrong."

Around the world, various medical providers have also successfully adapted Norway's program with encouraging results. A medical center in Billings, Mont., cut MRSA infections by 89 percent by increasing screening, isolating patients and making all staff — not just doctors — responsible for increasing hygiene.

In Japan, with its cutting-edge technology and modern hospitals, about 17,000 people die from MRSA every year.

Dr. Satoshi Hori, chief infection control doctor at Juntendo University Hospital in Tokyo, says doctors overprescribe antibiotics because they are given financial incentives to push drugs on patients.

Hori now limits antibiotics only to patients who really need them and screens and isolates high-risk patients. So far his hospital has cut the number of MRSA cases by two-thirds.

In 2001, the CDC approached a Veterans Affairs hospital in Pittsburgh about conducting a small test program. It started in one unit, and within four years, the entire hospital was screening everyone who came through the door for MRSA. The result: an 80 percent decrease in MRSA infections. The program has now been expanded to all 153 VA hospitals, resulting in a 50 percent drop in MRSA bloodstream infections, said Dr. Robert Muder, chief of infectious diseases at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

"It's kind of a no-brainer," he said. "You save people pain, you save people the work of taking care of them, you save money, you save lives and you can export what you learn to other hospital-acquired infections."

Pittsburgh's program has prompted all other major hospital-acquired infections to plummet as well, saving roughly $1 million a year.

"So, how do you pay for it?" Muder asked. "Well, we just don't pay for MRSA infections, that's all."


Beth Reimer of Batavia, Ill., became an advocate for MRSA precautions after her 5-week-old daughter Madeline caught a cold that took a fatal turn. One day her beautiful baby had the sniffles. The next?

"She wasn't breathing. She was limp," the mother recalled. "Something was terribly wrong."

MRSA had invaded her little lungs. The antibiotics were useless. Maddie struggled to breathe, swallow, survive, for two weeks.

"For me to sit and watch Madeline pass away from such an aggressive form of something, to watch her fight for her little life — it was too much," Reimer said.

Since Madeline's death, Reimer has become outspoken about the need for better precautions, pushing for methods successfully used in Norway. She's stunned, she said, that anyone disputes the need for change.

"Why are they fighting for this not to take place?" she said.


Martha Mendoza is an AP national writer who reported from Norway and England. Margie Mason is an AP medical writer based in Vietnam, who reported while on a fellowship from The Nieman Foundation at Harvard University.


Apple ejects Dalai Lama from Chinese iTunes

Protects Great firewall of China from 'devil'

iPhone apps based on the teachings of the Dalai Lama don't exist on the Chinese incarnation of iTunes, it has emerged, demonstrating that even Apple has to bend to do business in China.

Given the Chinese government's rejection of the Dalai Lama's authority it's no surprise that his only appearance in the Chinese iTunes store is a passing mention in the Buddhist Glossary. In the UK store there are half a dozen apps presenting his quotes and teachings, but it's hard to imagine an Al Qaeda application lasting long over here given our own government's thoughts on radicalisation.

Comparing the Dalai Lama with Al Qaeda might seem insane, but while we might view the Lama as an intelligent and rather amiable chap with a reasonable argument, the Chinese government has very different ideas.

In covering the lack of Lama applications PC World quotes the Chinese government's opinion of him as a "devil with a human face". Cupertino is obliged to follow local laws if it wants to do business locally (and everyone wants to do business in China) and that means Apples and devils remain segregated.

The approval process for iPhone applications is notoriously secretive, and Apple recently dropped one application for not having enough naked flesh (OK - it was called "Tits and Boobies" and consisted of photographs of birds, which is funny, but cheating, so it's been removed along with its companion "Pussy Lovers").

Refusing applications for political reasons might seem overly compliant, but it's not Apple's fault the Chinese don't like the Dalai Lama.


Kate Winslet sports top celeb bod

Thesp Kate Winslet has topped of "most desirable body" poll in which UK women voted wholeheartedly for traditional curves and kicked tanorexic stick insects firmly into touch.

According to the Telegraph, the Titanic star polled 16 per cent of the votes from 2,000 mere mortal females, narrowly beating Kelly Brook into second spot on 15 per cent. The US's assets were well represented by Halle Berry, who took third place with 12 per cent.

Bottoming out the list were Victoria Beckham, Jordan and Kate Moss, each attracting a lean 1 per cent.

The YouGov poll was commissioned by Slimming World, which wheeled out its woman of the year, Rebecca Wheatley, to celebrate the result. The former Casualty actress - who shifted a whopping 12 stone to slim down to a healthy size 12, enthused: "It is fantastic to see that finally women seem to be aspiring towards a healthy body shape that is realistic and achievable. Kate Winslet has always spoken out about the importance of accepting your body. After all, healthy women come in all sizes."

She concluded: "It is definitely a step forward that rather than persuading women to set their sights on being super thin, which can lead to misery when they fail to achieve their target, more celebrities are encouraging inner confidence and a positive body image and showing women how they can be happy with their shape."

Interestingly, a quarter of the women polled didn't pick a "perfect celebrity body" at all, and the fact that topless model Keeley Hazell's 100 per cent natural and ample charms merited just 2 per cent of the vote suggest other factors are at play.

Jordan is hardly lacking a bit of meat, either, but her airbags are strictly Bulgarian, and that may have counted against her.

Here's the full list, and if you don't know who some of these people are, you've got no business hanging around Bootnotes:

Kate Winslet - 16 per cent
Kelly Brook - 15
Halle Berry - 12
Cheryl Cole - 10
Beyoncé - 6
Megan Fox - 5
Lily Allen - 4
Keeley Hazell - 2
Kate Moss - 1
Jordan - 1
Victoria Beckham - 1

And here, purely for scientific reasons, are those gals' rankings in's "Top 99 Women for 2009":

Kate Winslet - 99
Kelly Brook - Unplaced
Halle Berry - 13
Cheryl Cole - 20
Beyoncé - 50
Megan Fox - 2
Lily Allen - Unplaced
Keeley Hazell - 4
Kate Moss - Unplaced
Jordan - Unplaced
Victoria Beckham - Unplaced

Eva Mendes took top spot, in case you're wondering.


Steve Jobs gets top dog Noughties honours

Yet another iDecade accolade

Apple boss Steve Jobs has been crowned the "Person of the Decade" by readers of the Wall Street Journal.

Journal readers voted for the Jobsian one as their favourite person of the Noughties following his triumphant return to the role of CEO at the end of the last decade.

The WSJ pointed out that Jobs had steered the Apple ship around by helping the company's stock rise 700 per cent in value after returning as boss of the Cupertino-based computer maker.

Jobs garnered 30 per cent of the vote to grab the Person of the Decade moniker, for changing "the way people buy and listen to music," with Apple's ubiquitous iPod MP3 player and its online songs and albums store, iTunes.

Holding up the rear in the tech world was Microsoft's Bill Gates, with a total of nine per cent of those polled saying that the software giant's co-founder should take top person of the decade honours.

Of course Gates hung up his Redmond management boots for good in June 2008, since when he has worked full-time with his wife at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - which is a charity that currently boasts a $35bn endowment.

However, Gates's best chum, Warren Buffett, fared better in the poll, pulling in 17 per cent of the vote. The investor was rewarded by WSJ readers for his solid financial prowess when the economy nosedived last year.

Google also jumped ahead of Microsoft's tricky decade with 12 per cent of readers voting for the world's largest ad broker's founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, in the poll. While Google's IPO secured the "Smartest Financial Move of the Decade" and the "Smartest Investment of the Decade" accolades.

Over the past few weeks Jobs has been earning "top dog CEO" points all over the shop from the likes of Harvard Business Review and Forbes. Sadly, that other well-known Steve of the Noughties - y'know, the one who has a penchant for chair-throwing and monkey-dancing - remains notably absent from all the back-slapping.


IT consultant freed after almost three years in Baghdad

'Absolutely delighted'

Kidnapped IT consultant Peter Moore is on his way home to the UK having been held hostage in Iraq since May 2007.

The release of Moore follows long negotiations between the Iraqi government and the kidnappers, which apparently resulted in no "substantive concessions" but did lead to him being released to local authorities this morning. He's now at the British embassy, and is reportedly in good spirits.

The bodies of three of the other four Britons kidnapped at the same time have already been returned to the British authorities and the fourth is thought to have shared their fate.

Moore is described as being "absolutely delighted" at being released, despite having an "very moving" conversation with Foreign Secretary David Miliband.


Court: iPod hearing loss your fault, not Apple's

'What? What??'

A US court has turned back an appeal of a 2008 ruling that declared that if you blow out your ears by listening to your iPod too loudly, it's your own damn fault.

In a victory for common sense and personal responsibility, the court sided with the iPod manufacturer in the case of Birdsong v. Apple, Inc, originally filed in the Western District of Louisiana by one Joseph Birdsong, who was later joined by Californian Bruce Waggoner.

Both plaintiffs sought to elevate the case to nationwide class-action status. Instead, the US District Court of Northern California, to which the case had been transferred, dismissed their complaint. Birdsong and Waggoner appealed.

In Wednesday's ruling (PDF), Judge David R. Thompson of the Ninth Circuit notes that: "The plaintiffs argue the district court erred... They alleged that the iPod (1) comes with 'stock ear buds...designed to be placed deep into the ear canal rather than over the ears, which increases the danger of hearing damage,' (2) lacks 'noise isolating or cancelling properties,' and (3) lacks any volume meter."

Ignoring the mischaracterization of iPod earbuds as being "designed to be placed deep into the ear canal," Judge Thompson's ruling gets right to the point: "The district court did not err."

Thompson's reasoning is straightforward: "The plaintiffs recognize that iPods play music, have an adjustable volume, and transmit sound through earbuds," he writes, adding that their complaint states that - and the italics are Judge Thompson's: "(1) the iPod is capable of playing 115 decibels of sound; (2) consumers may listen at unsafe levels; and (3) iPod batteries can last 12 to 14 hours and are rechargeable, giving users the opportunity to listen for long periods of time."

Summing up his argument, Thompson writes: "Taken as true, such statements suggest only that users have the option of using an iPod in a risky manner..."

In other words, the law isn't responsible for stopping an idiot from being an idiot.

Thompson goes on to write that "the plaintiffs make no allegations of any history of malfunction, but merely suggest possible changes to the iPod which they believe would make the product safer," such as noise-reducing earbuds, warnings beyond the Apple's existing 60-word Avoid Hearing Damage tips, a digital decibel meter, and "volume-control software" - whatever that might entail.

"The plaintiffs fail to allege, however, how the absence of their suggested changes caused any user an injury," Thompson writes,

In fact, he writes, the plaintiffs didn't even claim to have been injured, nor did they cite any injuries to other. "The plaintiffs simply do not plead facts showing that hearing loss from iPod use is actual or imminent."

Judge Thompson's ruling is akin to the commonsense understanding that if you put your hand down a garbage disposal, then turn it on, you can't blame the disposal's manufacturer if your new nickname is "Stumpy" - especially if that manufacturer had warned you not to be such a thorough chowderhead.

Apple is off the hook, and the nanny state takes one in the teeth thanks to the levelheadedness of one Northern California judge.


They said what? Quotes of the Year

The urbane, the insane...

Back by popular demand, here is our Annual Hall of Stupid, leavened with a few moments of genuine wit. It's a Stephen Fry Free Zone. Almost.

“The City Is A Leisuresuit For Surviving The Future”

Ben Hammersley of WiReD magazine Tweets his Deepest Thorts. The Ham is now advising the Foreign and Commonwealth Office: your taxes have never been used more wisely.

“Everybody loves the BBC and it doesn't cost anything, Murdoch should learn a thing or two”

Expert punditry from reader 'peter 3' at The Register. More on Murdoch vs. The Chocolate Factory here and here.

"As an anarchoautonomist I need something really different, but my prediction is that green (and non-securitarian) regulation of informationalism is probably the best we can achieve through our struggles."

Climate activist Alex Foti tries to channel the revolutionary spirit of Tom Paine, Martin Luther King...but doesn't quite manage it. Found on the mailing list.

“I genuinely felt proud and excited when I was finally handed my card. I loved seeing my name, face and the words British citizen on this tiny piece of plastic. That’s who I am, and why shouldn’t anyone know?”

Local newspaper columnist Angela 'Memento' Epstein, founder and sole member of the YesToID is thrilled to be the first in the UK to receive her tag. Perhaps she regularly forgets who she is?

"In digital media, as in fortune-telling, the future is pretty much treated as part of the present. "

Guardian discovery Mercedes Bunz helped fill the gaping chasm caused by the absence of Jemima Kiss. In digital media, as in fortune-telling, the predictions are a load of horsecock from an expensive charlatan. Funny that.

“algorithm-aided human writing will meet human-aided algorithmic curation; quality will rise.”

Jeff Jarvis - a Business Thought Leader & Worldwide Media Leader - predicts a bright future for journalism. He was so proud of this cybernetic wedding, he Tweeted it, then Blogged that he'd Tweeted. (Number of successful internet businesses founded by Jarvis to date? Zero). More Jarvis here, wherein we review his book.

“Functionally an ad-banner trolling site who will publish any rubbish if it'll get clicks, and best ignored”

Senior Wikipedia weirdo David Gerard has had enough... of El Reg. Amongst other things we've been called recently include "an internet scandal-sheet" (BBC), "an online lesbian magazine" (The Independent) and "The Media Mouthpiece" by Phorm founder and CEO Kent Ertugrul - last seen shouting at the bins,

“Look on the bright side. We have the potential to become micro-celebrities in our very own day time infomercial”

One-man strategy boutique Jan Chipchase in a blog post called "You Are a Walking Advertorial". Mr Chipchase works for Nokia.

“These are published images: delivered to the public - public domain - public property...”

Tireless copyright campaigner Crosbie Fitch explains what's his is his, and what's yours is his, too. He was describing the National Portrait Gallery's decision to protect its digital rights, against a landgrab by Wikipedia. See that Porsche over there? It's on a public road. It must be public property...

NEF co-author Saamah Abadallah

“The trade off is that we got a huge (and 95 per cent positive) press hit - and that's all part of the game too.”

The 'new economics foundation' (which hates capital letters) admits it had to make up numbers for its Happy Planet survey, where poor countries are rated the happiest. To be honest, we just wanted to print that picture of the report's author, Citizen Saamah Abadallah, again. Thank you, Facebook.


Champagne flutes

Christmas parties

Organic food

Anyone Scottish

Non-Russians with Russian girlfriends

Film stars

Complaining about the smoking ban

Celebrity chefs

Pronouncing the last ‘e’ in furore

Coloured bathtowels

Cappuchinos after 11am

The Caribbean

Art Deco


Scented candles

Garlic on your breath

Saying ‘My garden has its own microclimate’

Framed photographs of anyone non-Royal


Bottled water

Not knowing the words of hymns

St. Tropez

David Walliams”

Nicky Haslam's list of "things he hates". Where's the IT angle? There isn't one.

“The last thing anyone wants is to be thought of as the sort of person Stephen wouldn't invite to his lovely Norfolk home for the weekend along with Richard Dawkins, Emma Thompson and Alan Davies”

Satire site Daily Mash has the measure of Twitter's most-followed bully, Stephen Fry. Twitter cemented its reputation as the No.1 social network where has-been celebs enforce forelock-tugging respect, and marketing consultants and nontrepreneurs can wash their consciences clean.

“ We know with certainty that we know fuck-all ”

Peer-review in action: climatologist Ed Cook writing to CRU's Diviner of Treemometers, Ed Briffa, in 2003. He was referring to trends over 100 years - but for critics, it sums up the state of the "science". More on Briffa here [bonus mailbag goodness here], and the Climategate scandal here.

“It can accumulate a cash hoard of tens of millions of dollars while charging companies to buy back their own names and then listing everything in exactly the order it would have been had no one bid at all.”

Analyst Eric Clemons has the measure of Google's business strategy. Or as Fake Steve put it, "Google has become what Microsoft used to be — the evil dicks who look around, find some area where people are making money, and say, Hey, fuck it, we’re bored, so let’s do the same thing for free and put those guys out of business."

“Lets say now we're off Weymouth in 2012 and we're doing the Olympic games, and we suddenly find a boat... [carrying] a bunch of topless lovelies, heading around having had too much to drink”

Lord Alan West, the security minister, AKA Lord Bournemouth (West of Spithead), AKA the former head of the Royal Navy, explaining the applications of a net-flinging "futuristic bazooka", developed by the Home Office Scientific Development Branch.

“It’s just that I can never work up the energy to be interested in other people. Male or female. I just can’t stand them. Not. At. All. Also, with sex, there’s the touching thing, and with that the germ thing.”

Fake Steve explains why Bimbo Eruptions never happen to Steve Jobs.


Microsoft denies IIS flaw claims

Security response team says there is no vulnerability in IIS 6.0

Microsoft has dismissed claims made last week of a critical flaw in the firm’s popular Internet Information Services (IIS) web server product, saying customers using IIS 6.0 in the default configuration or following best practices will have no problems.

Security researcher Soroush Dalili released a research note last week claiming that the flaw could enable hackers to bypass existing security measures and upload malicious code to any affected machine.

“IIS can execute any extension as an Active Server Page or any other executable extension. For instance “malicious.asp;.jpg” is executed as an ASP file on the server,” he explained.

"Many file uploaders protect the system by checking only the last section of the filename as its extension. And by using this vulnerability, an attacker can bypass this protection and upload a dangerous executable file on the server.”

However, in an update on its official blog, the Microsoft Security Response Center maintained that there is no vulnerability in IIS.

“What we have seen is that there is an inconsistency in IIS 6 only in how it handles semicolons in URLs. It’s this inconsistency that the claims have focused on, saying this enables an attacker to bypass content filtering software to upload and execute code on an IIS server,” the blog posting noted.

“The key in this is the last point: for the scenario to work, the IIS server must already be configured to allow both ‘write’ and ‘execute’ privileges on the same directory. This is not the default configuration for IIS and is contrary to all of our published best practices. Quite simply, an IIS server configured in this manner is inherently vulnerable to attack.”

The team said that as long as IIS 6.0 customers used default configurations or follow Microsoft recommended best practices they “don’t need to worry about this issue”.


Phishing attacks soar in December

Network Box stats show over half of all web-based threats this month were phishing attacks

Phishing attacks soared in December as cyber criminals looked to capitalise on the higher number of online shoppers in the run up to Christmas, according to new research from managed security firm Network Box released today.

The firm’s analysis of web-based threats in December 2009 shows that just over 57 per cent of all threats were phishing attacks, compared to 28.3 per cent in November.

“The run up to Christmas is traditionally a time for hackers to strike the vulnerable. A higher proportion of shopping is done online, with more money spent than at any other time of year,” warned Network Box internet security analyst Simon Heron.

“Christmas offers rich pickings for phishers. This is likely to continue through the sales in January, and we urge online bargain hunters to be vigilant.”

The firm also found that the greatest source of viruses and spam during the same time period was Brazil, which accounted for 20.9 per cent of all viruses and 9.1 per cent of all spam originated in December. This is up from 14 per cent and eight per cent respectively in November.

Network Box also warned that India is playing an increasingly significant role in the world’s threat landscape, with 6.8 per cent of all spam coming from the sub-continent, up from 4.2 per cent in November; and 4.1 per cent of viruses – the same as in November.


Russia may send spacecraft to knock away asteroid

MOSCOW – Russia's space agency chief said Wednesday a spacecraft may be dispatched to knock a large asteroid off course and reduce the chances of earth impact, even though U.S. scientists say such a scenario is unlikely.

Anatoly Perminov told Golos Rossii radio the space agency would hold a meeting soon to assess a mission to Apophis. He said his agency might eventually invite NASA, the European Space Agency, the Chinese space agency and others to join the project.

When the 270-meter (885-foot) asteroid was first discovered in 2004, astronomers estimated its chances of smashing into Earth in its first flyby, in 2029, at 1-in-37.

Further studies have ruled out the possibility of an impact in 2029, when the asteroid is expected to come no closer than 18,300 miles (29,450 kilometers) from Earth's surface, but they indicated a small possibility of a hit on subsequent encounters.

NASA had put the chances that Apophis could hit Earth in 2036 as 1-in-45,000. In October, after researchers recalculated the asteroid's path, the agency changed its estimate to 1-in-250,000.

NASA said another close encounter in 2068 will involve a 1-in-330,000 chance of impact.

Don Yeomans, who heads NASA's Near-Earth Object Program, said better calculations of Apophis' path in several years "will almost certainly remove any possibility of an Earth collision" in 2036.

"While Apophis is almost certainly not a problem, I am encouraged that the Russian science community is willing to study the various deflection options that would be available in the event of a future Earth threatening encounter by an asteroid," Yeomans said in an e-mail Wednesday.

Without mentioning NASA's conclusions, Perminov said that he heard from a scientist that Apophis is getting closer and may hit the planet. "I don't remember exactly, but it seems to me it could hit the Earth by 2032," Perminov said.

"People's lives are at stake. We should pay several hundred million dollars and build a system that would allow us to prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people," Perminov said.

Scientists have long theorized about asteroid deflection strategies. Some have proposed sending a probe to circle around a dangerous asteroid to gradually change its trajectory. Others suggested sending a spacecraft to collide with the asteroid and alter its momentum, or hitting it with nuclear weapons.

Perminov wouldn't disclose any details of the project, saying they still need to be worked out. But he said the mission wouldn't require any nuclear explosions.

Hollywood action films "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon," have featured space missions scrambling to avoid catastrophic collisions. In both movies, space crews use nuclear bombs in an attempt to prevent collisions.

"Calculations show that it's possible to create a special purpose spacecraft within the time we have, which would help avoid the collision," Perminov said. "The threat of collision can be averted."

Boris Shustov, the director of the Institute of Astronomy under the Russian Academy of Sciences, hailed Perminov's statement as a signal that officials had come to recognize the danger posed by asteroids.

"Apophis is just a symbolic example, there are many other dangerous objects we know little about," he said, according to RIA Novosti news agency.


AP Science Writer Alicia Chang contributed to this story from Los Angeles.


Texting while driving, smoking target of '10 laws

MADISON, Wis. – Texting while driving, smoking in public and cooking with artery-clogging trans fats will be that much harder under a bevy of state laws set to take effect around the country on Friday.

Faced with huge budget shortfalls and little extra money to throw around, state lawmakers exercised their (inexpensive) power to clamp down on impolite, unhealthy and sometimes dangerous behaviors in 2009.

Even toy guns were targeted.

Among the most surprising new laws set to take effect in 2010 is a smoking ban for bars and restaurants in North Carolina, the country's largest tobacco producer that has a history steeped in tradition around the golden leaf.

Starting Saturday — stragglers get a one-day reprieve to puff away after their New Year's Day meals — smokers will no longer be allowed to light up in North Carolina bars and restaurants. There are exceptions for country clubs, Elks lodges and the like, but the change is a dramatic one for North Carolina, whose tax coffers long depended on Big Tobacco.

Virginia approved a similar law that took effect Dec. 1, but it's more accommodating to smokers because it allows establishments to offer areas in which to light up as long as they have separate ventilating systems.

Not including Virginia and its partial ban, smoking will be banned in restaurants in 29 states and in bars in 25, according to the American Lung Association.

And 12 more states — including Florida, Michigan and Arkansas — have passed laws requiring manufacturers to make their cigarettes less likely to start fires, leaving Wyoming as the only state without such laws, according to the Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes.

America's roads should be safer in 2010, as bans on texting while driving go into effect in New Hampshire, Oregon and Illinois. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, that will make 19 states that have outlawed the practice, not including six states that prohibit using hand-held cell phones while behind the wheel.

"This legislation is important and will make our roads safer. No driver has any business text messaging while they are driving," said Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, whose office regulates drivers.

Tina Derby, 42, of Warner, N.H., said she has no intention to stop texting while driving, despite the possible $100 fine she could receive.

"I'd better start saving my money," Derby said.

A new Arkansas law prohibits retailers from selling toy guns that look like they real thing. But it may not have that big of an effect.

Imitation guns used for theater productions and other events are exempted, as are replicas of firearms produced before 1898, BB guns, paintball or pellet guns.

Major retailers in the state also say they don't expect any major changes from the new ban. Bentonville-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. says it already follows similar federal restrictions prohibiting the sale of realistic-looking toy guns.

California will be the first state to partially ban the use of artificial trans fats in restaurants in 2010, following several major cities and fast-food chains that have erased the notorious artery-clogger from menus.

Starting Friday, the state's restaurants, bakeries and other retail food establishments will no longer be allowed to use products with trans fats in spreads or for frying. Restaurants will still be allowed to use trans fats to deep-fry yeast dough and in cake batter until Jan. 1, 2011.

And a new anti-paparazzi law is set to take effect Friday in the state with the movie star governor that will make it easier for celebrities to sue media outlets claiming invasion of privacy.

Fans of dog races will have to find another form of entertainment in Massachusetts, as the 75-year-old tradition has been outlawed starting Friday.

In New Hampshire, a new gay marriage law will replace a law that allows civil unions, which already provided gay couples with all the rights and responsibilities of marriage.

Starting Friday, a gay couple in a civil union can get a marriage license and have a new ceremony, if they choose. They also can convert their civil union into marriage without going through another ceremony. Couples who do nothing will have their civil unions automatically converted to marriages in 2011. Conservatives are seeking to repeal the law.

In Wisconsin, both same-sex and unwed opposite-sex domestic partners who work for the state and University of Wisconsin can sign up to receive health insurance benefits. A law that allowed same-sex partners to sign a registry to receive other benefits similar to what married couples get took effect in August.

Some other laws set to take effect:

• Teenagers going to a tanning bed in Texas will have to be accompanied by an adult.

• Oregon employers are prohibited from restricting employees from wearing religious clothing on the job, taking time off for holy days or participating in a religious observance or practice.

• The sale of "novelty" lighters — devices designed to look like cartoon characters, toys or guns or that play musical notes or have flashing lights — are banned in Nevada and Louisiana.

"They're cute, they're little, but they can be deadly," said the Nevada bill's co-sponsor, Assembly Majority Floor Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas.


Associated Press writers Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh, N.C., William McCall in Portland, Ore., Christopher Wills in Springfield, Ill., Norma Love in Concord, N.H., Juliet Williams in Sacramento, Calif., Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, La., Sandra Chereb in Carson City, Nev., Bill Kaczor in Tallahassee, Fla., and Andrew Demillo in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this story.


Report: Rush Limbaugh taken to Hawaii hospital

HONOLULU – Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh was taken to a hospital with chest pains on Wednesday, a Honolulu television station reported.

Paramedics responded to a call at 2:41 p.m. from the Kahala Hotel and Resort where Limbaugh is vacationing, KITV reported. The station, citing unnamed sources, said the 58-year-old Limbaugh was taken to The Queens Medical Center in serious condition.

Queens spokeswoman N. Makana Shook says the hospital is unable to comment on the report.

Emergency Medical Services spokesman Bryan Cheplic said paramedics took a male of unknown age to an area hospital from the Kahala Hotel and Resort. He said he had no further information.

Limbaugh was seen golfing at Waialae Country Club earlier this week, KITV said. The country club is next to the Kahala hotel.

For privacy reasons, hotel spokeswoman Sheila Donnelly Theroux said she was unable to acknowledge that Limbaugh is a guest.

In 2001, Limbaugh reported he had lost most of his hearing due to an autoimmune inner-ear disease. He had surgery to have an electronic device placed in his skull to restore his hearing.

Two years later Limbaugh acknowledged he was addicted to pain medicine. He blamed the addiction on severe back pain, and took a five-week leave from his radio show to enter rehab.


TSA subpoenas bloggers, demands names of sources

WASHINGTON – As the government reviews how an alleged terrorist was able to bring a bomb onto a U.S.-bound plane and try to blow it up on Christmas Day, the Transportation Security Administration is going after bloggers who wrote about a directive to increase security after the incident.

TSA special agents served subpoenas to travel bloggers Steve Frischling and Chris Elliott, demanding that they reveal who leaked the security directive to them. The government says the directive was not supposed to be disclosed to the public.

Frischling said he met with two TSA special agents Tuesday night at his Connecticut home for about three hours and again on Wednesday morning when he was forced to hand over his lap top computer. Frischling said the agents threatened to interfere with his contract to write a blog for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines if he didn't cooperate and provide the name of the person who leaked the memo.

"It literally showed up in my box," Frischling told The Associated Press. "I do not know who it came from." He said he provided the agents a signed statement to that effect.

In a Dec. 29 posting on his blog, Elliott said he had told the TSA agents at his house that he would call his lawyer and get back to them. Elliott said late Wednesday he could not comment until the legal issues had been resolved.

The TSA declined to say how many people were subpoenaed.

The directive was dated Dec. 25 and was issued after a 23-year-old Nigerian man was charged with attempting to bomb a Northwest Airlines flight as it approached Detroit from Amsterdam. The bomb, which allegedly was hidden in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's underwear, malfunctioned and no one was killed. Authorities said the device included a syringe and a condom-like bag filled with powder that the FBI determined to be PETN, a common explosive.

The near-miss attack has prompted President Barack Obama to order a review of what intelligence information the government had about Abdulmutallab and why it wasn't shared with the appropriate agencies. He also ordered a review of U.S. aviation security. The government has spent billions of dollars and undergone massive reorganizations since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

The TSA directive outlined new screening measures that went into effect the same day as the airliner incident. It included many procedures that would be apparent to the traveling public, such as screening at boarding gates, patting down the upper legs and torso, physically inspecting all travelers' belongings, looking carefully at syringes with powders and liquids, requiring that passengers remain in their seats one hour before landing, and disabling all onboard communications systems, including what is provided by the airline.

It also listed people who would be exempted from these screening procedures such as heads of state and their families.

This is the second time in a month that the TSA has found some of its sensitive airline security documents on the Internet.


Why Apple tablet may not be the gadget of the future

NEW YORK ( -- Gadget lovers are waiting with bated breath for the much-anticipated unveiling of the Apple tablet, but don't expect it to take the world by storm the way the iPod and iPhone did.

"There will be a strong interest in it, but it won't be the wave of the future," said James Brehm, analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

Tablet computers are hardly a new concept. In fact, Apple already brought a tablet device to the market in 1993 in the form of the Newton MessagePad. Despite a ton of hype, Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) only sold a few hundred thousand Newtons in the five short years it was on the market.

Other tablet-like devices have also fizzled. The Compaq iPAQ and the Palm (PALM) Pilot were quickly replaced by smart phones. Consumers can find some modern-day "tablets" in the form of notebook computers with swiveling monitors, but they're clunky, expensive and haven't taken off.

The problem with handheld tablets is that they're middle-of-the-road devices. They have better functionality than smaller gadgets but don't have enough functionality to replace your PC.

Though Apple hasn't released any details about its tablet, analysts who have been briefed on the device say it will run apps like the iPhone and iPod Touch do, but the tablet will be better suited for watching movies and reading. According to a New York Times report, Apple will unveil a tablet on Jan. 26.

"The Apple tablet will have a beautiful user interface, it will have a pleasing aesthetic and will be marketed well," said Chris Collins, senior consumer research analyst at Yankee Group. "But at the end of the day, we're still talking about a smart phone with a bigger screen."

Collins anticipates the tablet will initially take off with lots of excitement, but ultimately he expects it will help accelerate innovation in smaller gadgets, like smartphones, and bring down prices for PCs.

Such was the fate of netbooks. Shipments of the mini, ultra-portable notebook computers soared in 2008 and earlier this year. However, sales have cooled off as full-sized notebook prices dropped, and smart phone performance grew, according to John Jacobs, NPD Group's director of notebook market research. As a result, NPD expects netbook shipments to grow just 19% in 2010.

"Netbooks won the battle but lost the war," said Collins. "Eventually, people either went to a smartphone or a notebook. Tablets will also generate a lot of interest initially, but they will ultimately suffer a similar fate."

Too pricey?

Tablet technology doesn't come cheap. Creating screens that allow users to write on them is a costly endeavor, and swivel-monitor notebooks tend to run several hundred dollars more than non-tablet peers.

Apple will likely need to charge around $800 for the device, analysts say, which could relegate the tablet to "niche" status. That $800 price point could be too rich for some and others may opt to spend just a little more for a full-function laptop computer.

Brehm and Collins argued that the there will be some compelling uses for the tablet, including note-taking for students or examining electronic health records for physicians. Apple fans will also bite because, well, it's an Apple product, and it's bound to be really cool.

"The market will be there, but this will definitely be more of a niche product," said Brehm, who was Gateway's tablet product manager a decade ago.

Apple may pull it off

The tablet will have to offer more than the iPhone or iPod Touch to be successful, say analysts.

"They have to trump themselves," said Laura DiDio, principal analyst at ITIC. "That will be difficult, but the tablet shouldn't only be an iPhone with a bigger screen. It's going to have to bring something new to the table to be successful."

DiDio said the tablet will have a 10-inch to 12-inch screen and a high-end graphics card that will enable stunning resolution -- even more so than the iPhone and iPod Touch. She said the device will come in several different models that offer varieties of Internet connections, such as Wi-Fi or 3G, perhaps through a contract with AT&T (T, Fortune 500). A Web cam will also be available for video conferencing.

Is that enough to change the gadget game? Maybe. Analysts counted out Apple before the iPod changed the music player and before the iPhone re-imagined the smartphone.

Likewise, it may be too soon to count out the long-awaited tablet. Even tablet detractors know better than to dismiss a Steve Jobs creation too quickly.

"There have been tablets before, and they did not take off," said Brehm. "There had been MP3 players before 2001 too, but we hadn't seen anything like the iPod before."