Archive for August, 2009
How is college life contributing to the spread of swine flu?
The H1N1 or “swine flu” has spread to hundreds of college students in the first few weeks of their new college life. Why is this happening?
Apparently, doctors blame fraternity and sorority parties as well as sports practices and dorm living. In layman’s terms, college is making kids sick.
This new evidence lends credence to the notion that the swine flu virus is in a period of resurgence.
The United States is experiencing the rate of influenza infection since the spread of the 1968 “Hong Kong flu” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. College officials from around the nation said they are operating buses to transport sick students — other schools are putting students in “isolation dorms” or even installing vaccination drive-through programs.
Another part of the problem — college age students are typically the least likely group of people to decide to get vaccination shots, maybe due to an “It won’t happen to me” attitude. This is a huge problem, as people 25 years old or younger are far more susceptible to the virulent H1N1 strain.
Those of you who went to college understand — stuff a few hundred 18 to 21 year olds in a tiny, mildewed, smoky basement in an ancient fraternity house, and you have the perfect breeding ground for the spread of disease.
One of the worst infections rates so far is at Mississippi State University, located in Starkville, Mississippi. That college is reporting more than 250 infections and cases of flu like symptoms since this past July 15. Another bad spot for swine flu infection, The University of Kansas (in Lawrence) reports more than 100 sick students currently infected with H1N1. Similar numbers can be found at The University of Tennessee in Knoxville, which estimates 100 students showing flu symptoms (at a minimum) since their classes started this past August 19.
During a typical flu season, which lasts from November through March, colleges provide vaccines at campus health clinics and may recommend that students wash their hands more, cover their coughs, and use anti bacterial soap multiple times per day — unfortunately, these messages are often ignored by college students. This year, with the number of infections from H1N1 and other flu strains already starting to skyrocket, schools are apparently increasing their efforts. Most schools are giving seasonal flu shots already (more than a month ahead of time) and posting hand sanitizer dispensers and flu safety posters across campus.
The outbreaks of flu are unusual for this time of year and the Centers for Disease Control and Protection are saying it could take a few weeks for doctors and scientists to predict if these frat house swin flu clusters could turn into more widespread outbreaks across the country.
The University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, started a “flu bus” to transport sick students from residence halls to health services. With a large campus, the university wants to avoid infections spreading on public transportation, said Robert Winfield, Michigan’s chief health officer and director of the university health service.
Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina, reports that 25 of their football players have been or are sick this month. For its part, Duke has reserved an off-campus apartment building with about 30 beds to house and isolate students who may have a high risk for being harmed by flu.
Amherst College, in Amherst, Massachusetts, has two residence halls kept empty this fall to isolate potential swine flu patients, and has even agreed to house infected students from four other local colleges and schools.
Oklahoma State University, in Stillwater, lists 75 students as “swine flue” patients in the past three weeks alone. Oklahoma State spokespersons readily admit that many of these cases ave been attributed to students attending sorority rush before the school year officially started.
The University of Arizona in Tucson is planning what may become a regular sight at college campuses — a swine flu drive-through clinic for flu shots, set to open later in September. The campus has akleady seen 25 cases in the few weeks since students returned to school.
For most campuses, seasonal flu shots have arrived or will soon be arriving. A separate vaccine for swine flu, which doctors say may require two or three shots given over a three-week period, won’t be ready until the middle of October, according to the CDC. That late date may be too late for students, whose semesters end around December. Will the sinw flu vaccine arrive in time to cut down on outbreaks among a student population? Not to mention this is a population with little to no natural immunity.
For those not in the know, a Sorority’s “rush” period may be especially conducive to spreading flu because women pledging for a sorority spend a long time together in close contact.
Good news for students — most colleges are asking professors and school function groups to be lenient about student absences. Colleges don’t want sick students going to class to keep up their grade, especially in the middle of a pandemic. Sick students are being told to stay home, and doctor’s notes are usually not being required to justify student absences. This info came down from the CDC, so your professors and parents won’t think you’re making this up.
Most college campuses have stopped attempting to test students for H1N1 and are tracking the number of students showing flu and swin flu like symptoms instead. The CDC continues to sample patients randomly at certain hospitals and clinics in order to make an attept to track the size and location of outbreaks.
Will the swine flu vaccine be ready in time?
Amid reports that suggest that millions of Americans could be “hospitalized” in the coming flu season due to the convergence of swine flu and more traditional influenzas — some bad news.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, swine flu vaccine won’t be available to anyone in America until the middle (or end) of October, probably too late for the earliest onset of swine flu and more traditional flu cases.
In fact, news today suggests that President Barack Obama’s science advisers are begging the President and his cabinet to act now to ensure that H1N1 vaccines are available weeks before projections suggest. The new head of the CDC in America has responded to the President’s advisers saying that regardless what actions the President takes, swine flu vaccines will be unavailable until the already announced time — mid October. All this is playing out against reports that the swine flu will coincide with other influenza strains, setting off forecasts for the worst flu season in decades.
Though the scientists responsible for creating the H1N1 vaccine are not going to be able to deliver in a manner that doctors and other researchers want, they are still rushing through their work, raising fears among many doctors that the kind of imperfect testing necessary to rush a vaccine through will have a negative impact on the eventual drug. These imperfect tests mean that the creators of the vaccine won’t know enough about the drug to properly dose and vaccinate us. Already, the rush to create a vaccine has slowed attempts to take stock of H1n1 — precise numbers on how many people will probably be infected are impossible to come up with thanks to concentration on the vaccine rather than the virus itself.
So swine flu is the “number one” priority for the CDC — just not the right kind of priority.
Doctors willing to speak out against the CDC’s practices suggest that the vaccine should be available by the middle of September. These same medical experts say that the government should be taking advantage of the pandemic H1N1 to improve the overall surveillance of influenza, using the swine flu outbreak to improve our practices and to prevent future pandemics.
The five companies who are currently making swine flu vaccine for the U.S. market (AstraZeneca’s MedImmune unit, CSL Ltd, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Novartis AG and Sanofi-Aventis SA) are running tests to determine if people will need one or multiple doses of that vaccine in order to be fully protected.
Did the government go too far in pursuing steroid users in Major League Baseball?
Three of baseball’s biggest stars (Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz) have been outed in the past couple of seasons after investigators from the Federal government seized a list containing the names of players testing positive for steroids and other performance enhancers. These “leaks” have had something of a negative impact on the careers of these players, most notably Manny Ramirez who recently completely a 50 game suspension for his actions related to performance enhancing drugs. Those players who didn’t face these kinds of strict suspensions have felt the pain in other ways — loss of endorsements, a tarnish on their records, and negative reactions from former fans.
Unfortunately for those investigators, a Federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled Wednesday that the seizure of that list of 104 players who tested positive for doping was illegal. While this ruling can’t do anything for players who’ve already faced harsh penalties, it may protect the remaining 101 players on the list whose names haven’t been released.
The seizure of the list took place way back in 2004, meaning there’s been plenty of time for further leaks. We may still see the complete list of cheaters, or we may not. Either way, players whose identities are improperly leaked from the “dope list” may now have grounds for action, or at least a safety net against the announcement of their names.
Federal agents who raided a Long Beach company in 2004 did have the right to search for information about a specific list of 10 players — a search warrant that named 10 players whose drug test results they had the legal right to obtain. This search warrant was part of the Federal investigation into the actions of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO, in Burlingame, California. Where these agents crossed the line, according to the San Francisco appeals court, was in their seizure of the complete list of 104 players who tested positive for steroids. These tests results are related to a drug test given in 2003.
The test was conducted by Major League Baseball, but the names were supposed to remain private and out of the public realm. In the past year or so, reports of the identities of various players have been leaked to the media. In a 9-2 ruling, a virtual judicial landslide, the San Francisco appeals court agrees that the Federal government should only have been allowed to go after the specific 10 players on their list.
A spreadsheet at Comprehensive Drug Testing, the company handling the test for baseball, contained the entire list of players and was seized, illegally, by the government. When the Federal agents saw the spreadsheet at CDT, the agents responded quickly, ordering and obtaining the necessary search warrants to take it with them. The agents went a step further, downloading the entire computer memory and taking it with them. This, says the appeals court, was where they broke the law.
What will Ted Kennedy’s legacy be?
Edward M. Kennedy was something of a fluke.
He was the only Kennedy to outright lose a run at the Presidency of the United States. At age 48 (older then than any of his brothers lived to be), he came in second in a two man race for the Democratic nomination. That was 1980, and unbeknownst to anyone the Reagan years loomed ahead. Many have wondered how the course of American history would be different if Kennedy had won the nomination — not Kennedy. He was always looking toward the future, unwilling to linger in the past.
Edward M. Kennedy, known best as Ted, lived nearly thirty more years, active in politics all the while, before succumbing to a brain tumor late Tuesday evening at the age of 77.
Kennedy was well known for championing a wide range of causes during his lengthy Senate career. Able and willing to speak on topics as diverse as immigration reform, education, and the rights of the mentally and physically handicapped, he is probably best known for his efforts to reform the health care industry. The irony of his death while health care reform has finally become the largest issue in American politics is not lost on anyone.
As far back as the Nixon administration, Kennedy worked with both Democratic and Republican presidents and politicans, both while in the congressional majority and the minority, in an attempt to get universal health care coverage for all Americans. Though Ted never reached that goal, he continued to labor toward improving health care coverage, and was well known for reaching across the aisle to pass a series of tiny measures that moved us toward better health care.
Kennedy seemed to have his greatest success while in the political minority — think of the 1990s. Back then, President Bill Clinton’s attempts to push a plan for universal health care faltered, and Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress. Seemed like a dark time for a Democratic senator, but not for Ted. Senator Kennedy took the defeat in stride, continuing to work for health care reform, creating and passing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act in 1996. This act was instrumental in helping people maintain their health insurance after changing jobs, while also improving the confidentiality of all health records. In that same year, Kennedy’s Mental Health Parity Act made mental health payments by insurance companies equal to payments for all other illnesses. Then, In 1997, Senator Kennedy was the lead player in the oush for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which represented the largest expansion of government controlled health insurance coverage in the United States in over thirty years.
Unfortunately for Senator Kennedy, his battle with cancer kept him from actively participating in the current raging debate over health care reform under the new Obama administration. Kennedy had been completely unable to go to Washington and use his hefty political skill to affect any compromise that might have been able to keep the Democrat’s initial legislative plans on track. As Senator Kennedy’s condition grew worse, it was obvious to all involved that the fight with cancer would keep Kennedy from taking part in any floor votes. This means that Kennedy’s last official political act was a request (made just last week) to allow a successor to be appointed to his seat in the Senate as an interim Senator.
Senator Kennedy’s seat will most likely remain empty for up to six months while preparations for a special election to fill his vacant spot can be made. The Democrats will be missing that crucial 60th Senate vote if their efforts to form a bipartisan coalition or compromise fall through.
Senator Edward Kennedy, who had been only an occasional presence in government over the past year and a half due to his illness, has left behind a lengthy political legacy and a Senate seat so difficult to fill you can hear the echo. What remains to be seen is any impact that the death of Kennedy might have on what became his signature political fight — health care reform.
Let’s hope that his empty Senate seat will serve as a silent witness to the power of compromise, the value of health care reform, and the need for political discourse in a country wracked by disagreement.
What are the Obamas doing on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard?
The President of the United States (and family) deserves a little time off. Has there been a President whose every move was followed as closely as the 44th? And what about his family — from the covers of fashion magazines to the back page of gossip rags, Michelle Obama and family have been in the news at times more than the President himself. Every President gets a chance to take a breather (some, like George W. Bush, take that chance as often as possible) and this is no different for the Obamas who are currently vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard.
Today there will be rounds of golf shared by the President and First Lady (along with a few friends). More golf is scheduled throughout the week, as is some serious reading time — the President allegedly brought “a pile of books” with him on his vacation. The Martha’s Vineyard trip isn’t all fun and games — President Obama took a little time to get some work done, renominating the chief of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke. However, the name of the game this week is relaxation.
Besides a ton of tennis, golf, and relaxing by the shore, Obama will entertain a briefing from the National Security Council. Even though President Obama will be hearing plenty from his advisors while staying at the island resort this week, there is no doubt that the vacation is about relaxing.
On Monday, as an example, the president worked ou in the morning, played golf with the first lady and friends, and enjoyed a quiet dinner at his vacation home. Today, President Obama is hitting the links yet again, this time at the Minks Meadow Golf Club. That hammock visible from the air, nestled between two trees on the 28 acre Blue Heron Farm where the Obamas are staying? The President will likely unwind while reading several books including David McCullough’s lengthy book on John Adams, and the popular book by Tom Friedman — “Hot, Flat and Crowded”. President Obama is doing all this while busy redesigning the American healthcare system. I don’t know about you, but I barely have time to read the comics on Sunday.
White House staffers joined the Obamas on this vacation, most of them no doubt hoping for a light work week. Unfortunately, they work for one of the hardest working men in politics, and have spent a ton of time communicating with the press about Obama’s vacation, more so than vacationing themselves.
Plenty of questions have been tossed their way as speculation about the Obama’s activities grew over the weekend. Will the President play golf with Tiger Woods? According to staffers, Tiger is indeed “fun to play with,” but the staffer rejected the rumor. Other rumors included word about a fundraising dinner and the possibility that Obama would be attending a fancy society wedding. Staffers say these rumors are just that — rumors.
According to some reports, a Presidential security team showed up at Senator Edward Kennedy’s home in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod, near enough to Obama’s vacation destination to create rumors. Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton wns the zinger award this week, suggesting that — ” . . . if Secret Service agents were there they probably heard . . . they have great lobster rolls out there and they were probably just checking them out.”
Martha’s Vineyard was a popular vacation spot of President Bill Clinton, well known in that area for showing up unannounced around town to gladhand, kiss babies, and appear before the press. Famously, Clinton liked to stop for ice cream on Circuit Avenue in Martha’s Vineyard. To add fuel to the fire, Bill Clinton popped up for a round of golf in Martha’s Vineyard just before Obama showed up, rekindling residents of the Vineyard’s memories of a President more accessible than we’ve become accustomed to in recent years.
Staffers say that though there’s not a shortage of invitations for the Obamas, they won’t be attending many highly publicized events. The President seems to need this break. The White House even decided against holding a welcoming ceremony for the President’s arrival on Sunday, though his aides claimed that the cancellation was due to fear’s of incoming bad weather from Hurricane Bill. Staffers suggest that President Obama may make a few appearances later in the week, but thanks to his “loose” vacation schedule he hasn’t really planned to attend any major events.
Let’s just consider this trip a time for the President to relax and be with his family. After 7 months under the microscope, it may be time for the President to take a deep breath.
Is the economy recovering from recession?
The state of the economy has become a kind of cliche lately, with most people bored of discussions of recession and stock market ups and downs. In fact, the economic downturn has been a buzz word for so long that comedians and talk show hosts are starting to turn their focus elsewhere — there’s simply not much material left to cover.
More news is popping up this week about the state of our nation’s finances. On Tuesday the White House and the Congressional Budget Office are set to release a series of new numbers related to the federal budget deficit and the relative health of the American economy. This is a big deal mostly because the Congressional Budget Office is considered the most non partisan of bodies related to budget reporting. The CBO is expected to release a slightly different estimate from the White House, but reportedly the numbers aren’t far enough apart to make a difference. The US national debt is reportedly around $12 trillion and climbing steadily.
President Obama and his cabinet have already released some preliminary numbers related to this year’s budget gap — $1.5 trillion or so. This number is down slightly from an earlier White house projection of nearly $2 trillion. As they say in Washington, a billion dollars here, a billion dollars there . . .
Back to the task at hand, how will these new economic forecasts play out? What impact will they have?
President Obama has made one thing clear — he does not intend to follow in the footsteps of previous Presidents who offered big tax cuts for Americans. The new economic data offered by Washington indicates that tax cuts for the wealthy may be even more unlikely. Those tax cuts, set to expire at year’s end, are stealing about $600 billion a year from the government and giving it to the American people. Think Obama is going to let that easy source of money slip away? No chance, not when he is forced to release news of some serious budget shortfalls in his first year in office.
Expect the usual rhetoric from Obama’s opponents on the political right — removing tax cuts will get Limbaugh and company complaining that our economic growth is in jeopardy down the road.
A good sign for the majority of us — Congress and the Executive branch will likely shield the poor from tax increases during these tough times. In fact, no matter how bad the coming economic forecast is, we aren’t likely to see a tax increase for anyone who doesn’t have a full-time job. Congress is set to provide another one-year quick fix for the Alternative Minimum Tax, a controversial option originally aimed at the upper classes. Because of inflation, the middle class is now within the range of the Alternative Minimum Tax, and Congress will make whatever repairs are necessary to protect the middle class, even though this protection costs the government about $50 to $70 billion a year.
Another move we might see from Congress — actions to squeeze whatever savings are possible from Social Security. Because this is a fairly unpopular idea, expect our elected officials to create a somewhat anonymous “commission” to do the dirty work for them. For several years now, members of Congress (both Democrat and Republican) have been trying to form just such a commission to look into the Social Security retirement program (as well as Medicare and Medicaid) for any chance at savings. What’s happening is that the population of the United States is aging and putting a huge drain on the Federal treasury — costing America as much as $55 trillion over the next three generations. This week’s White House and CBO economic reports, which will most likely forecast massive deficits for years and years to come, will pretty much give Congress the go ahead to form the commission necessary to find some savings. Oh, by the way, this commission will most likely suggest a few tax increases while they’re at it.
Another nasty side effect of new economic indications will be a big hit to President Barack Obama’s health care reform plans. Opponents of Obama’s plan say that while the American economy is in a state of recession (and now that we know that budget deficits are at record levels) the time couldn’t be worse for Washington to go after yet another expensive, unneccessary, and unconstitutional program.
President Obama for his part (and many of his fellow Democrats in Congress) have said time and again that any reform bill related to healthcare will be forced to “pay for itself”. How would this work? By claiming that the program will reduce the cost of the Medicare program or by raising taxes on the working Americans, Obama could fund the beginning of his sweeping health care reform. His critics, of course, indicate that raising revenue by these means should help America reduce the deficit and not be spent to expand available health insurance coverage.
If the economy should rebound, and many economists are suggesting that this is the case, President Obama and the Democratic led Congress will most likely attempt to hold back on defense spending to show America that they have some semblance of financial responsibility. However, if the economy keeps up its stagnant pace, we should see liberals start to push hard and heavy for another round of economic stimulus, regardless of the numbers from CBO and the President’s Office of Management and Budget.
How did hacker Albert Gonzales steal over 130 million credit cards?
Recently, the US government announced the capture of one of the web’s most wanted hackers. Albert Gonzales, a Cuban American, is accused of running what is believed to be the largest credit card scam in history. Unfortunately for corporate America and law enforcement nationwide, the questions and trouble didn’t end when handcuffs went around Gonzales’ wrists.
Major US businesses and cops from Miami to Seattle are trying to come up with answers today — how did a single man perpetrate this widespread scam right under their noses? it isn’t like what Gonzales did took particular skill. In fact, law enforcement officials are focusing on just how easy it can be to hack people’s credit card details. Apparently, it is not difficult for even the most wet behind the ears hacker to break into a coporations files and have their way with customer’s data. This arrest in Miami puts corporations on the spot — what will they do to ensure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again?
Albert Gonzalez, a 28 year old native of Miami, had been acting as an informant for the US Secret Service. After an arrest six years ago, Gonzales got out of trouble by agreeing to act as a kind of whistleblower, ratting out and keeping tabs on his fellow hackers. Gonzales was charged with conspiracy in his effort to steal the details of over a hundred million credit cards. Gonzale’s complete charge sheet went over, in detail, the lengthy and complicated online crime history of Gonzales.
According to Federal prosecuters, the alleged credit card fraud was acted out through the use of systems that can penetrate computer networks, look for and retrieve credit card data, and send this information for storage in servers spread across the US and Europe.
Computer security experts point out that this process (allegedly thought up and perpetrated by Gonzalez and two other accused hackers from eastern Europe) is very simple in hacker terms, making the real question one about the failure of corporate America to properly defend their computer systems and client information.
Gonzales’ charge sheet indicates that the hacker, along with two other men who lived in or near Russia, inserted a bit of “structured query language” into the computer systems of companies like Heartland. You may not have heard of Heartland but your wallet has — they are one of the largest credit and debit card payment processing companies in the world. The three hackers allegedly activated this code sometime in the middle of December 2007. “Structured query language” is a computer programming system that is designed to organize data so it can be accessed and managed easily.
Over the course of his criminal career, Albert Gonzalez used at least three internet aliases: ‘segvec’, ‘soupnazi’ and ‘j4guar17′.
Other companies that Gonzales allegedly attacked with his malware include Hannaford Brothers (a supermarket chain identified by Gonzales as ‘particularly vulnerable’) and 7-Eleven.
The charge sheet indicates further that Gonzalez would “identify potential corporate victims, by, among other methods, reviewing a list of Fortune 500 companies”. Gonzales may have been using very basic hacker techniques, but his research was top notch. Gonzales is alleged to have “traveled to retail stores of potential corporate victims” in order to identify what sorts of payment processing systems were used in their checkout process and also, less important, to try and wrap his head around the ways in which a company may be vulnerable.
If he is convicted, Albert Gonzalez faces a maximum charge of 25 years in jail. This will be nothing new for the Cuban-American hacker — Gonzales has been held in jail after his arrest last year in New York for allegedly hacking into a national restaurant chain’s computer system.
We do not know what Gonzales did with the information he stole. Gonzales has not yet been charged with any crime related to unlawful use of the credit card data he stole. The assumption is that Gonzales sold the 130 million pieces of credit card info to another source in an attempt to distance himself from the crime. If that is the case, then we may not have yet seen.the full effects of his cyber attack, and that the real impact of the stolen information may only show up in time. Yes, Gonzales earned money as part of his scam, but since no charges related to illicit credit card use exist, we must assume the money came from another source.
Albert Gonzalez, was raised in Coral Gables, Florida near Miami. He attended school in both Coral Gables and Miami. Gonzales was convicted of credit card theft in 2003 but agreed to hand over information on fellow hackers and track them for the Secret Service. Unfortunately for law enforcement, Gonzales continued his criminal career while playing patsy for the Feds.
Before he was busted last year, Gonzales put together a fortune of over $1.5 million. Gonzales was allegedly a big spender, throwing himself a $75,000 birthday party. An anecdote appears in Wired magazine about Gonzales — “He had so much cash he bought a money counter and complained that when it broke down he had to manually count $340,000 in $20 bills.” Not a problem most of us would complain about.
Gonzales’ trial is due to begin in September 2009.
When will digital music sales overcome CDs?
In this era, where digital seems to dominate every other format, I am still a sucker for purchasing a physical CD. Something about holding the album art in my hand, turning the shiny music disc over and over, sliding the device into the drive — I just don’t get the same satisfaction from a digital download. Call me a Luddite, call me what you will. I just can’t accept that I may never own a physical piece of music again. This is the same attitude that keeps me from joining the eReader revolution . . . at least until that particular technology improves.
Come to find out, I’m not alone. CDs are still the most common method for consumers in the United States to enjoy their music. In short — CDs rule the music market.
But not for long. Sure, CDs still account for well over sixty percent of all music sold in the first six months of 2009. There is new information today that suggests that digital downloads of music files are quickly gaining speed. This according to a report released this week by a research group that charts music and other sales — the NPD Group.
The trend goes something like this. Digital music sales increase between 15 percent and 20 percent every year. Meanwhile, CD sales drop at just about an equal pace, between 13 percent and 18 percent a year. It is only a matter of time before purchasing that must have album on a plastic disc will be a thing of the past, an old fashioned attempt to get in touch with a part of my past. Much like the vinyl collectors of the past ten years or so, I may have to trudge to a low lit store full of hipsters and snobs to get my fix of 90s-era alternative music. At least, on CD.
The “tipping point”, as NPD likes to put it, will come in 2010.
Russ Crupnick, the vice president of the NPD Group who concentrates his work on analysis of the entertainment industry, says that 2009 and 2010 will represent “a dead heat” between sales of music in digital formats and the sales numbers for CDs. NPD is amazed by the spped that digital music sales have become a real competitor with CD format. NPD reports that digital sales represented only one out of every five songs sold just two years ago. I think most people believe that CDs died out as a reliable format long ago. The truth is that CDs are still the most common audio format, though “the assumption is that [CD sales died out] . . . five years ago,” said Russ Crupnick.
In fact, the numbers are much closer, at least here in America. According to NPD’s research, there are still 250% more people who buy CDs regularly as those who buy digital music. NPD predicts that by 2011, digital sales will far outreach CD sales.
In 2008, digital music sales totalled nearly $2 billion, a healthy number for sure. By the same measure, CDs and other physical units of music represents nearly $9 billion in sales, these numbers according to the Recording Industry Association of America. That’s a huge disparity between two numbers that most people thought were much closer. While over $9 billion in sales sounds remarkable for a format that most people were ready to bury, remember that CD sales are dropping $1 billion a year or more.
The face of the leading music retailers are changing too. Gone are the days when my friends and I would load up the car, head to Circuit City or Best Buy or any of the big box stores and load up on new released. Now, the number on music retailer is Apple’s iTunes service. Music downloads from iTunes make up more than a quarter of all music sales in the United States. This number is up from 20 percent in 2008 and just 14 percent in 2007. With digital sales galloping ahead and CD sales falling by the wayside, it doesn’t take a consumer group to tell you that digital will soon far outclass CDs in terms of sales.
The bottom line is this — American consumers are buying more and more of their music online. Some industry analysts suggest that customers are illegally purchasing as much as 10 times more music through peer to peer Web presences and other illegal sources. If the recording industry was somehow to turn those illegal purchases into legal ones, digital purchases would far outweight physical CD sales.
The move to digital music has had a wide range of other impacts on the music industry — the biggest in my opinion is the fact that most online shoppers aren’t likely to buy entire albums, preferring to cherry pick the singles they want. This limits the artistic impact of a musician or band’s release, and limits the income that retailers make off music.
Who is in danger fom Hurricane Bill?
Just two weeks ago, we brought you a story about the strangely calm Atlantic hurricane season. As part of that story, we reported that tropical weather analysts had lowered their Atlantic hurricane expectations yet again. Also part of that story, a memory of 1992 — when a ridiculously quiet hurricane season was punctuated by the very destructive forces of Hurricane Andrew in Florida. We also predicted that a major storm was brewing off the coast of Africa, and that people living in areas affected by hurricanes shouldn’t let the weak early season fool them into complacence.
We were right.
We now have three active storms in the Atlantic — Hurricane Bill building up steam just east of the Lesser Antilles, weakening but still dangerous Tropical Depression Ana near Puerto Rico, and the remnants of Tropical Depression Claudette lingering over the Florida Panhandle region.
The first hurricane of the season, Bill, is gathering force far from the American coast over the Atlantic Ocean. Bill’s movements place it on a track potentially leading to Bermuda and the surrounding islands before this weekend. It is important to remember, though, that 3 and 5 day tracks are mere predictions from meteorologists. When was the last time you trusted a meteorologist’s opinion with your home, your valuables, your family, or even your own life? People living along the Gulf Coast and the Eastern seaboard of the United States should pay particular attention to Bill’s behavior over the next couple of days.
Hurricane Bill is now expected to become “a major storm” over the next 48 hours. That notation (“a major storm”) generally means a hurricane with sustained winds topping 110 miles per hour. Hurricane Bill has already become a Category 2 hurricane as of Monday — that indicates that Bill’s sustained winds are thrashing about at 100 mph. Hurricane Bill is now expected to strengthen further, becoming a Category Three hurricane by early Wednesday.
As of this writing Bill was centered 810 miles east of the Leeward Islands. Bill is now moving west-northwest at around 17 mph. Hurricane Bill is a large system, about 300 miles across. This widens the scope of potential victims to the point that an island like Bermuda could be hit hard by Bill even if the surrounding Atlantic island avoid a direct hit.
Unfortunately, as with any tropical event, it is difficult to tell people the one thing they want to know. Where will Bill go? That can’t be said for certain, but meteorologists on the whole do not believe the storm will reach the U.S. mainland.
Making things even more difficult, weather forecasters only provide five-day cones for the potential path of hurricanes. In fact, forecasters admit having difficulty making sensible projections of storms’ paths further than 72 hours or three days. Why? Mostly because storms change direction at short notice, often altering their course overnight while most people tracking them from home are asleep.
There is bad news about Hurricane Bill — because of warm ocean water and very little “wind shear” (a force that can weaken or even destroy storms), Bill is in perfect position to continue to strengthen. The last time a storm that earned a Category Three ranking hit U.S. soil was in 2005, when Hurricane Wilma hit and caused an estimated $20 billion in damage.
So this year’s Atlantic hurricane season is beginning to get interesting. With Hurricane Bill strengthening and threatening, the arrival of (admittedly weakening) Tropical Storm Claudette on the Florida coast, and the formation of Tropical Storm Ana late last week, the slow start to this year’s storm season is over.
By this time last year, six named storms (including two big hurricanes — Bertha and Dolly) had already formed and threatened to cause damage.
Why is the swine flu vaccine creating controversy?
Flu season is approaching, and fear is riding along. Many people are aware that the H1N1 virus could re-emerge with a vengeance once the time for seasonal flu is upon us. Thankfully, a vaccine is currently being tested for potential release before “traditional” flu and the H1N1 virus or “swine flu” have a chance to hit us with a double whammy.
However, there are still other people who are afraid of the vaccine itself. In fact, fears surrounding the swine flu vaccine are growing by the day. First we heard from groups concerned that there may not be enough of the vaccine to go around (some estimates put the total number of ready vaccines at the start of flue season somewhere around 60 million doses, a far cry from what is needed) — now, people are pointing to the 1976 swine flu epidemic, also treated with a vaccine. The problem then? After receving vaccinations, hundreds of people came down with Guillain-Barre syndrome allegedly related to that vaccine.
I say allegedly because nothing has ever been proven. Sure, the illnesses lent bad publicity to the creators of that vaccine, and the program was halted only after an estimated 40 million Americans received the vaccine, but no scientific proof exists to link the 70s era swine flu vaccine and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Regardless of any medical “proof”, many people are remembering what happened over 30 years ago and voicing their concerns about what might happen with the current round of planned vaccinations. Also, there’s a new buzz word in the game of vaccine fear — “adjuvant”. What is “adjuvant”, and why are people angry about its addition to the proposed swine flu vaccine?
An adjuvant is “something that allows the immune system to respond with higher levels of effectiveness,” according to the pharmaceutical company Aventis Pasteur. Basically, an adjuvant is an additive that could eventually lower the amount of vaccine needed per person, opening up the door for more individual doses to be available.
Consumers are most likely concerned about adjuvants because they haven’t heard of them before. However, adjuvants (which are mostly made of different forms of aluminum) are already in use in the United States, and if you’ve had a vaccine in the past twenty years, you’ve already been in contact with them. Adjuvants are currently used in vaccinations for everything from hepatitis A and B, to diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccines.
According to researchers working on the new swine flu vaccine, the adjuvant in the current incarnation of H1N1 vaccine would be a water-oil mixture.
The first run of drug trials on the new swine flu vaccine will use a form without adjuvants — the reason why is unclear — but later trials of the vaccine will use an adjuvanted form, but only if deemed necessary. This is also a point of contention for many people, who worry that testing a vaccine that isn’t identical to the vaccine that will be released is dangerous and pointless. The reason why unadjuvanted forms are being tested is simple. To the medical community, it is unneccessary to test a vaccine ingredient that has already been in use in this country for decades.
Consumers, having never really heard of adjuvants, are assuming this is a new addition to vaccines.
The hope for adjuvant use is simple — in the future, vaccines with adjuvants will require much smaller doses while giving patients an even better immune response. Less of a drug to get a better result means higher profits for vaccine manufacturers and better results for patients, not to mention more individual vaccine doses available for clinical use. The ability of the medical community to stretch this year’s supply of swine flu vaccine is a major issue. Fears about a shortage of swine flu vaccine could be put to rest if the doses could be split in two — that would bring the reported number of available doses at flu season’s outset to 120 million. The short answer on adjuvants — they will give a patient a better immune response while increasing the likelihood that all patients who need the vaccine will get it.
An example of how an adjuvant works — a bird flu vaccine is being tested in Asia. This vaccine is made up of 90 micrograms of an antigen (the ingredient that gives a patient an immune response) that could be reduced to as little as 3 micrograms in the presence of an adjuvant. This is allowing the manufacturer to split what was once a single dose into 24 usable doses of vaccine.
The flu vaccine that most of us get every year requires about 15 micrograms of antigen. Imagine a vaccine containing an adjuvant that could bring that number down to about 1 or 3 micrograms. With a smaller dose, there is less chance for complications and more vaccine to go around.
Still, it is difficult to look past the fact that vaccines have a history of safety concerns in this country, some legit concerns mixed up with the standard American paranoid response. For instance, when news broke that no flu vaccine ever used in the United States has contained an adjuvant up to this point, people immediately questioned the need for adjuvants this time around.
The simple answer is this — adjuvants weren’t used in flu vaccines because adjuvants weren’t necessary. Flu vaccines in America work well — doctors see a great immune response from the products already on the market. The addition of an adjuvant to a vaccine that didn’t need it would have been a wasteful and costly decision, and that cost would have passed down to you and me, the consumers.
If adjuvants are going to be used in this year’s swine flu vaccine, they will probably be used mostly for adults and the elderly — groups where the additives have been tested. In other words, children’s vaccines would not come with adjuvant, mostly because adjuvants haven’t been tested in children.
Why is the stock market struggling again?
For the second straight trading session in a row, stocks on Wall Street slumped considerably. From the Dow Jones Industrial Average to the Nasdaq composite, numbers were lower across the board. Is this a new downward trend for a market that appeared to be recovering?
According to market analysts, recent losses are due to a loss of confidence among consumers. Companies are nervous that these consumers and their lack of confidence will put even more pressure on an economy that is barely crawling out of a recession. We’ve had five or six months of steady advancement in the stock market, and nervous consumers at this late date doesn’t make anyone feel good about their economic future.
The Dow Jones industrial average lost a total of 186 points, or 2% of its volume. This was actually a gentle landing for a market that dropped as much as 204 points during the day’s trading. The S&P 500 index fell an even greater amount than the DJIA, ending 24 points lower than its beginning, or a total loss of 2.4% of volume.
These new low numbers mean that both market indicators closed after today’s trading at 4 week lows. The Nasdaq composite index was an even greater loser than either other indexes. The Nasdaq fell 55 points or 2.8% of total volume to end at a one month low.
In the last four to five weeks, the S&P 500 index had gained over 15% of its index. Some will say that a pullback in value is evident after such a lengthy run of positives, but a dip to a one month low wasn’t expected. Thankfully, most market analysts are suggesting that this brief dip is not a signal of things to come, but a bump in the road. The current financial markets in America have seen growth in stock value and in industrial sectors, so the pullback from a few months of high values won’t be so much a crash as, well, a pullback.
As of last Thursday, the Dow was at a nine-month high and the Nasdaq and S&P 500 were at 10-month highs, bolstering some economists prediction that the worst of the recession was behind us.
The bad news started rolling in last week after a consumer sentiment report last Friday that was far worse than had been predicted. After months of news that the economy was stabilizing, any blip on the radar is newsworthy, just don’t expect this current hiccough to be permanent.
There’s a bit of voodoo at play in the system. Wall Street keeps something called a VIX index — technically this is known as the “CBOE Volatility index”. It is basically a single digit representation of consumer fear. This index has soared as much as 18% in the last week — so traders should have expected this downturn.
Already, some sectors are stabilizing — namely housing and manufacturing. There is still a very weak labor market to contend with, and consistently higher oil and gas prices are helping raise that consumer fear index.
The stock market declines that went down on Monday were what are known as “broad-based” losses — to put this in layman’s terms, 28 of the 30 stocks that Wall Street uses to compile the Dow Jones Industrial Average faced losses. This means losses are being posted across all sectors of financial markets.
Who was recently honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom?
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is considered one of the highest awards given to civilians in the United States — the other being the Congressional Gold Medal. The Presidential Medal of Freedom itself is a decoration handed out by the President of the United States. The medal is meant as a major recognition on the part of the President to recognize citizens who have “made an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” The award is not limited to United States citizens.
This past Wednesday August 12, 2009, the East Room of the White House was the site for the presentation of 14 Presidential medals — a number greater than the number of living award recipients. President Obama was making a big point by handing out awards to people he called “Agents of Change” — a long list including sports figures, scientists, and grassroots organizers. The people given awards this year are all top of the line members of their field, be it the arts, sports, science, or humanities.
Said President Obama in his kickoff to the ceremony — “The true test of a person’s life is what we do for one another.” This was President Obama’s first official awards ceremony.
All but one of the 14 living honorees were in attendance, meaning this event was packed with big names from around the world. Some of the past award winners are actor Sidney Poitier, , former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and performer Chita Rivera. Senator Edward Kennedy was the only one absent — he has a good excuse. The Senator is battling brain cancer and just lost his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver the day before the ceremony. His daughter, Kara Kennedy, was at the ceremony to accept the award from President Obama on his behalf.
Obama pointed out time and again that this year’s recipients were chosen because they are “agents of change” — a term that Obama uses to mean that their various deeds and accomplishments helped the world become a better place. A lofty description, but a worthy one.
The other recipients were famous British physicist Stephen Hawking, Nancy Goodman Brinker (who founded the breast cancer grass roots organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure), Muhammad Yunus, an activist who founded the Grameen Bank to provide microloans to the poor in his native country of Bangladesh, Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, who was an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa, Pedro José Greer Jr., a Miami doctor who spends his time with the poor and homeless citizens in Miami, former tennis pro Billie Jean King (the first openly gay athlete after her very public coming out in 1981), the first female President of Ireland Mary Robinson, the Reverend Joseph Lowery, who was a major figure in the civil rights movement in the 1950s, and human gene specialist Janet Davison Rowley, the first scientist to discover the cause of Leukemia and many other cancers.
President Obama went on to say that “These extraordinary men and women remind us that excellence is not beyond our abilities … we each have it in our power to fulfill dreams.”
Here are some further quotes by Obama about some specific honorees –
Of Sydney Poitier, who became the first black man to win an Academy Award for best actor in 1963, Obama said he “not only entertained but enlightened … using the power of the silver screen to bring us closer together.”
One of the honorees, a Plains Indian known as Joe Medicine Crow, became the only award recipient of the night to make a public statement. Joe Medicine Crow, in full native feathered headdress and regalia, waited until the Medal was presented to him to shout “I am highly honored!” Joe Medicine Crow is the last living war chief of the Plains Indians. Rather than engaging in battle, his way is to maintain the history and culture of Native America.
Speaking of Dolores Rivera, Obama made a point of introducing the Puerto Rican woman by her given name — Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero — so he could drive home a point. Obama mentioned that the Tony award winning performer “knows adversity comes with a difficult name.” Cue the laugh track — if anyone has had “name trouble” this past year it has been Barack Hussein Obama.
Two posthumous honors were handed out — one for Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in America who was famously shot and killed in 1978, and the late U.S. congressman Jack Kemp.
How can you get paid for driving your car?
The phrase “get paid for driving your car” has been at the top of search term rankings for a few weeks now — what do these people know that you don’t?
There has been a lot of buzz around this concept lately — and for good reason. With the economy in a slump, tons of people in unemployment lines, and gas prices stuck solid between $2.50 and $3 bucks, all of us are looking for ways to keep afloat. The solution for some? Turn your car into a billboard.
That’s right — companies will pay you to slap their ad on your car. Makes sense for the company advertising — your car creates lots of marketing opportunities every day, opportunities that most other ads miss out on.
Known as “free car” or “get paid to drive” promotions, these programs will put money in your pocket in exchange for space on your vehicle’s exterior. Though “get paid to drive” promotions are less plentiful these days (after a peak in the 90s and early 2000s), you can still find people interested in a few square inches of your chassis. You have to know where to look (don’t worry, I’ll get you started) and what kind of driver and car the companies are looking for.
The basic idea behind the old “get paid to drive” concept is this — a company seeks regular people like you and me to go about their normal car routine, featuring a big ad plastered to the side of the vehicle. Don’t expect your car to look the same — some of these ads are more like a wrapper for your entire car, covering most of the car’s surface. After all, it is in the advertiser’s best interest to get the most bang for their buck.
The car’s owner is paid what is considered “rental” for the car’s exterior — this payment is usually between five and nine hundred bucks a month, for a limited amount of time, usually 6 months or so.
In the past there was a popular program similar to this called the “free car” promotion. That meant the ad company giving the driver an all new, pre advertised car. The drivers of these free cars didn’t get paid — the use of the car was their payment. Unfortunately, this plan didn’t make economic sense for car companies, and would certainly get you laughed out of the room at the board meeting of any of the big three carmakers.
There are many important criteria that these companies use to look for drivers for their program. They look at a driver’s criminal background, driving record, employment history, and a few other factors before scheduling a personal interview. Drivers must also have a certain amount of auto insurance coverage. Other factors that may influence a company’s decision to pay you to drive — the use of personality assessment tools and a requirement that stipulates a driver must take certain defensive driving courses. Hey — no one said that just under $1,000 a month came easy.
Interested drivers can check out these opportunities at the websites listed below. Remember that different companies will pay different amounts — not every driver is going to earn $900 a month. Still, it is a small price to pay for what could be the cost of a car note.
What is Google’s new search engine technology?
Google’s ubiquitous search engine, a feature of the Internet that many businesses depend on for revenue, is getting a bit of a makeover. Or, to put it more plainly, a shot of caffeine. In a major announcement late last week, Google decided to show the world a bit of the “next gen” search functions it has been hard at work on for the past few months.
Soon we’ll have a web preview of the new search system and design, known in the industry as “Caffeine”. Google said the new code will help the company “push the envelope on size, indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness and other dimensions.”
Why would Google make a move like this? If you’ve been reading the AskDeb blog this summer, you know we’ve been closely following the “search engine wars” — Google’s strong lead is now challenged by the beginnings of an intertwined relationship between Microsoft and Yahoo, a courtship that is growing stronger by the day. Google, the giant in the world of Internet queries, has decided to revamp its most basic component, the web search.
What will be different about Google searches? According to Google, most people won’t notice any changes. Apparently, the new “caffeine” shot will be a mostly “under the hood” upgrade. Even so, Google realized they just have to do something to whet the appetites of curious web developers and Google search fanatics — Google’s decided to release a kind of preview of the system, partially to respond to their fan’s demands, partially to get some feedback before they go live with Caffeine.
The user interface will stay the same. In fact, Google could implement Caffeine this instant and you wouldn’t notice a difference, unless of course your web business depends on Google for traffic. Those types of businesses may be the hardest hit by the new system.
Google has been quick to squash the idea that it is administering this high dose of Caffeine in order to “keep up with the Joneses”. Emphasizing that Caffeine is “the next generation” in search engine tech, Google reps have been careful to avoid saying the words “Microsoft” or “Yahoo”.
The biggest difference that users will see with Caffeine is that the implementation of the new technology could change how your Internet-based company ranks in Google search results. There are many businesses that quite literally live and die based on Google generated traffic, making the switch from decaf a pretty big deal.
Google’s billiant suggestion for companies wondering how to deal with the Caffeine rush is for them to “change their search engine optimization to protect their Google ranking.” Because you hadn’t thought of that yet.
The question on many web developer’s minds — will Caffeine will be more or less responsive to the actions of search engine optimization experts? How will Caffeine affect a business’ chances of landing on the coveted first page of Google results for keyword searches? Also, when should web developers react? This very instant is certainly too early to alter your SEO tactics, but you don’t want to wait too long and lose crucial time at the top of your client’s searches.
A few more choice quotes from Google that are making the rounds this morning:
“For the last several months, a large team of Googlers has been working on a secret project: a next-generation architecture for Google’s web search,” two engineers wrote in the company’s official blog.
“It’s the first step in a process that will let us push the envelope on size, indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness and other dimensions. The new infrastructure sits ‘under the hood’ of Google’s search engine, which means that most users won’t notice a difference in search results. But web developers and power searchers might notice a few differences, so we’re opening up a web developer preview to collect feedback.”
“Right now, we only want feedback on the differences between Google’s current search results and our new system. We’re also interested in higher-level feedback (‘These types of sites seem to rank better or worse in the new system’) in addition to ‘This specific site should or shouldn’t rank for this query.’ Engineers will be reading the feedback, but we won’t have the cycles to send replies.”
If you want to participate in the revisions made to Caffeine and the new Google search engine, check out the test of Caffeine at http://www2.sandbox.google.com
To give Google the feedback they’re look for, perform a search using the Caffeine test site. Directly on the search results page there is a link (at the bottom of the page) that reads “Dissatisfied? Help us improve.” When you click on that link, you’ll have the option of typing your feedback directly into a text box. Make sure you use the word “Caffeine” somewhere in the post to highlight that your feedback is directly related to the revamp.
What are the best iPhone apps for killing time?
Some people use their iPhones for conducting business or keeping in touch with friends and family. Still others, it has been reported this week, use iPhones as a hacking tool, lugging the benign looking device into sensitive areas so they can break the law covertly.
Personally, I prefer using the iPhone as a time killer. Any app that I can add to my phone that will distract me from my everyday routine will do just fine. Luckily the iPhone offers a seemingly infinite number of solutions for boredom. Here are my seven favorite apps — the ones that will distract me from work (or play) every time.
Simple explanation here — almost 1,000 police, fire, EMS, and other emergency service frequencies to listen in on. This may be a geek holdover from my childhood, but I love listening in on an armed robbery or a good old fashioned hostage situation. On the serious side, you can probably find an emergency service in your area, and in a storm or other natural disaster this app could actually help keep you safe. I got this app for my parents because they live in an area affected by both Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ike — if they can keep their phone charged by generator, they can keep an ear on the situation locally.
This app retails for 99 cents at the iTunes app store, and is usually pretty high on the app popularity list. That means a lot of you knew about this way before I did. Even so, I find myself going back to this app every day for my EMS fix. The app has cool features that your police scanner probably doesn’t have — you can save channels you want to come back to with a simple “bookmark” system, and the screen shows a list of common emergency codes while you listen.
This music app is nothing new. In fact, one of the first “app commercials” I saw showed Shazam in action. The basic idea behind Shazam is to sell you music, but you don’t have to be in the market for new tunes to enjoy Shazam’s unique skills. Hold the iPhone up to a source of music (be it speakers, an instrument, or even the human body) and Shazam will find the artist, the track, the album, where to find that artist’s videos on YouTube, and all kinds of other information, including (of course) the offer of purchasing the music. There’s a feature on Shazam that I don’t think most people really use — you can “tag” a song that you’ve found and send it to your friends. Okay, so it’s kind of a hipster way to share music, but it is really easy and one of a kind.
An updated version of Shazam is now available for free from the Apple app store. Have fun.
At just 99 cents, this addicting mini game takes one of George W. Bush’s infamous Spoonerisms and turns it into a turn based strategy game of world domination. This is not the prettiest game. You won’t be wowed by realistic soldiers firebombing their neighbor states. In fact, the game interface is a simple but attractive collection of wildly colored hexagons. Doesn’t sound fun, does it? Slide the Strategery app in between your Settings and Voice Menu and you’ll be hooked in no time.
The gameplay is similar to popular world domination game Risk, or the game Dice Wars if you’re familiar. It is easy to learn but definitely not easy to beat. What may sound like a toss off title (come on — are we still making fun of Bush for talking like an idiot?) is the most commonly used app on my iPhone right now. Yes, the game is that addictive.
Look for Strategery at iDrinkApp.com
Ever since Amazon.com acquired this “reader” app it has been popular. I’ve been enjoying Stanza since early last summer when it first appeared. Stanza is much too cool for a decent review in this article. Let me just say this — if you don’t have this *free* book reader on your iPhone you are wasting your iPhone’s capabilities. Stanza lets you read eBooks, digital newspapers, and other digitally formatted text files.
Unlike the Amazon Kindle, you can change the font, colors, and other features of the text you’re reading. Basically, you can keep your own private library on your iPhone or iPod touch. You can even share export these books and other files to other digital devices, like the Kindle or other eReader.
I have too many issues with the Kindle to get into here. It’s a sensitive area. The Stanza app, which is free (though with an eye toward selling books) has changed the way I read.
Download Stanza at lexcycle.com
“Paint” applications have been around since before PCs were in every home, and they all had one thing in common — they sucked.
Brushes, available through the iTunes app store for $5, allows you to make works of art on your iPhone that look like they were painted on a canvas. The texture of the brushes is perfect, the colors are vivid (and limitless), and the user features that come with the program only make the experience more valuable. Understand that the picture quality is top notch — The New Yorker magazine ran a front page painting done exclusively on an iPhone using the Brushes app
If you’re sick of trying to use MS Paint (succeeding only in scribbling) or are looking for a new kind of distraction for your iPhone, Brushes is one of my favorite apps ever designed.
Enter your favorite band, genre, or decade, and the (absolutely free) Last.fm app will create a personalized playlist for you on the go. For free. No subscription required. The Last.fm library is over 5 million songs strong, so you can expect a generous helping of tunes from across the musical spectrum.
Users can easily “teach” their radio station about their tastes using the “Love” or “Ban” option — hate a song or an artist that pops up? Ban it forever.
There are tons of band and artist bios, as well as tracklistings for certain tunes — even more interesting for me is the option to check if a band is touring and to view a list of tour dates. Don’t worry about losing your station for the most part. The app will stream music even if you aren’t near a wireless connection, as long as that area is 3G capable.
There are some downsides. It would be nice to be able to look for artist bios or tracklists without having them appear in your station — that’s impossible with this app. Also, sometimes the app is a little sketchy and doesn’t quickly deliver results for a new user initiated station. Still, I take my Last.fm app lumps and all. What more could you ask for from a free radio app?
Don’t waste your time paying for the ‘full version’ of the game — all it does is remove the ads which are totally bearable.
Touch Hockey is, like the name says, a game of “air hockey” for your fingers. The perfect way to kill time when you’ve got a friend to help, Touch Hockey is also an addictive game, probably because of the simple game play.
Users can alter the “game board” itself — customize your goal size and the score needed for a player to win. The developers of this game, FlipSide5, have made a ton of games based around flipping the iPhone on its side and “touching” to interact — no doubt you’ve seen or played Tic-Tac-Touch, Touch4 and Touch Tennis.
This seemingly simple app is a great icebreaker and time waster all in one.
What was the Pittsburgh Shooter’s motive?
The man that police say entered a fitness center in Pittsburgh, turned off the lights and opened fire has a name — George Sodini.
A systems analyst who was well known for his hatred of women, Sodini left behind plenty of written material to tell law enforcement authorities the story of his crime from development to action. Pieces of his diatribes about his personal life and his plans to get even with women are slowly but surely creeping onto the Internet.
In fact, Sodini kept a private blog to record his thoughts in the months leading up to his first (failed) attempt and the most recent deadly and succesful spree.
Sodini rants about his mother, a woman he refers to as both “vicious” and “vindictive”. The otherwise mild systems analyst also whines about his “despair” over his “inability to attract women”. In this sense, Sodini fits the classic mold of a misogynist.
Sodini has a very high opinion of himsef to go along with his ill will for women, writing in his blog — “I actually look good. I dress good, am clean-shaven, bathe, touch of cologne – yet 30 million women rejected me ….”
Many people are blaming this crime on pure sexism. That may sound strange in today’s world, but gender bias doesn’t look the way it did a hundred or even fifty years ago. A movement for gender equality has made some progress — we no longer see women banned from certain academic careers, and can you say WNBA — but true misogyny doesn’t make its face so well known. According to crime experts, gender bias is alive and well in America.
Sodini seems to fit a nasty pattern of male criminal — the kind who express serious hatred towards any and every woman. In fact, the very idea or image of a woman can send this type of misogynist into emotional overdrive. Sodini appears to have taken out his frustration on a number of female scapegoats. While crimes like this are not exactly common in America, the idea of misogyny is nothing new. According to popular lore, the oldest poem in existence is written in Greek — its title? “Woman”. The poem is a diatribe against all things female.
Why does misogyny still exist? How could a man like Sodini feel the way he does in the twenty-first century? Sociologists explain misogyny like this — women are very much considered caregivers. They are the main caretakers for our entire lives. When you have a system set up whereby one gender is responsible for something like nurturing and caregiving, the possibility for blame and intrigue both go through the roof. It is this strange mixture of worship and hatred that can create a killer just waiting in the wings for his chance to go off. In fact, writing in his violent and angry blog, Sodini punctuates this theory by calling his own mother “the Boss above all other Bosses.”
He goes on to say that his mother “actually thinks she’s normal. Her way and only her way with no flexibility toward everyone in the household. A power and control thing.”
I don’t think we’d be jumping to any conclusions by saying that Sodini’s problems with women start with the one that gave him life.
Then there’s the other angle Sodini points out — rejection or lack of recognition from women. Some men, who may be predisposed to violence or anger, become irrational after facing a series of rejections, even ones in their own mind. When a woman rejected Sodini, in his mind she was making a comment about his masculinity, attacking his sense of self. Most of us guys just shrug and move on.
Sodini was obviously a rejected male — complaining about the “millions” of women who rejected him, and constantly referred to himself as “Never married”.
Clearly Sodini had a ton of hatred towards women. Reading the details of his blog and his other written materials, it is clear that Sodini was a timebomb — he was going to commit this terrible act (eventually) and there was nothing that could get in his way. on committing this act, and nothing was going to stop him.
The attack went something like this.
Sodini planned for months to walk into his suburban Pittsburgh health club, turn off the lights, and open fire into a crowd of women. He even “stalked” the club at odd times, hoping to find a time when a women’s fitness group was meeting, figuring his chances for killing women were higher during a female only events.
George Sodini walked into his club Tuesday night with four guns. He would eventually use three of them in the attack.
Sodini had entered the club twice that day already — perhaps the crowd in the gym at those times was not to his liking, not filled with enough women, so Sodini left and came back. The third time, Sodini found his perfect set of victims — a dance class full of females, and killed three women, wounding nine others before killing himself.
Sodini’s neighbors described the 48 year old, an employee for a law firm’s finance department, “anti-social”. Sodini’s own blog vetted this fact, setting out the trails and tribulations of a sad loner. The blog even listed his date of death as Aug. 4, 2009.
Sodini allegedly had not a single girlfriend after the year 1984, and had gone without a date since May of 2008. In his blog, Sodini confesses to being completely without sex for almost twenty years.
Listen to some more of his raving — “Women just don’t like me. There are 30 million desirable women in the US (my estimate) and I cannot find one. Death Lives!”
Police say that Sodini fired as many as 52 shots before turning the gun on himself and committing suicide. “He walked right into the room where the shootings occurred as if he knew exactly where he was going,” Allegheny County police Superintendent Charles Moffatt said. “I think he went in with the idea of doing what he did.”
The three female victims who died in the attack were Elizabeth Gannon, 49, of Pittsburgh, Heidi Overmier, 46, of Carnegie, and Jody Billingsley, 38, of Mount Lebanon.
Law enforcement officials had some difficulty identifying the victims at first, due to their workout clothes and lack of identification.
Why was Chris Brown’s sentencing delayed?
Pop star Chris Brown has been in court this week to learn his punishment for assaulting his former girlfriend, pop star Rihanna just hours before the Grammy awards this past winter. The whole saga played out in the media and in gossip magazines, and we still see stories about a possible “reunion” between Brown and Rihanna, months after the initial event. This is a story that people love to hate.
The judge in his case, Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg, decided to postpone his sentencing on Wednesday in order to fully determine that his punishment (violently assaulting his girlfriend) would include “some physical labor such as road cleanup”.
The Los Angeles Superior Court judge rescheduled the sentencing for August 27 to give court employees the time necessary to arrange Brown’s community service sentence. Chris Brown, who is only 20 years old, will have to get his hands plenty dirty as punishment that is part of a plea deal he made in June on a single assault charge.
The delay also will give the court time to determine if Chris Brown can carry out the community service in his home state or if he must do the service in Los Angeles.
Chris Brown has fully admitted attacking Rihanna just a few hours before they were set to perform live at the Grammy Awards. Brown is expected to receive as much as five years’ probation and a full six months of physical community service.
Specifically, Judge Patricia Schnegg made it clear that she wants Brown to “remove graffiti or clear roadsides”. Brown requested to serve the sentence in Virginia, which will probably be less embarassing for him than the mean streets of Los Angeles — papparazzi know where to find you on road detail.
An LA detective reported that Chris Brown attacked Rihanna in his car after she looked through his cell phone and found an incriminating text message from another woman. Brown then tried to push or pull Rihanna out of the vehicle before deciding to punch her right there in the car. The photos leaked to the Internet of the aftermath are really brutal, showing bumps, bruises, black eyes, and even bite marks on Rihanna’s face.
Rihanna called her assistant and told her to call police, at which point Chris Brown allegedly told her he would kill her if she did that. It is after the death threat that he bit her ear.
The police report that Rihanna filed noted that the young pop star had blood in her mouth and marks that indicated she was choked.
Earlier this month, Chris Brown made a public apology for his crime and for his behavior. He didn’t take the man’s way out, choosing instead to appear on a video on his website, in which Brown claims he is “truly, truly sorry”. Brown added that what he did was “unacceptable”.
Many advocacy groups are calling for harsher punishment for the R&B singer. They say that probation and community service are too light of a punishment for a domestic assault case, and point out that Brown’s fame shouldn’t get in the way of justice.
We won’t know Brown’s final sentence until near the end of the summer.
Why did Paula Abdul leave American Idol?
Late last night, Paula Abdul announced she would not be returning as one of a triad of hosts on TV’s popular American Idol. Did she throw a press conference? Let it slip during an interview?
Nope — she used Twitter.
Someone needs to tell celebrities to stop the madness. I’m sick of Twitter being used as a kind of slam book (see Shaquille O’Neal’s taunting of David Beckham) or de facto news organization (Abdul’s announcement et al).
Why did Abdul decide to leave what is likely a lucrative position on one of the most popular TV programs in the world?
Early speculation held that she was using the Twitter post as a bargaining tool. That didn’t make sense to me right from the start. Why would Paula threaten to quit, publicly, in order to increase her position against Fox? A better tactic, had she been interested in bargaining, would have been a private meeting suggesting she had a better offer elsewhere. (She didn’t.)
For their part, Fox issued a statement this morning saying “While Paula will not be continuing with us, she’s a tremendous talent and we wish her the best.”
What do we know about American Idol that might inform this quitting business? Well for one thing, Paula Abdul was very vocal about the huge salary difference between her and the other Idol judges and hosts. Ryan Seacrest, for instance, just signed a $45 million three year deal to stay with the show, and sourpuss Simon Cowell makes more money than God through American Idol. Paula Abdul on the other hand was earning between $2 and $3 milion a year — around 20% of Seacrest’s earnings. Really, Idol? Paula Abdul makes less than Ryan Seacrest?
Tuesday, Fox and the two parent companies of “American Idol” (FremantleMedia North America and 19 Entertainment) issued a joint statement: “Paula Abdul has been an important part of the ‘American Idol’ family over the last eight seasons and we are saddened that she has decided not to return to the show. While Paula will not be continuing with us, she’s a tremendous talent and we wish her the best.”
Since it is clear that Fox could have decided to pay Paula more, their decision to let her go means they just didn’t want her around anymore.
So it really is “Goodbye, Paula” this time. She’s threatented before, and there have been rumblings of some shakeups among the Idol judges. This time, though, all bets are off.
Abdul wrote, via Twitter — “I’ll miss nurturing all the new talent, but most of all being a part of a show that I helped from day1 become an international phenomenon.”
Paula Abdul’s contract expired just after the end of this past season. The show, now headed for its ninth season, starts auditions this Thursday in Denver.
Last week, before Paula quit, word was leaked that Kara DioGuardi, added this year to the judging panel, would return for more Idol, sparking rumors that Abdul was a goner. Fox officially announced earlier this week that they’d picked up DioGuardi’s option.
Why are Russian submarines patrolling the United States coast?
If reading that headline gave you an 80s flashback, you’re not alone. People are surprised to find out that two Russian attack submarines have been spotted this week within a stone’s throw, submarine-wise, of the United States. The sighting of the two nuclear subs represents the first major sighting of Russian submarines since the days of the Cold War
The Pentagon has confirmed — two Russian attack submarines have been “patrolling the waters” off the East Coast of the United States in the past week, including one submarine that came as close as 200 miles offshore. Although Pentagon officials (who have been monitoring the sub’s movements) didn’t consider the sub’s presence as a threat, one senior military official said the patrols were “unusual”. We have to remember that Russia today is not the same as it was twenty or thirty years ago. Their navy is weak, and there haven’t been submarine missions like this in decades.
The Pentagon has determined that the sub’s presence is not “provocative”, and officials were quick to point out that both nuclear subs stayed in “international waters” during the entirety of their partrol.
This story “broke” early this week when the sightings were reported via an online edition of the New York Times.
For those with a short memory, or who were born after the Cold War, these patrols were once quite normal. In fact, during the course of the Cold War, submarines from both the U.S. and the Soviet Union made regular patrols in the North Atlantic. It was a kind of game — an elaborate burlesque show of naval capability in which both sides showed off their skills at tracking and targeting rival positions. The patrols in the North Atlantic were also meant to indicate to the other side that both sides would be ready in case of war.
The same senior military official quoted saying that the patrols are not an act of aggression released the following info on the Russian boats — both vessels are nuclear powered “Akula class” submarines. These are the same subs that were used during the hottest part of the Cold War to track NATO ships. “Akula class” subs would likely have been the first line of a Russian offensive had that war gone fully hot. “Akula class” boats have the ability to attack with both torpedoes and missiles. While we refer to them as “nuclear subs”, don’t be alarmed — this class of sub only relies of nuclear energy for its power. It takes much larger ballistic missile firing submarines to launch nuclear weapons.
There are a few unconfirmed aspects of the New York Times story — for instance, the Times reported that one of the pair of submarines most recent move was to put in port in Cuba. The Pentagon specifically mentioned that there is no confirmation of that fact, and that the US military instead believes that submarine hung back near the coast of Greenland.
So why are the Russians sending out nuclear submarines now? The fact that we’re even asking that question may give us the answer. The Russian navy is the laughingstock of powerful navies — after the Cold War, Russia couldn’t support the kind of military force they’d built up, and many programs were scrapped. The recent showy submarine patrols are just the latest in a series of military operations by the Russians designed to show that they’re not dead in the water.
Last year, for instance, a Russian long range strategic bomber came out of nowhere and “buzzed” the U.S. aircraft carrier Nimitz and its escorts while that particular strike group was making a regular patrol of the Pacific Ocean. Two years ago, the British Royal Air Force went so far as to scramble fighters in order to intercept Russian strategic bombers that were flying patrols a bit too close to UK territorial air space.
An American naval expert quoted in the New York TImes article said it was “probably 15 years since Russia had put two nuclear subs in such proximity to their former Cold War rivals.”
This morning, the Russian military establishment finally responded to the news. An unnamed Russian official says patrols in international waters are “routine”, and that there was no need for “hysteria”. Another senior Russian general has shrugged off Washington’s concerns, according to the New York Times, saying it was “business as usual” for Moscow to keep its navy in shape. The specific quote — “I don’t know if it’s news to anyone,” Anatoly Nogovitsyn, Russia’s deputy chief of general staff, said. “The navy should not stay idle at its moorings.”
In 2007, Russia (which is ready to play a more serious role on the world stage) resumed Cold War era flights of nuclear ready bombers across the Atlantic Ocean. Consider this movement into the ocean part of the plan. Russia relies heavily on its so called “nuclear triad” — land based missiles, nuclear submarines and strategic bombers.
Before anyone panics, remember — the submarines have not taken any “provocative action” besides their mere presence, and that presence is in international waters.
What are the predictions for this year’s hurricane season?
Researchers have been scaling back their estimates on the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season since it started earlier this summer. Past seasons have seen violent storms form seemingly from the very beginning of the potential window for hurricanes — but this year has been terribly quiet.
Too quiet, in fact, for some. Even as I’m writing this, there is an area of interest in the Atlantic ocean — an area of showers and thunderstorms off the Cape Verde islands that shows some potential for turning into a tropical storm within the next few days.
The Colorado State University storm research team, probably the most trusted set of analysts for tropicl activity, has officially reduced its own 2009 Atlantic hurricane season forecast, predicting that only 10 tropical storms will appear in the Atlantic, and that only four of those storms are likely to strengthen into hurricanes.
Interestingly enough, after a string of years featuring nasty storms (Katrina, Rita, Ike, etc) this year is the slowest start to any Atlantic hurricane season since 1992.
The Colorado State forecasting team, founded by famous storm researcher William Gray, made a prediction earlier this summer that the season would see 11 tropical storms, including five hurricanes. While today’s reduction to 10 storms and 4 hurricanes may seem like a small difference, imagine if that one storm lost had been a killer like Katrina.
Tuesday’s forecast revision by Colorado State researchers suggests that only two of the hurricanes would reach the all important “major” status of Category 3 or higher. At Category 3, hurricanes contain sustained winds of over 110 miles per hour. This is the level at which hurricanes begin to do major damage.
Tuesday’s change in the forceast is the third time already this season that Colorado State’s hurricane forecast has been reduced due to sea surface temperatures dipping lower than expected. It is not all that common for the mostly tropical Atlantic Ocean to cool down this much during hurricane season. Some suggest that the development of El Nino conditions in the eastern Pacific may have something to do with the forecast change as well. El Nino is a weather system that cuases the occasional warming of Pacific sea waters that acts to dampen Atlantic hurricane activity by increasing a force known as “wind shear” — wind shear is a severe difference in conflicting wind speeds at differing altitudes. These wind shear forces appear to destroy cyclones at an atmospheric level.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. government agency in charge of reports on the climate, said in early July that the eastern Pacific had demonstrated El Nino conditions. This meant trouble for the Colorado State researchers who predicted last December that this hurricane season would produce 14 storms, seven of which would reach full hurricane strength. The forecast dropped to 13 storms, including six hurricanes, in April, then again to 12 and 5 this summer.
Strangely enough, the first two months of the current Atlantic season (June and July) have not produced any tropical storms or hurricanes. The season runs through November 30th, but most of the activity in the Atlantic happens long before then. Historically, according to Colorado State researchers, the busiest part of the season is from late August to mid-October.
What does this slow start mean for those who live in the path of potential hurricanes? Going back to the fact this season has been incredibly slow — the last hurricane season that started this slowly was in 1992, the year of Hurricane Andrew.
I don’t say that to scare people, but to remind people that a slow start doesn’t mean a slow ending. “El Nino” is certainly putting a chokehold on the Atlantic storm season, but weather forecasters are now pointing to dry desert air from the Sahara as a potential storm slowing factor.
Those of you in the path of tropical storms and hurricanes, consider yourselves lucky — you’ve been given an extra two months to get ready for this hurricane season. Make sure you are stocked with supplies in case of emergency, and that you have an evacuation plan set with your family and friends.
Why was NFL star Plaxico Burress indicted?
There seems to be no end to the “star athlete as criminal” news this summer. Late in 2008, star NFL receiver Plaxico Burress accidentally discharged a weapon in a New York City night club, injuring himself and frightening the club’s patrons. He (and his fellow player Antonio Pierce, who drove him to the hospital and allegedly helped hide the gun) was arrested on gun charges, and New York law enforcement officials soon made it clear that Burress was facing serious trouble. You see, New York takes their gun law quite seriously.
On Monday, August 3, a grand jury indicted the former Giants receiver on two seperate counts of criminal possession of a weapon and one count of reckless endangerment — three charges for effectively shooting himself and ending his football career. The craziest part — Burress faces a minimum 3 1/2 years in prison if he is convicted. This seems like a stiff penalty for a guy who put a bullet in his own leg, especially considering what happened (or didn’t happen) to Donte Stallworth after that NFL player killed a person while driving drunk — and got less than 30 days in jail for it.
More player controversy is not what this league needed.
Giants linebacker, and Burress’ alleged partner in crime Antonio Pierce, was not indicted and will not face charges or any suspension from the NFL.
Antonio Pierce, just 30 years old, was at the Latin Quarter club with Plaxico Burress, who is not much older at 31, when Buress allegedly misfired a pistol he carried in the front waistband of his jeans and shot himself in the right thigh. Plax’s friend helped “arrange” for someone to remove Burress’ gun and the gun’s magazine from the crime scene, sending them over to Antonio Pierce’s home. Pierce then had the gun returned back to Plaxico Burress’ home the day after the incident, which is where the gun was when police recovered it. The big problem here is that Plaxico Burress is not licensed to own or carry a firearm in either New York or New Jersey, the state where he lives.
Shortly after Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau announced the grand jury’s decision, an NFL spokesman said: “In light of today’s grand jury decision, we see no basis for a suspension of Antonio Pierce.”
Burress faces a maximum prison sentence of 15 years on the two counts of criminal weapon possession, which is a class C violent felony. The one time big name football player also faces a maximum one year prison term on the endangerment charge, which is a lesser crime — a class A misdemeanor. There is curently no date set for Plaxico Burress’ arraignment in New York State Supreme Court. His attorney released a brief statement late yesterday, saying that he himself “doesn’t expect the trial to begin until spring”.
Reading the statement a little deeper, we find this gem from Plax’s attorney — “Although disappointed, we are not surprised, as the facts of this case have not been in dispute since the date of the incident. When you have the mayor and the district attorney both publicly demanding a maximum prison sentence, it was perhaps too much to hope for the grand jury to conduct a sympathetic review of the unique facts of this sad case.”
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before — but why should superstar athletes be held to any lighter standard when they commit crimes? These people, like it or not, are role models for a certain segment of the population, and now that it seems the entirety of the NFL has a mugshot, some (like me) believe it’s time that these players stepped up and held down that role.
Put simply — Plaxico Burress, who just happens to be a star athlete and something of a celeb, will be headed to prison like any person who carries an illegal weapon in New York. Burress’ actions show little regard for public safety — and why would a star athlete need a pistol anyway? Can’t he hire a bodyguard like the rest of the celebrity world?
I think we owe a debt of gratitude to the grand jury that decided yesterday to charge Plaxico Burress to the fullest extent that the law allowed. Think of it this way — if you or I hit a person while driving drunk, or shot off an illegal weapon in a night club, or ran dog fighting ring, what would happen to us? Who would be there to give us a soft landing? No one — and these players should face the full penalties available to the courts just like the rest of us. For Burress, the future looks bleak — and that isn’t something I’ll celebrate. Burress was a joy to watch, whether he was catching passes or answering media questions. Unfortunately for the one time Giants receiver, he will likely spend at least the next two seasons in a cell, and after he gets out (in his mid thirties) who knows if any team will have him?
I hope that Burress can see a silver lining here. Every day that he spends in prison watching his old teammates play on television, he’ll act as a kind of warning to those considering carrying illicit weapons. Like Michael Vick before him, Burress could become a warning of “what could happen” to teenagers across the country.
There were so many bad decisions on the night of November 29, 2008 — the first poor choice was when Burress decided to cross the state line from New Jersey into New York with an illegal .40-caliber pistol. Another bad decision — bringing the gun into the night club and hiding it in such a way that it would go off accidentally. The last bad choice — Antonio Pierce deciding to hide the weapon for his teammate and friend.
Surprisingly, the grand jusry gave the gun hiding Antonio Pierce a “get out of jail free” card — was it because Pierce eventually cooperated? Did Pierce cut a plea bargain? We don’t know yet. According to legal analysts, the grand jury likely saw Pierce as a victim of Plaxico Burress’ reckless behavior. Count your lucky stars, Pierce.
The jury also chose not to indict a security guard who transported Burress’ gun out of the club and into Pierce’s car — hospital staff, who were in trouble for failing to notify police of the shooting incident as required by law — also got off without so much as a slap on the wrist. The security worker for the night club merely exhibited “bad judgment” according to the grad jury panel, and the hospital staff? They committed a major screw up, but the grand jury could not find anything to charge them with.
Burress could still strike some kind of plea bargain himself, but according to NYC chief assistant district attorney Mark Dwyer this is unlikely, as the best bargain Burress would get is a year or 18 months off the charge he’s already been indicted for, still sidelining him for the next two NFL seasons. Burress is unlikely to bargain for a gift he doesn’t really want.
Both Plaxico Burress and Antonio Pierce testified before the grand jury last week. Only Antonio Pierce succeeded at making his case, as his lengthy two day court appearance may have been the final straw that cleared him of any charges. Some writers have indicated that if Antonio Pierce had not testified in front of the panel, he would have been indicted along with Plax.
Antonio Pierce, for his part, is sweating this one out at Giants training camp in Albany. Plaxico Burress’ decision to testify, unlike Pierce, may have hurt his case, and kept him from the chance of earning an acquittal if he goes to trial. Plaxico Burress is now locked into a specific story and timeline of events which takes away his defense attorney’s ability to plead his case. Testifying before the grand jury? Pierce, win — Burress, lose.