Saturday, 26 June 2010

New Apple iPhone hard to find, but not impossible

SAN FRANCISCO - Apple Inc's newest iPhone flew off store shelves, but lucky shoppers still managed on Friday to get their hands on one in at least a dozen stores across the United States.

The smartphone appeared to be sold out for walk-in purchases at the vast majority of Apple outlets in the United States a day after it launched, the latest sign Apple was having a hard time meeting demand.

"The demand for the iPhone 4 is off the charts. We're working hard to get them to everyone as quickly as possible," Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris said.

But there were a handful of stores where, to the surprise of some shoppers, the iPhone was indeed available.

Seattle had four stores with supply on Friday morning, while another city in the Pacific Northwest, Portland, Oregon, had two stores with iPhones in stock.

Even a store in Los Angeles had some on hand, an outlet at The Grove -- one of the city's busiest and best-known malls.

"I came to shop for my boyfriend and realized the line wasn't that long, so we decided to wait and get it," said stylishly attired thirty-something Brittany Davis, camped out near the front of a line of over a hundred.

At a packed retail store in Bellevue Square -- an upscale mall in Bellevue, Washington -- about 25 "standby" potential customers waited in line for an iPhone.

"I didn't think I'd be getting one today," said Chris Bohm, who waited an hour for his purchase ticket.

But in general, IPhone availability appeared to be the exception.

When contacted on Friday, roughly 60 Apple stores said the iPhone 4 was sold out. When asked when new ones might arrive, store employees responded they did not know.

Some outlets reported they had received shipments that day, but they did not include iPhones. A few said they did not expect to get more iPhones for a week or more.

Outlets in Boston, Houston, Washington, Denver, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Chicago other metropolitan areas reported no iPhone 4s on hand for walk-in purchases on Friday.

And none of the devices were available at Apple stores in at least 11 states, including Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Hawaii.

Only one outlet in North Carolina reported any stock -- and that was almost gone, a store employee at Charlotte store said on Friday afternoon.

One store in the Houston area and another in San Francisco said they had iPhone 4s available on Friday morning "if you come right now."

Apple has more than 200 retail outlets in the United States.

Wall Street does not think the tight supply will hurt demand for the latest Apple smartphone -- although it is likely to dampen early sales figures.

The big launch

Some analysts estimate the company sold 1 million to 1.5 million of the devices on the first day. The iPhone 4 went on sale in five countries on Thursday, creating a carnival-like atmosphere and drawing tens of thousands of eager fans to Apple stores and retail partners.

The launch was not without hiccups. Some users reported problems with reception due to the iPhone's redesigned antenna. But few expect such glitches to impact sales.

The newest iPhone -- the fourth-generation of the device -- boasts a thinner profile, video calling and longer battery life.

Customers can order the iPhone 4 via Apple's online store. But according to Apple's website, orders for the iPhone 4 currently ship in 3 weeks.

AT&T Inc, the exclusive iPhone carrier in the United States, will have the smartphone available in its retail outlets starting Tuesday.

Apple received more than 600,000 preorders for the newest iPhone, the largest number ever. The company was forced to apologize when the online ordering system broke down after being swamped.

Wall Street expects Apple to sell roughly 8 million to 9 million iPhones in its fiscal third-quarter, which ends on Saturday. That total includes older models.

The shares of Cupertino, California-based Apple fell 0.9 percent to close at $266.70 on the Nasdaq.

E-books pave way for more blockbusters, serials

NEW YORK - Stieg Larsson copycats take note: The slow rise of electronic books is paving the way for more safe-bet fiction blockbusters and serial-type books, at least in the short term, according to some book experts.

With book sales stagnating in recent years, the nascent e-books market has thrown the industry into turmoil. In response, large publishers are taking fewer financial risks and betting more of their dollars on established authors, said Eileen Gittins of self-publishing company Blurb.com.

"In the face of these economics, publishers just cannot take the risk," said Gittins. "They need some sure wins."

Similar to movie studios' betting on well-known franchises to bring box office gold, Gittins said publishers want to market more blockbuster authors writing serial books featuring a distinctive leading character to lure repeat readers, as was seen with the success of prolific, late Swedish author Stieg Larsson, or crime fiction writers such as Michael Connelly.

With prices on the fledging e-book market still being battled over among larger publishers and makers of electronic readers, publishers still have yet to profit much from e-books, with the lower priced e-books eating into profit margins.

The e-book market has grown rapidly with wholesale revenue from e-book sales in the United States increasing to $91 million in the first quarter of 2010 from $55.9 million from the last quarter of 2009, according to International Digital Publishing Forum. But e-book sales still only account for 5 to 6 percent of overall US book sales and less than 1 percent in Britain, The Financial Times reported this week.

Contrary to popular opinion, most of publishers' costs are developing and marketing authors, not the cost of printing and shipping books. Such costs don't lessen with e-books even though they sell for less than paper books, Gittins said.

That heightens pressure "to need to do blockbuster big titles because now there is even more pressure on them," said Gittins. "They are not really saving money with the e-book, all those costs are still there."

Safe-bets

Book experts predict in the e-book market, bestselling authors will remain popular in the short term. According to Amazon, all three of Stieg Larsson's books, which include sensation "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," sit in the top five best-selling books on Amazon's Kindle reader.

Customer favorites for e-books include "great Summer reads" such as Stephenie Meyer's new novella.

Daily Beast book editor Lucas Wittmann said in five years e-book sales could reach levels to make up for lost paper book sales, but for now publishers are feeling the pinch.

"There is a big squeeze right now," said Wittmann. "All the great predictions for e-books haven't quite been realized yet. E-books are growing at an astounding rate but they are not yet making up for the lost (book) sales."

When e-books first hit the market, some nonfiction economic and political books fared well, but now as the e-book audience had widened, more fiction is selling, he said.

"Publishers are still experimenting," Wittmann added.

Publishers Weekly Editorial Director Jim Milliot said online sites such as Amazon.com encourage readers to buy the same author, while smaller publishers were slow on e-books.

"A lot of the independent publishers have been slower to move to put their titles on, mainly because they don't have the resources to do it," he said. "Fiction seems to be winning out, at least in the early going."

As electronic readers improve, the type of e-books that sell well could change. Improving graphics could help genres like nonfiction and children's books become more popular.

"The possibilities seem to be opening up for more graphic work, incorporating multimedia and embedding links to audio when you are reading a biography of Bach or something," Wittmann said, predicting such advances in a year or two.

Wittmann said there will still be some "pain in the industry" but diversity and change was coming.

"Most publishers...are warming to e-books and thinking creatively about them," he said. "The only question is the time frame ... when we see a truly dramatic shift."

Google, YouTube defeat Viacom in copyright lawsuit

NEW YORK - Google Inc won a landmark victory over media companies as a Manhattan federal judge threw out Viacom Inc's $1 billion lawsuit accusing the Internet company of allowing copyrighted videos on its YouTube service without permission.

Viacom claimed "tens of thousands of videos on YouTube, resulting in hundreds of millions of views," had been posted based on its copyrighted works, and that the defendants knew about it but did nothing to stop illegal uploads.

But in a 30-page ruling, US District Judge Louis Stanton said it would be improper to hold Google and YouTube liable under federal copyright law merely for having a "general awareness" that videos might be posted illegally.

"Mere knowledge of prevalence of such activity in general is not enough," he wrote. "The provider need not monitor or seek out facts indicating such activity."

Viacom said it plans to appeal to the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

It called Stanton's ruling "fundamentally flawed," saying it reflects neither Congress' intent behind copyright laws nor recent US Supreme Court decisions.

The lawsuit went to the heart of perhaps the biggest issue facing media companies in the last decade: how to win Internet viewers without ceding control of TV shows, movies and music.

It was seen as a test of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a 1998 federal law making it a crime to produce technology to circumvent anti-piracy measures, and limiting liability of online service providers for copyright infringement by users.

New York-based Viacom is controlled by Sumner Redstone and owns cable networks such as MTV and Comedy Central as well as the Paramount movie studio.

It alleged that copyrighted works uploaded illegally included "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," "South Park," "SpongeBob SquarePants," and others.

"These issues are really important for content creators to protect their intellectual property against the usage by online aggregators," said Laura Martin, an analyst Needham & Co. "It is really important for content creators to get paid.

"This is the beginning, not the end," she went on. "Sumner won't roll over and die on this."

Kent Walker, Google's general counsel, on the company's blog, called the ruling "an important victory not just for us, but also for the billions of people around the world who use the web to communicate and share experiences."

Safe harbor

Google and YouTube argued they were entitled to "safe harbor" protection under the digital copyright law because they had insufficient notice of particular alleged infringements.

Stanton agreed, saying it would "contravene the structure and operation" of the law to "impose responsibility" on service providers to discover which postings infringe copyrights.

The judge added that the act's notification scheme works "efficiently," saying that after Viacom on Friday, February 2, 2007 sent a mass takedown notice covering 100,000 videos, YouTube had removed "virtually all of them" by the following Monday.

Stanton directed the parties to submit a report by July 14 to address any remaining issues in the case.

"Certainly for Google, there's been so many regulatory and legal negative headlines about them, so to see them on the winning side of something will certainly be a positive," said analyst Benjamin Schachter at Broadpoint AmTech.

Based in Mountain View, California, Google bought YouTube in November 2006 for about $1.65 billion.

Earlier this year, YouTube estimated that users upload as much as 24 hours of video to its website every minute.

In court papers, Google had contended that even Viacom managers had uploaded videos after the lawsuit was filed.

Service providers take action

Google has developed technology to allow content owners to automate the identification of copyrighted material on YouTube, helping them remove protected content quickly.

It has not been alone in taking steps to protect owners' copyrights online. Media powerhouses such as Microsoft Corp and Walt Disney Co have established their own guidelines.

"The film and television industries learned the lessons of the music industry that you need to fulfill consumer demand in an approved manner and keep those who offer unauthorized access at the fringe," Gabelli & Co analyst Christopher Marangi said.

Today, audiences are accustomed to looking for TV shows or feature films on websites such as ComedyCentral.com and Hulu.com, which is owned by Disney, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp and General Electric Co's NBC.

YouTube itself, meanwhile, is changing as executives try to enter licensing agreements to add full-length programming to the short user-uploaded clips that dominate the site.

"This was a test of the ground rules for the distribution and consumption of online content," Marangi said.

Stanton's decision was posted online just before US markets closed on Wednesday.

Viacom Class "B" shares closed up 5 cents at $35.27 on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday. Google shares closed down $4.20, or 0.9 percent, at $482.05 on the Nasdaq. Shares of both companies were little changed after-hours.

The cases are Viacom International Inc et al v. YouTube Inc et al, US District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 07-02103; and The Football Association Premier League Ltd et al v. YouTube Inc et al in the same court, No. 07-03582.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Water vs Power: Can dams solve 2 major crises?

MANILA, Philippines – On normal days, the Angat dam in Norzagaray, Bulacan releases an average of 50 cubic meters per second of water, initially passing through penstock and turbines to produce a maximum of 246-megawatts (MW) of electricity.

After hurdling the turbines, water takes on two separate routes: one is piped through Metro Manila’s ancient water channels and into faucets of around 15 million homes; while the other takes the lesser complicated route across farmland pipes to irrigate 31,000 hectares of rice fields in the provinces of Pampanga and Bulacan.

Since it started operation in 1967, the Angat reservoir had become the main supplier of Metro Manila’s daily water needs. The Water Code has also maximized its use to include irrigation and power generation depending on available water supplies in the reservoir.

Water from Angat dam is also source of ancillary power by the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines. If power producers fail to supply requirements in the Luzon grid, Angat is expected fill the gap.

This responsibility, though strategic in the midst of dwindling power supplies, doesn’t sit well with critics since the dam should be prioritizing household consumption needs — especially during dry spells.

Vital role

Water from dams are mainly for domestic consumption, but during black-outs and when other power plants cannot deliver their allocated supply, hydro-electric power plants are commonly utilized to plug the shortfall.

“This is the vital role of hydro,” Gregel Redublado of the Dams Reservoirs and Flood Forecasting department of the National Power Corporation (Napocor)told abs-cbnNEWS.com.

Redublado said that water from dams is often used to block-start the whole grid system if there are sudden shortages, or in cases of an accidental total shut-down.

The reason is simple, hydro plants can produce huge energy supply in a short period of time by releasing large amounts of water that will in turn move the turbines.

Similarly, larger hydro plants can be utilized for 2 to 3 hours as start-up, giving enough time to send electricity to other power plants and stabilize the grid.

Ancillary power

The crucial role of hydro plants makes it an effective last recourse measure in balancing energy shortages.

Electricity from hydro power facilities are sold at the Wholesale Energy Spot Market (WESM), which serves as a trading ground for electricity in the Luzon grid.

At WESM, each plant has a required allocation based on the day-to-day demands of the grid. When one power plant fails to deliver the electricity, the power has to be taken from ancillary sources.

Most often, hydro plants are tasked to provide additional energy capacities because of easy start-up.

According to Redublado, NGCP recommended Angat as an ancillary source of power for 3 reasons: the water source is easy to refill through rainfall, water is cheaper than other energy sources, and Angat is at the center of the Luzon grid.

“If there are discrepancies in the system, we have to adjust the dispatch to the grid. Power has to be sourced from other plants. Angat has to provide ancillary power sometimes so we have to release more water,” said Redublado.

Drying water reserves

The release of more water for additional power would have not caused the ire of critics were it not for the El Niño phenomenon that had been drying up water reserves, and effectively creating a tug-of-war between domestic use and power generation.

With reserves going below critical levels, releasing additional water for power generation means less supply of potable and irrigation water.

In February, water concessionaires and consumer groups complained of the seemingly inconsiderate manner that Napocor has been releasing additional water for power generation.

With water levels teetering at 196.08 meters, near the critical level of 180 meters, these groups feared the situation will worsen if Angat continues to supply additional power to the Luzon grid.

The water shortage also coincided with dwindling fuel resource in the 650-megawatt Malaya thermal plant in Rizal, and the delayed entry of the newly-privatized Limay gas turbine that strained the grid.

“Given the current water levels in our dams, (the energy secretary) must ensure that water is no longer used to generate power and that government must look into other power sources instead,” the Consumer and Oil Price Watch said in a statement in February.

In Mindanao, where a spot market has yet to be established, electricity remains largely dependent on hydro sources. This dependency has triggered rotational blackouts earlier this year that last between 4 and 12 hours daily.

The biggest player in the Mindanao grid is the 7-unit 727-MW Agus Complex in Misamis Oriental and Iligan City. With additional power from the 255-MW Pulangi 4, the two plants provide 57% of the island grid’s daily power needs.

Engineer Pablita Encabo, Napocor operations superintendent in Pulangi 4, said that when water levels hit 282.15 meters, silt will enter the turbines and ruin the cooling system.

“When waters go below 282.15 meters, we don’t draw water anymore. We reduce load to lessen the entry of foreign materials. For every centimeter loss in water supply, we reduce the power load,” Encabo told abs-cbnNEWS.com.

By mid-March, power demand in the grid has reached a whopping 700-MW, but Agus and Pulangi were only producing 50-MW and 30-MW respectively, less than 10% of their usual capacities.

Unlike the Angat situation in Luzon, there is no excess water that can be drawn from Mindanao reservoirs.

“The El Nino deeply affected us because we cannot supply the energy demand of the system even if we want to,” Encabo said.

Water or electricity?

In the tug-of-war between power and water, which should be prioritized?

The Presidential Decree 1607 or the Water Code, spelled it out: the priority should be household and irrigation use rather than power generation.

“Water is a basic need and it has to be always prioritized than electricity," said Redublado.

For water concessionaires Manila Water and Maynilad, the shortage could have been prevented if there was more careful and deliberate power planning.

PAL employees to fight DoLE 'midnight' decision

MANILA, Philippines - The labor union of the country's flag carrier, Philippine Airlines (PAL), is seeking to reverse a Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) ruling that allowed management to outsource its critical operations, resulting in the possible mass layoff of some 3,000 employees.

The Philippine Airlines Employees' Association (PALEA) on Sunday, slammed DoLE's "midnight decision," in which Acting Labor Secretary Romeo Lagman decided in favor of PAL management, and signed an order that upheld the planned PAL spinoff as a valid exercise of management prerogative.

"If need be, we are ready to elevate the case up to the Supreme Court. We maintain that contracting out is illegal," Gerry Rivera, PALEA president and concurrent Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) vice-chairperson, said in a text message to abs-cbnNews.com

"Lagman's decision was released with suspicious haste and preempted the ongoing mediation proceedings at the DoLE. We wonder what reasons prompted him to make a decision just 15 days before a new administration assumes power and a new Labor Secretary is appointed," added Rivera.

Rivera said PALEA will file a motion for reconsideration on or before June 28. and exhaust all the means provided by law to protect the job security and labor rights of some 3,000 employees to be laid off as a result of the planned spinoff of airport services, inflight catering and call center operations.

The PAL union is also planning mass actions to protest the decision.

"Paleans will hold a protest rally at DoLE. We'll go to Times Street (the residence of President-elect Benigno Aquino III) the next day. Kung ang DoLE ay corrupt, kaming manggagawa ang maghihirap," Rivera told abs-cbnNews.com

"DoLE's decision is not yet final and executory," said Rivera.

abs-cbnNews.com
tried several times, but was unable to reach PAL President Jaime Bautista for reactions.

Previously, Bautista said the airline is being stymied in its efforts to find new investors due to the labor dispute.

PAL wanted to start on June 1, the implementation of the next phase of its restructuring program, starting with the spinoff of its in-flight catering services; airport services, including ground handling, cargo terminal/cargo handling and ramp handling; and call center reservations.

Bautista said restructuring these operations are crucial to the company's survival amid increasing competition.

Rivera said that Lagman's June 15 order is faulty on both substantial and procedural grounds.

"It failed to consider the PAL-PALEA collective bargaining agreement's provision, prohibiting the outsourcing of jobs that are being performed by regular employees."

He said that the case has not been submitted for resolution, "and the order came only four working days after PALEA filed a motion for the production of certain documents, such as PAL's latest financial statement and its outsourcing contracts with service providers."

Rivera criticized the decision for opening the floodgates for mass contractualization.

"In truth PAL will not be outsourcing non-core functions, but merely engaging in illegal termination. It will layoff thousands of regular employees who will be absorbed by so-called service providers which are owned by Lucio Tan."

Rivera said the DoLE order, will make PAL's regular employees contractual workers and lose wages, benefits and job security even as they perform the job as before.

The militant PM said it will support PALEA's planned protest actions.

"The DoLE's decision, together with the measly P22 wage hike, exposes the real legacy of the Gloria Arroyo regime which is anti-labor to its last remaining days. The working class will remember the GMA government for legalizing mass contractualization and its cheap labor policy," said Renato Magtubo, PM chairperson.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

FBI investigating AT&T iPad security breach

NEW YORK - The Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened a probe into a security breach of Apple Inc's iPad that exposed personal information of AT&T Inc's customers.

"The FBI is aware of these possible computer intrusions and have opened an investigation to address the potential cyber threat," FBI spokesman Jason Pack said on Thursday.

AT&T acknowledged the security breach on Wednesday but said only email addresses were exposed to hackers who identified a security weakness [ID:nN09177730].

It said it has corrected the flaw. It also declined comment on the FBI investigation.

Yahoo! banks on mobile devices for its future growth

SINGAPORE - Yahoo! is banking on mobile devices for future growth -- particularly in Asia -- as consumers leapfrog cumbersome computers to access the Internet via feature-packed handheld gadgets.

The US Internet giant believes "smartphones" with better operating systems, high-speed Internet networks, falling prices and a plethora of content will fuel the mobile boom.

Markets in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia will lead the way, Yahoo! executives said at a telecom trade fair in Singapore.

"We see a significant number of people who will have their first Internet experience on their mobile phone," said Matthias Kunze, Asia-Pacific managing director for Yahoo! Mobile.

In Indonesia, mobile data subscribers have outnumbered users of personal computers, Kunz told Agence France-Presse on Tuesday on the sidelines of the CommunicAsia 2010 technology conference and exhibition.

India has about 40 million to 50 million PCs but this is far fewer than the estimated 550 million mobile subscribers, of whom around 20 million use their handheld gadgets to access the Internet.

"We expect mobile data users (in India) to surpass PC users in the next two to three years," said Kunze.

"For a company like Yahoo! mobile is actually critical in its strategy because if we're not on mobile, we will miss the boat," he added.

He said mobile phones play a crucial role because they are the most ubiquitous devices in the world.

"Maybe there are only more toothbrushes in the world than mobile phones," Kunze said.

Irv Henderson, vice president for product management at California-based Yahoo!, said the Asia-Pacific region currently accounts for 25-30 percent of the company's global mobile audience.

Kunze added this is projected to grow by "double or triple digits" in the next two to three years.

"We believe growth will unevenly skew towards this market," said Henderson.

Yahoo! Mobile is positioning itself to be ahead of the game, with special focus on India, Indonesia and other emerging Asian markets.

At CommunicAsia, it announced the availability of a mobile phone made by France's Alcatel and China's TCT Mobile featuring an embedded one-touch button that links users directly to a suite of Yahoo! services.

The services cover Yahoo! Mail and Yahoo! Messenger as well as the company's Homepage, Search, Social Pulse, Flickr, Address Book and Calendar services.

The phone, priced at under 100 US dollars, will be launched in India by the end of July and subsequently in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand within this year.

Yahoo! also announced a scheme in which the Yahoo! Messenger application programme interface, or API, will be made available to "partners and third-party developers" in the Asia-Pacific.

"We believe by opening up our API it will foster innovation in this region," said Henderson.

Microsoft releases slim new Xbox 360 videogame console

LOS ANGELES - Microsoft on Monday began shipping a slim, more powerful version of its Xbox 360 videogame console to US stores.

The announcement came as the US technology giant announced that its hotly-anticipated motion-sensing "Kinect" controllers for Xbox 360 consoles will be available in the United States beginning November 4.

"Kinect" is the name for the new game technology developed by Microsoft under the code name Project Natal.

The potentially revolutionary device uses a 3-D camera and gesture recognition software to let people play videogames using natural body movements instead of hand-held controllers.

The new slim Xbox console features a 250 gigabyte hard drive, built-in high speed wireless connectivity and is priced at 299 dollars, the same as its predecessor.

During a press conference held on the eve of the start of a major Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, Microsoft showed off an array of games for its new Kinect system.

At least 15 titles for play using Kinect will be available when the hardware add-on to Xbox consoles becomes available, according to Microsoft.

No price details were disclosed at the presentation, which provided glimpses of how Kinect lets players control on-screen characters with natural gestures instead of hand-held controllers.

"You interact with things the same way you would in the real world, with your moves and your voice," said Kinect creative director Kudo Tsunado. "Anyone can jump in and play."

Players can tell consoles what to do with simple commands such as "Xbox play music."
Microsoft games tailored for Kinect include "Kinectimals" that lets children play with and train virtual wild animals and a sports game with sprinting, the javelin throw, the long jump and more track events.

A Kinect "Joy Ride" game features car racing and stunts while an "Adventures" game which includes virtual river rafting is designed to "get the group off the couch and using the entire body to play."

Kinect cameras can take pictures of players at various points during game play and those images can be shared online at social networking service Facebook and other websites using Xbox Live Internet connections.

"Kinect recognizes you," said Marc Whitten, vice president of Xbox Live. "It responds to your gestures and it listens to your voice. There is no learning curve."

Kinect is going to be available in every country where Xbox 360 consoles are sold and will also synch with smartphones running the latest version of Windows mobile software, according to Whitten.

Kinect will also enable people to have online video chats during which people could even watch the same film.

Microsoft has a partnership with sports cable network ESPN to bring matches to Xbox using Kinect technology.

Third party studios are also tailoring titles for Kinect, with French videogame titan Ubisoft showing off a "Your Shape" exercise game in which players are immersed virtually in gyms or yoga studios.

MTV Games and Harmonix have developed a game in which players have to follow along with realistic dance routines crafted by top choreographers.

"For years we've been eager to develop a dance game but the right technology didn't exist," said Harmonix chief executive Alex Rigopolus. "As soon as we saw Kinect we realized the technology we had been waiting for had arrived."

Lucas Arts is making a Kinect videogame that will transform players into virtual Jedi knights battling Darth Vader and the evil empire made famous by Star Wars films.

"This year's E3 gives the gaming industry the first real opportunity to prove that it’s not just about making shoot-em-up games for testosterone-fueled boys," said Forrester media analyst James McQuivey.

"The secret to the gaming industry's future is the realization that game consoles are the most powerful device in the living room, ready to provide many of the interactive experiences of the future."

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Obama sends Independence Day greetings to Filipinos

MANILA, Philippines – US President Barack Obama sent his greetings to Filipinos on the 112th commemoration of the Philippine Independence Day.

“On behalf of the American people, I send my best wishes to all those who celebrate the 112th Anniversary of Philippine Independence Day – here in America, in the Philippines, and around the world,” Obama said.

Obama said the US is home to many Americans who trace their roots to the Philippines and that “they are all an important part of the American identity.”

With common history and values, Obama believes that the two countries will remain to be partners in promoting peace and development.

“I am confident that our nations, sharing in our democratic principles, will continue our strong friendship and cooperation,” he said.

On Saturday, President Arroyo led the Independence Day activities in Manila which started with flag-raising rites at the Rizal Park, followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the monument of national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal.

Other Independence Day celebrations were also held in different parts of the country.

Noynoy's Little President checks out Bahay Pangarap

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang on Saturday said the meeting between members of the Arroyo Cabinet and the incoming Aquino Cabinet will push through.

Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza, however, said the date of that meeting has not yet been set, noting they are still waiting for President-elect Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III to complete his Cabinet.

In an ambush interview, Mendoza also said he also met with incoming Executive Secretary Paquito "Jojo" Ochoa on Friday and inspected the Bahay Pangarap inside the Presidential Security Group (PSG) compound.

Aquino is considering Bahay Pangarap as his official residence once he assumes office. (Click here for story and video on Bahay Pangarap).

Ochoa and Mendoza also discussed the venue for Aquino's inauguration on June 30, but no specific area has been set yet. Aquino said he is considering holding the event at the Quezon Memorial Circle.

Meanwhile, Mendoza said Aquino would have to fill more than 4,500 vacancies in government, including members of the Palace housekeeping staff.

"Diniscuss namin glitches sa transition, like for example, they might not be able to immediately appoint, ang report namin sa kanila, 4,500 vacancies. Di kasama rito ang staff, housekeeping, co-terminus lahat yan, mga casual yan. Isa yun sa mga pinag-usapan namin on what can be done to deliver a seamless, continuous government service," Mendoza said. "Pagka siguro walang kapalit, magkakaroon siguro ng holdover."

"We leave it to their discretion," Mendoza said, referring to the incoming administration.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Japan ruling party support leaps on new leader: poll

TOKYO – Support for Japan's ruling Democratic Party leaped to 36.1% in a poll published by Kyodo news agency on Saturday after the appointment of a new leader in the run-up to an upper house election.

The figure was up 15.6 percentage points on a poll carried out at the end of May before unpopular prime minister Yukio Hatoyama stepped down and was replaced as party head, and thus premier, by Naoto Kan.

Kan, 63, will become Japan's fifth prime minister in three years, taking over as the country struggles to rein in a huge public debt, engineer growth in an aging society, and manage ties with security ally Washington and a rising China.

Kan's rise and his cabinet line-up, set to be announced on Tuesday, could spell bolder steps to contain a public debt twice the size of the economy. But he faces opposition from many in his party before the election, expected in July.

He has picked Katsuhiko Noda as finance minister, Kyodo said, a choice that will be welcomed by the bond market because he favors fiscal discipline and has supported the idea of capping new debt issuance for next year.

Satoshi Arai, a former aide to the outgoing Hatoyama, is to become national strategy minister, Kyodo said. Kan will keep Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, but plans to replace eight cabinet members, the agency said.

In the Kyodo telephone poll carried out on Friday and Saturday, 57.6% of respondents said they had high expectations of Kan, a fiscal conservative with a reformist image.

That compares with just 19.1% of respondents to a similar question posed in the May poll on expectations of Hatoyama, Kyodo said.

Nearly 33% of respondents said they planned to vote for the Democrats in the upper house election, compared with 23.4% for the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, which had been in the lead in the previous poll, Kyodo said.

Ozawa problem

Unlike many recent premiers, Kan has no connection with a political dynasty. That could appeal to voters weary of leaders from well-to-do backgrounds who prove inept at governing.

He got his start in politics as a student activist, later joining small political parties before helping to found the then-opposition Democratic Party in 1996.

But among Kan's biggest immediate headaches may be Ichiro Ozawa, the former party secretary general widely seen to have held sway over Hatoyama's government from behind the scenes.

Kan has made clear he wants to sideline the 68-year-old Ozawa. Funding scandals linked to him, over which three of his current and former aides were indicted, were one of the main reasons for the Democrats' loss of voter support.

Many of Ozawa's supporters backed Kan's rival for the top party job and on Friday he hinted he would not fade away.

"I'm sorry I did not come to the forefront this time," the Yomiuri newspaper quoted him as telling supporters, some of whom had urged him to stand against Kan.

"But the real contest comes in September," he added, referring to the next party leadership election.

Ozawa is known as a master campaign strategist, but is reluctant to promise bold fiscal reform steps such as raising the sales tax ahead of the upper house poll.

The Democrats have a large lower house majority and will run the government whatever the outcome of the July upper house poll. But the ruling bloc needs to win a majority in that chamber to ensure that legislation is enacted smoothly.

Clinton warns of likely Iranian 'stunt' ahead of UN sanctions vote

WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday she expects Iran will "pull some stunt in the next couple of days" as a UN vote on tough sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program looms.

Asked what she expects in the runup to a UN Security Council vote on sanctions on Tehran over its controversial nuclear program, Clinton said "I expect Iran to pull some stunt in the next couple of days."

Iran has in the past taken steps to "avoid being held accountable," Clinton told reporters as she waited to depart on a Latin American trip.

"I don't think anybody should be surprised if they (Iran) try to divert attention once again from the unity within the Security Council," the top US diplomat said.

"I think we'll see Iran say ...'wait a minute, wait a minute look at what we're going to do' in a bid to thwart sanctions," Clinton added. "They've consistently tried to avoid being held accountable."

Iran is already under three sets of UN sanctions for its refusal to suspend enrichment of uranium, which can be used as fuel for nuclear power stations and in atomic weapons.

Senior US officials have said they are forging ahead with a resolution without Brazil and Turkey, two non-permanent Security Council members that brokered a nuclear fuel swap deal with Iran aimed at forestalling sanctions.

Under the deal reached last month Iran committed to deposit 1,200 kilograms (2,640 pounds) of low-enriched uranium in Turkey in return for reactor fuel.

But the accord drew a cool reaction from world powers led by the United States.

Asked if she were worried about rotating council members and emerging powers Brazil and Turkey not backing sanctions, Clinton said: "We'll wait and see what happens, but we have the votes."

Pressed as to whether she meant for passage of new Iran sanctions at the UN, Clinton said: "Yes."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Friday that his country will defend its rights even if a new sanctions resolution is imposed by the UN Security Council.

"We are standing in the face of enemies. To defend the rights of the nation, we will pull out any resolutions from the mouth" of the enemies, the hardliner said in a speech marking the 21st death anniversary of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Last month the United States introduced a draft resolution to impose tough new UN sanctions on Iran for pursuing its controversial nuclear program, saying it had the support of the four other permanent veto-wielding Security Council members, Russia, China, Britain and France.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Philippines sees room to adjust 2010 economic goals

Finance chief says gov't may raise GDP growth, trim deficit goal

MANILA, Philippines - The country may end the year with a faster growth than earlier expected, helping the government lift its revenues and narrow its budget deficit for 2010, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves said on Friday.

The government has scope to revise some of its macroeconomic growth goals this year and raise its growth target from the current 2.6% to 3.6% following the country's stellar first-quarter performance, Teves said.

"It looks like there is room for adjustments in some of the macroeconomic targets upwards because we have favourable results during the first quarter," Teves told reporters.

He also said the government may consider lowering its 2010 budget deficit goal from the current P293.2 billion ($6.3 billion) or 3.6% of GDP, if expenditures stay within the program for the rest of the year and state revenues come in within target.

"Other things being equal, without examining first the micro components, that seems to be the direction, but I cannot give you a clear answer yet until we have discussed this together with the DBCC," Teves said when asked about the 2010 budget deficit goal.

DBCC or the Development Budget Coordination Committee is the inter-agency body tasked to set the government's economic and fiscal policies and goals. The technical working group of the DBCC will meet next week to assess the current targets.

The Philippine economy grew 7.3% in the March quarter, its fastest in 22 years.

But some analysts think the strong pace of growth was unlikely to be sustained in the second half as a boost from spending related to the May 10 presidential election fades and European austerity measures cut demand for the country's exports. Germany and the Netherlands are among the Philippines' top 10 export markets.

Business leaders hand economic blueprint to Aquino

MANILA, Philippines - Several business leaders have put together an economic blueprint to help incoming President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino navigate his first 100 days in office.

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) wants the president-apparent to thresh out major economic issues, including concerns on the budget deficit, current power supply, and the country's overall investment climate. It also urged Aquino not to give in to demands to increase basic wage.

PCCI vice chairman Donald Dee, for his part, said Aquino should begin looking into corrupt practices in the country's tax agencies.

Meanwhile, Makati Business Club executive director Alberto Lim said the Aquino administration should establish a policy to decongest Metro Manila.

Lim noted the capital's main airport and seaport should be transferred to neighboring provinces to better accommodate visitors and investors.

Lim, who is touted to be the next secretary of the Department of Budget and Management, also urged Aquino to consider raising the rate of existing taxes, particularly the value-added tax, to generate funds for government.

Oil dips ahead of US jobs report, NY crude above $74

SINGAPORE - Oil prices pulled back in Asian trade Friday, giving up gains in New York as investors braced for the release of a key US jobs report, analysts said.

New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in July, shed 31 cents to $74.30 a barrel while Brent North Sea crude for July was down 16 cents to $75.25.

Oil prices surged Thursday after a weekly oil inventories report from the US Department of Energy showed a larger-than-expected dip in US gasoline inventories, indicating stronger demand.

Crude inventories also fell in line with expectations.

Analysts said investors were staying on the sidelines in anticipation of job creation and unemployment figures from the Labor Department due out later Friday.

"The movement we've had in oil prices today is fairly modest after the gains we saw last night," said David Moore, a commodity strategist with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

"In general, investors are probably sitting waiting for the payrolls and the employment reports in the US tonight," he told AFP.

The Labor Department is due to release employment data Friday and most analysts expect it to show 500,000 non-farm jobs were created last month, up from 290,000 in April.

The unemployment rate was expected to dip to 9.8% from 9.9% in April.