Monday, 27 April 2009

China's new contender for world's tallest man

TIANJIN, China (AFP) - - Zhao Liang needs two beds to rest his 2.46-metre (8ft, 1in) frame, one of life's inconveniences for the Chinese giant who could become officially known as the world's tallest man.

The 27-year-old is 10 centimetres (four inches) taller than the current holder of the title, another Chinese man, but the media-wary Zhao has not yet decided whether he wants the Guiness Book of Records to officially ratify him.

Lying on a makeshift iron bed in a hospital in the northern city of Tianjin after an operation on his foot, Zhao seems almost bored with his sudden rise to fame.

The hospital was forced to put together two standard-sized iron beds to accommodate the giant from central Henan province whose parents are of average height, but he still has trouble fitting his large frame onto the narrow mattresses.

His shoulders, hands, legs and feet are all massive, and he finds it difficult to find clothes and shoes to fit.

Weighing 155 kilogrammes (341 pounds), Zhao squeezes into European size 56 (US size 20) shoes, and has to order his sports shoes from Japan or the United States.

He is huge even compared with China's most famous tall man, Yao Ming, the basketball star who plays for the Houston Rockets in the American NBA and stands 2.29 metres tall.

Asked about Zhao's clothes, Wang Keyun, his 1.68-metre-high mother, laughs and unravels a pair of his trousers -- they reach up to her face when she stands up.

"For my son, everything is always custom-made, and when he was young I would make his clothes myself," she said.

Zhao has also been forced to confront more serious inconveniences, which he describes with few words.

"When I was young, I stayed at home because of my height, and I did not play with others as they were small and I was tall," he said.

Zhao, whose parents are farmers, left school when he was 14, and worked in construction and as a labourer.

But an artistic troupe noticed him in 2006 and employed him as a musician, playing the hulusi, a traditional Chinese wind instrument.

Things changed for the better and he now has friends, he said, although he still does not have a girlfriend -- a fact that concerns his mother.

"I am really worried about that," she said.

However Zhao's reluctant rise to fame could have a silver lining and perhaps encourage him to seek official status with the Guinness Book of Records as the world's tallest man.

The current holder of the title -- 2.36-metre herdsman Bao Xishun from the steppes of Inner Mongolia, launched a highly public search for a bride three years ago.

After a lifetime as a bachelor, Bao, aged in his 50s, heard back from more than 20 interested women and married one of them, who was half his height, after a courtship of just one month in 2007.

And while Zhao may not appreciate the media attention, doctors in the Tianjin hospital are proud of having such a surprise celebrity client.

They are quick to point out that the operation on Zhao's left foot, damaged in a basketball fall when he was 17, was successful and free.

The hospital has pampered the young man -- his room is spartan, but an extra bed has been added for his mother, and he has his own living room and bathroom.

The medics are also the reason for his sudden climb to fame because Zhao was just an anonymous tall man in the world's most populous nation until they measured him and spread the word about his height.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

`Idol' finalists sing to stay alive on Disco Night

NEW YORK - "American Idol" is boogeying toward another elimination.

Tuesday night's worrisome theme is "disco," and a number of finalists have impressed judges with groovy versions of '70s classics.

As expected, the seemingly unstoppable force known as Adam Lambert had Simon Cowell and the gang wrapped around his finger. The 27-year-old "Idol" frontrunner wowed the panel with his restrained, emotional delivery of "If I Can't Have You."

Paula Abdul _ who had a dreamy look on her face _ said she felt Lambert's "pain." The judge called the theater actor fascinating, brilliant and a shoo-in for the finals of the Fox singing contest.

In another bold declaration, she also told Danny Gokey he'd make it to the final stretch.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

P1.1-million Omega watch at stake in Goma Cup Reunion

If the participants in Richard Gomez’s Goma Cup Reunion would play harder than usual, it must be because at stake for the overall champion is an Omega Constellation Double Eagle Co Axial “Mission Hills” Numbered Edition Rose Gold in black strap worth, hold your breath, P1.1 million!

The Goma Cup Reunion is slated for April 22 to 25 at the Fairways & Bluewaters in Boracay.

Also at stake is a P.4-million Omega Constellation “Mission Hills” in Titanium as the “hole in one” prize.

The P1.1-M Omega watch will be raffled off if nobody emerges overall champion.

The Goma Cup was last held in 2002. This time, the network war will be set aside as the Goma Cup gathers both Kapamilya and Kapuso golfers who have joined previous Goma Cups.

“Guests will also do their share in helping clean the environment since they will participate in a beach clean-up,” assured Richard.

Guests will also be treated to special dinners for three consecutive nights wearing summer’s hottest shades and glittery glam outfits.

Organized by Richard and Marilen Nu├▒ez in 1994, the Goma Cup is regarded as the longest-running and most successful celebrity event in the country. It gathers the country’s biggest stars, media personalities and other golf enthusiasts.

The Goma Cup Reunion is organized by LEN PLUS Inc., sponsored by Fairways & Bluewaters, Philosophy by Mikaela, Rudy Project, Omega, Ocean Minded, Bench, Hawaiian Tropic, SEAir, Republic, Tides Boracay, Jagermeister, Jose Cuervo Tequilla, Hi-Tech Printing, Fuentes Publicity Network, Inc. and the Philippine Tourism Authority.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Steep first quarter drop in worldwide PC sales

WASHINGTON (AFP) - - Worldwide sales of personal computers fell sharply in the first three months of the year but the US market held up better than others, market research firms IDC and Gartner reported Wednesday.
DC said worldwide shipments of desktop and portable PCs fell 7.1 percent in the first three months of the year compared with last year while Gartner said they registered a decline of 6.5 percent in the quarter to 67.2 million units.

"We are seeing some evidence of channel inventory restocking, particularly in the US," said Gartner research director George Shiffler. "This restocking should not be interpreted as a recovery in PC end-user demand; it's still unclear if the global PC market has hit the bottom."

Shiffler's comments contrasted with those of Intel president Paul Otellini, who said Tuesday that the world's biggest computer-chip maker believed PC sales had "bottomed out during the first quarter and that the industry is returning to normal seasonal patterns."

IDC's Loren Loverde said "tight credit and economic concerns have certainly taken a toll on PC shipments in the last couple quarters, but the move to portables, fueled by mini-notebooks and falling prices, has mitigated the impact.

"Following a drawdown in inventory throughout the supply chain, we expect more stable production over the next couple quarters, with growth returning around the end of the year."

IDC said the US PC market "fared better than expected, and breaking with tradition, even outperformed the global market and many emerging regions."

IDC said PC sales fell three percent in the United States in the first quarter compared with the same quarter last year, while Gartner put the decline at 0.3 percent.

Hewlett-Packard remained the number one PC maker worldwide with a 20.5 percent market share according to IDC and a 19.8 percent share according to Gartner followed by Dell, Taiwan's Acer, China's Lenovo and Japan's Toshiba.

HP edged past Dell in the US market in the first quarter according to both IDC and Gartner, taking the top spot for the first time since 2001.

HP captured 27.6 percent of the US market in the first quarter according to IDC with Dell next at 26.3 percent followed by Acer with 10.5 percent, Apple with 7.6 percent and Toshiba with 6.6 percent.

"HP's dethroning of Dell as the US market share leader and extending its worldwide market share lead is a testament to the company's solid record of business execution over the last several quarters and indicates that Dell still faces some challenges in its efforts to reignite its business," IDC said.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Quake brings hardship to Italy's immigrants

L'AQUILA, Italy - Among the thousands of people hard-hit by Italy's earthquake last week are a large number of immigrants who have seen the lives they built for themselves in a new land destroyed in an instant.

While Italians with means have taken refuge at second homes or with family and friends, Peruvians, Filipinos and others in the growing immigrant population often have nowhere to turn, becoming a large and visible presence in the dozens of tent camps housing the quake survivors.

"We don't have anything," said Jimmy Ruiz, 28, a Peruvian who bought a house with several other relatives that is now severely damaged, "a nightmare," as he puts it. Now he lives in a tent with relatives and his pregnant girlfriend and is considering returning to his impoverished homeland, at least temporarily. "We don't have inheritances or parents with money like the Italians. We are starting from zero, and now we are destroyed."

Paolo Brivio, a spokesman for the Catholic charity Caritas, said the earthquake that struck April 6, killing 294 people, is the "first major emergency in Italy in which there is a massive presence of immigrants."

"Not only have they lost jobs and homes that they are paying mortgages on _ like Italians _ but without work or a home, many could lose the right to stay in Italy legally," Brivio said.

There are no official figures yet on the number of foreigners among the 55,000 people dispersed by the earthquake _ 33,000 of whom are living in the tent camps. But it's clear that the number of foreigners is large. L'Aquila, the city worst hit, was home to about 4,000 legal immigrants _ plus an unknown number of illegal, undocumented residents _ in a population of about 70,000, Caritas said. The Caritas figures put L'Aquila right in line with the national immigrant population of 5.7 percent of Italy's 59.6 million residents.

At the main tent camp in L'Aquila, large numbers of foreigners, mostly Peruvians, Romanians and Filipinos, are among those lining up these days for free meals, hanging laundry outside their tents or passing time with card games and soccer matches.

With many well-off Italians trickling away to homes with hot water and privacy, a large number of those left behind to live in tent cities are some of society's most vulnerable: along with immigrants there are impoverished Italians and elderly people without family.

Julyn Macabante, a soft-spoken 26-year-old woman from the Philippines, arrived in Italy nearly four years ago and has since worked as a housekeeper for a psychiatrist and his wife. When the earthquake struck their large home filled with antiques and oil paintings, the couple fled to the home of their daughter, a lawyer living in Rome, taking along some of their earthquake-stricken friends.

"They said they were sorry but that they didn't have room for me too," said Macabante, who supports her family back home with what she earns in Italy. Now she lives in a large blue tent with a cousin and nine other people.

Still she considers herself among the lucky: the family stopped by the camp on Easter to check on her and have promised to help her find work with another family. She shares their sorrow as they too struggle to rebuild their own lives. "It's a calamity. It's understandable," she said.

Others are more bitter, however, as the hardship of camp life has created tensions between Italians and foreigners, largely as a result of what officials say are baseless rumors that the immigrants are profiting from the quake help they are given.

There have been no major incidents reported of looting or profiteering, and the only arrests so far were of four Romanians publicly announced on national television by Premier Silvio Berlusconi. The four were acquitted in a speedy trial the same day.

Now, Peruvians say they face humiliating accusations when they line up for food or ask for clothing being brought in by rescue groups and charities.

Ruiz said when he was accused by Italian quake survivors of "taking advantage" of the situation when he asked for food for several people at mealtime. He said they didn't realize he was getting food for relatives back in his tent.

"They don't remember when they were immigrants in South America and the United States, now that they are doing well," Ruiz, a bricklayer, said. "What really hurts is how hard we have worked for them and they don't see it."

Saturday, 11 April 2009

30 crucified in Philippines Good Friday ritual

CUTUD, Philippines, April 10, 2009 (AFP) - An Australian and 29 Filipinos were crucified in different parts of the Philippines in gory annual Good Friday rituals imitating the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.

John Michael, a 33-year-old from Melbourne, joined three local men and one woman in being nailed to a wooden cross in Kapitangan town, just outside Manila. Another 25 men were crucified in Cutud town, north of the capital.

Such practices, although not formally endorsed by the Roman Catholic church, are carried out as part of religious vows in return for favours granted or in penance for sins.

Michael, who was half-naked and wearing a long-haired wig with an improvised crown of thorns, joined the Filipinos in a procession carrying a huge wooden cross to a crucifixion site, flanked by men in Roman centurion costumes.

The Australian could be heard moaning loudly as the nails were driven into his palms and as his cross was hoisted up, allowing him to hang for about five minutes.

When he was taken down, the centurions rushed him to a medical tent for treatment.

Michael would not say why he had joined the ceremony but an Australian companion merely said "this is a personal thing for him."

In Cutud, where such crucifixions are a 54-year-old tradition, 25 people were crucified in three districts as thousands of foreign and local tourists flocked to the scene.

Many of these "Kristos"-- as the crucified men are called -- have gone through this ordeal a number of times. The leader of the main body of Kristos, 48-year old Ruben Enaje, endured his 23rd crucifixion.

Enaje, a carpenter, vowed to undergo the ritual after he escaped unscathed when falling from a three-storey building.

Accompanying the Kristos are hundreds of "flaggelants," or "penitentes"-- hooded men who whip their own bloody backs with whips of bamboo and rope, as penance for sins.

Domingo Cunnanan, 38, said had been a "penitente" for 16 years, but had graduated to being one of the Kristos since 2007.

"I wanted to be crucified because I believe this is will keep my family safe, with the help of God," Cunnanan said.

"The pain of penitence is nothing compared with a year of grace given to my family by God," he added.

"I think it's crazy," said British tourist Mirjam Leenhouts. "Why would you want to hurt yourself?"

"That's some kind of extreme devotion," she remarked, as she witnessed the Kristos at Cutud being crucified three at a time.

After crucifixion, each Kristo is taken to a medical tent to have his wounds bandaged while another takes his place on the cross.

"We have precautionary measures such as giving out medicines, sterilising of the nails for the crucifixion, and have first aid kits prepared just in case," said George Dayrit, a medical team member.

Critics say the event has become commercialised and is used for money-making rather than an expression of faith.

Town councillor Jimmy Lazatin, an organiser of the event, said that the crucifixions were a way of attracting tourists who bought hats, sunglasses, soft drinks, snacks and shirts from vendors who converged at the site.

Not all townsfolk were involved and many could be seen drinking and gambling while their neighbors marched in the hot sun, flogging their backs crimson.

Francis Santos, a relative of one of the flaggelants, remarked "they are just selling the 'penitentes' but people still believe in God and that is why they are undergoing this sacrifice."

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Gossip writer out of job after "Wolverine" review

Host Hugh Jackman speaks on stage during the 81st Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 22, 2009.

LOS ANGELES - Columnist Roger Friedman is out at after reviewing an illegally downloaded copy of Fox's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" last week.

Friedman, who wrote the Fox411 column for, met with Fox News executives Monday. Following the meeting, the company issued a statement saying the parties had "mutually agreed to part ways immediately."

Friedman could not be immediately reached for comment.

By admitting to having downloaded the film, which doesn't arrive in theaters until May 1, Friedman earned a big thumbs-down from News Corp., Fox News' parent company.

The trouble began Tuesday when an illicit copy of the film made its debut onto the Web. Fox immediately condemned the theft and copying of an unfinished workprint of the film and enlisted the FBI and the Motion Picture Assn. of America to track down the perpetrators.

Downloading a copy of the film himself, Friedman wrote a positive review that appeared in his Fox411 column Thursday.

"I doubt anyone else has seen this film. But everyone can relax. I am, in fact, amazed about how great "Wolverine" turned out. It exceeds expectations at every turn," he wrote.

But he also described how easy it is to download any film or TV show and joked he might decide to catch up on some other recent films via illegal downloads.

Fox -- pointing that out Fox News is a separate business under the News Corp. banner -- responded Friday, "This behavior is reprehensible and we condemn this act categorically, whether the review is good or bad."

Parent News Corp. issued its own condemnation, saying, "Roger Friedman's views in no way reflect the views of News Corp.," and adding, "Once we learned of Roger Friedman's post, we asked Fox News to remove it, which they did immediately."

After word began to circulate late Saturday that Friedman had been removed as well, News Corp. amended its statement, adding that Fox News had "promptly terminated Mr. Friedman."

But the columnist's status still appeared unclear Sunday afternoon.

Friedman would not comment except to say, "Reports of my death have been extremely exaggerated."

"This is an internal matter that we are not prepared to discuss at this time," a Fox News spokesperson said, leaving the entire matter in question.

Twenty-four hours later, Fox News and Friedman had gone their separate ways.

Friday, 3 April 2009

On new cell phones, QWERTY eases out 1-2-3

LAS VEGAS - Goodbye, numeric cell phone keypads. You're going the way of the rotary dial. Touch screens and QWERTY keyboards will take over from here, thank you.

At North America's largest cell phone trade show, running this week in Las Vegas, there were few new phones for the U.S. market that had a numerical keypad instead of an alphabetic keyboard. Touch screens also were out in force.

These changes are a recognition of the popularity of text messaging and wireless Internet use. Industry organization CTIA Wireless, which hosts the show, said U.S. subscribers sent 1 trillion text messages last year, three times the 2007 volume. Meanwhile, the same people used 2.2 trillion minutes of voice calls, an increase of less than 5 percent.

This shift in how people use their mobile devices has overturned cell phone design. According to NPD Group, 31 percent of phones sold in U.S. stores in the fourth quarter of 2008 had full-alphabet keyboards, up from 5 percent two years earlier.

AT&T Inc., the second-largest wireless carrier after Verizon Wireless, introduced six phones this week, all of which had either a touch screen, a typewriter-style keyboard, or both. At the booth of Samsung Electronics Co., the largest seller of phones in the U.S., there were no new keypad phones.

Motorola Inc., the largest domestic maker of phones, was showing off one low-end handset with a keypad. It went on sale through AT&T two weeks ago. But Motorola's big news was a model called the Evoke, which has a touch screen. It's designed for the U.S. market, though it doesn't have a carrier distribution agreement yet.

LG Electronics Inc. displayed a new handset, the GD900, that seemed to both emphasize a numeric keypad and make it vanish. A pad slides out from the GD900's body, but it's made of transparent plastic, so you can see right through it. You don't need to use keypad at all, since the screen is touch-sensitive. Other new LG phones were also dominated by touch screens.

Even at the low end of the market, keyboards for text messaging are becoming common and affordable. AT&T expects to sell two of the keyboard-equipped phones it introduced, the Samsung Magnet and LG Neon, for about $20 to $30.

Old-fashioned numeric keypads still will have a prominent place _ but largely overseas. In a twist of market dynamics, the demand for QWERTY phones is mainly a North American phenomenon, said Ross Rubin, an analyst at NPD.

Although touch screens are gaining in popularity all over the world, people in other countries got into text messaging much earlier and "became acclimated to texting with a keypad," Rubin said. Meanwhile, the U.S. market has been influenced by high-end smart phones like the Treo and the BlackBerry that pioneered small versions of typewriter-style keyboards.

As a result, numeric keypads were still dominant at the CTIA booth of Nokia Corp., the world's largest maker of cell phones, which has a relatively minor presence in the U.S. The same was the case at the booth of Japanese-Swedish manufacturer Sony Ericsson.

Other notable wireless devices at the show (prices are with two-year contracts):

_ The Samsung Impression is the first phone on the U.S. market with a screen that uses organic light-emitting diodes rather than liquid crystals. Since OLEDs emit their own light, rather than filtering a fluorescent backlight like LCDs, they can save on battery life and provide better image quality. The Impression has a 3.2-inch touch screen capable of showing very saturated colors and dark blacks, and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. AT&T will sell the phone for $200 starting Tuesday. OLEDs have shown up before in camera displays, and Sony sells a small, expensive OLED TV.

_ AT&T will sell the Nokia E71x, which is billed as the thinnest smart phone in the country, less than half an inch thick. The layout is similar to that of a BlackBerry or BlackJack, and includes a keyboard. Nokia has had a hard time penetrating the U.S. smart phone market, and previous, similar Nokia models sold by AT&T haven't made much of dent on the dominant market share of Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry. Despite being so thin, the E71x has a 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus. The phone will cost $100. AT&T has no firm launch date.

_ Sprint Nextel Corp. trotted out the Samsung Instinct s30, a follow-up to the first Instinct, which it introduced last year as a touch-screen competitor to the iPhone. The s30 has a thinner, more rounded body and includes a more fully featured Web browser. The s30 will be available April 19 for $130.

_ Samsung is making a Web tablet for Clearwire Corp.'s wireless broadband network, which uses a technology known as WiMax. There are laptops and modems for the network, which is live in Portland, Ore., and Baltimore, but there hasn't been a standalone portable device for Clearwire since Nokia discontinued its WiMax tablet in January. Samsung's Mondi will go on sale in the next three months. No price was announced. It doesn't work as a phone, but it could run teleconferencing applications like Skype. The underlying software is Windows Mobile. Naturally, the Mondi has a keyboard and a touch screen, with a 4.3-inch diagonal.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Stolen 'X-Men' flick leaps onto Internet

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) - - A stolen copy of the film "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" has leapt around the Internet being downloaded from file sharing websites.

An incomplete, early version of the film purloined late Tuesday was posted illegally at websites, according to Twentieth Century Fox Films studio spokesman Chris Petrikin.

The movie is slated to open in theaters worldwide in just under four weeks.

"It was without many effects, had missing and unedited scenes and temporary sound and music," Petrikin said of the version of the film put online.

"We immediately contacted the appropriate legal authorities and had it removed."

Fox forensically marks digital films to better track them and, in this case, figure out who made it available online and those that downloaded copies.

The "X-Men" film, based on the eponymous comic book characters, was evidently spread with BitTorrent file sharing technology that lets people share large data files virally between computers in a fashion called peer-to-peer.

"The source of the initial leak and any subsequent postings will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Petrikin said in an email response to an AFP inquiry.

"We are encouraged by the support of fan sites condemning this illegal posting and pointing out that such theft undermines the enormous efforts of the filmmakers and actors, and above all, hurts the fans of the film."