Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Good Guys Bring Down the Mega-D Botnet

Emotions from neurobiologist António Damásio

Consider this comment on emotions from neurobiologist António Damásio:
“...emotion is not a luxury: it is an expression of basic mechanisms of life regulation developed in evolution, and is indispensable for survival. It plays a critical role in virtually all aspects of learning, reasoning, and creativity. Somewhat surprisingly, it may play a role in the construction of consciousness.”

7 Qualities of Leadership

Remember, when you are looking for a good leader don't be too quick to count yourself out of the running. The leader you are looking for may be you.

The seven qualities you need to be a leader or perhaps the qualities you look for and expect, in others.

Let's say you need to find a candidate who can not only lead and transform your organisation but also motivate, drive and carry all before them.

You have to be;

1. Smart and insightful when dealing with complex problems (cognitive complexity)
2. Mature and emotionally stable. Able to deal with ambiguity and complexity
3. Strong willed and possess self-awareness and self-management skills
4. Strong people person with great interpersonal awareness and interpersonal acumen
5. Able to build flexible and robust solutions
6. Able to instill confidence in others
7. Continually learning, growing and looking for ways to improve one's self, others and the organisation.

Leaders can follow others. Practice supporting and leading from behind, at a distance or remotely. Trust people to do their job and to know better.

Leaders treat change as an opportunity, an adventure and an experiment to carry you to the next level.

Change is something to embrace, to learn from, rather than something to fear, or fight against and conquer.

Allow your people the courage to try and fail. Be there to gather them up, put them back together and then let them try again but this time with more guidance.

A View of LinkedIn - Optimisation info

Here’s a quick way to optimise your Linkedin profile so that you’re website, blog or business are on display and available to the every attentive Search engines.

  • Step 1. Log into your LinkedIn Account
  • Step 2. On the right hand navigation menu, click on Edit My Profile
  • Step 3. The dropdown box for Websites Let’s you choose between “My Website, My Company, My Blog” and
  • Choose and use Other.

Next in the box to the right add a title for the site you want to promote. Remember to use a real title and not just the generic 'url:link' e.g. 'Smart Guy Web-Blog'.

Now, add the URL of the page you want the title to link to and check the link works because broken links are not only damned annoying but also reflects badly on your claim to have the ability to 'work to tight deadlines and have an eye for details.'

Lastly, check where people are landing in your site. Make sure it is at the 'optimum point' on your Web-blog site and satisfy yourself that they are seeing the best of you and your site.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

How Slideshare Can Help Your Business

How Slideshare Can Help Your Business : Marketing :: American Express OPEN Forum

Visual communication may have been an art form, but these days it seems that it is one being adopted by more than just a select few.

Whether you count yourself among the converted when it comes to visual presenting or not, there is a site called Slideshare that you need to pay attention to. Often described as “the Youtube of Powerpoint” – the site has thousands of presentations from independent businesspeople, consultants, large brands and authors. On the site, you can learn just about anything – including what is really happening with healthcare reform, and what to blog about if you happen to start your own blog.

Get free business advice from experts. By far the best benefit Slideshare has to offer is great thinking from very smart people, all for free. On the site you can get visual advice on how to use just about any social media site (like Flickr, Facebook or Twitter), learn how to advertise effectively, see examples of what other businesses are doing, and even understand better some of the external forces impacting your business, such as government policy or consumer behaviour trends. All of this information is readily accessible, shareable and highly useful.

Share your story visually. There is nothing people like better than a story, and chances are you have a fairly interesting one to tell behind the founding of your business. Not everyone can produce flowing lines of great prose to describe why their company is great, but if you think about your company presentation as a story – then all you need are the right images to piece that story together. For example, what did your original business plan look like? Or where was your very first employee group photo taken? These images can help you to tell your story in a visual and compelling way that is much more interesting than a few paragraphs on your about page. And once you do it on Slideshare, that presentation is easy to embed onto your own company website (just like a YouTube video).

Use contests for free promotion. One of the things that gets the most attention on Slideshare are the contests that they consistently hold. They are typically judged by business visionaries, and heavily promoted across the entire site. Contests give you a chance to compete with others to have the best story to tell, and help you to connect your story with more people. Along the way, chances are the process of putting a story together for your business will help you to get better at telling it too.

Demonstrate your expertise. If your business has anything to do with offering some sort of service or expertise, Slideshare can be a great way for you to share your expertise. In addition to uploading your own presentations on any topic, you can also be a content curator and find presentations on any topic of your choice and aggregate them together. This aggregation can be highly useful for people in your target audience, and help to position you not just as an authority with their own smart thinking, but as an expert who can help sift through a flood of information online and identify the most useful.

Get leads directly from presentations. Slideshare just introduced a new feature on their site where you can integrate lead generation into your presentations – so now the white paper model of getting data for sales leads can be embedded right into your presentation. This can allow you to create an easy integrated way to get more information from the people you might reach through your presentations, and extend a model for marketing that you might already be using if you are a services based business.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

War is Over - Yoko Ono and John Lennon

A Xmas message from Yoko Ono and John Lennon!

Click on the picture for a multilingual presentation

How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room | Mark Lynas | Environment | The Guardian

How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room Mark Lynas Environment The Guardian

Copenhagen was a disaster. That much is agreed. But the truth about what actually happened is in danger of being lost amid the spin and inevitable mutual recriminations. The truth is this: China wrecked the talks, intentionally humiliated Barack Obama, and insisted on an awful "deal" so western leaders would walk away carrying the blame. How do I know this? Because I was in the room and saw it happen.

China's strategy was simple: block the open negotiations for two weeks, and then ensure that the closed-door deal made it look as if the west had failed the world's poor once again. And sure enough, the aid agencies, civil society movements and environmental groups all took the bait.

The failure was "the inevitable result of rich countries refusing adequately and fairly to shoulder their overwhelming responsibility", said Christian Aid. "Rich countries have bullied developing nations," fumed Friends of the Earth International.

Random Promotion is preferable to flawed selection criteria

We're accustomed to living in a meritocracy, an American word that means to promote on merit. Anyway, it has made us believe that any notion of getting ahead based on anything other than skill and hard work, seems cruel, bizarre and Kafkaesque.

Let's consider that for a while. What if random job promotion turned out to be a better alternative to the Peter Principle, which posits that employees will continue to be promoted to the point of incompetence, and beyond it in many cases?

The Simulation
A group of mischievious Italian researchers ran a simulation of a 160-person company with a six-level pyramid structure. Each employee was assigned a degree of competence and the researchers ran two simulations comparing different ways for competence to carry over to a new position when an employee was promoted.

Common Sense
The simulations pitted the "Common Sense Hypothesis" where an employee is as good at their new job as at their old one against the "Peter Hypothesis" in which they have a random chance of succeeding in their new role.

In each of these cases, the researchers tested three promotion strategies:

  • promoting the most competent employees,
  • promoting the least competent employees and
  • promoting at random
Finally, with increased corporate efficiency as the measure of success, the researchers reached their counterintuitive conclusion.

Promoting at random or alternating the promotion of the best and the worst employees works much better according to our calculations," said Andrea Rapisarda, the co-author of the study and a physicist at the University of Catania, in Catania, Italy. Inc. asked a handful of CEOs and management experts whether this sort of system could work in a real company

Do I like this job?
The main defense for what they're puting forward is this; if you remove one of the extrinsic motivators, e.g. promotion or other direct rewards, people will be left just with the intrinsic motivators, 'Do I like this job?'

If I know that my chance of promotion is totally random and has nothing to do with how well I do, then how I do on the job is going to be more based on how much I enjoy doing it and doing it well, i.e. motivation, social interaction and collaboration

The problem, if there is a problem, is that promoting at random may create a loss of morale in some ambitious people and a subsequent loss of effort, if they don't think their effort is going to be rewarded. These are people are more likely to be the type of person that seeks immediate gratification.

Benefits for Creativity
On the other hand, there is an argument that says; if you try to reward people too much for being creative you might actually make them less creative. They need to extend themselves and take risks but they won't take risks if they feel that everything they do is being watched and evaluated. Creativity is partly about having fun, being spontaneous, being part of something and job enjoyment is a big part of that too.

We have all been in companies where selection and promotion criteria is flawed or biased towards a preferred 'character type', levels of sycophancy and worse, discrimination against 'minorities.' These organisations and the people in it would benefit greatly from random selection when it come to promotion.

After all team building and collaboroation is about making the best of everyone in your team. These are talented, creative and inovative people. Brim full of under developed potential. That's why you picked them in the first place, isn't it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Strategic focus and knowing when to say, No!

First you have to have a strategy and secondly, you have to be able to stick to it. So, make sure you develop a good strategy, one that is a) potentially successful for you and b) one that you can stick to.

Having done that, you now face the daunting task of turning down projects that are not part of you stratgeic focus. Is this possible for you and if it is how is this achieved?

1. Focus! Stay on strategy.

Send a clear message to your team and your clients. Everyone on the team needs to know what the business stands for and to know that it isn't simply there to hoover up money as and when it comes across it.

It is also a statement to clients that let's them know where you stand. It says "We are good at hwat we do and we know what we're good at and we won't let anything distract us from delivering great results to you."

2. Saying "no" to the wrong type of projects.

This is tough but it protects the critical underbelly and fragile wobbly parts of your business. Many consulting firms get overwhelmed by major projects and while they're working hard at trying to ramp up the business and at the same time delivering the projects, they're not spending time selling, marketing or building new client relationships.

Therefore, when the major projects come to an end, they find themselves in a flat zone. Now you have to start the saless boiler up from scratch. Everyone is exhausted from the last project but now you have to tell them to get back on the streets to find new work again because there is no new work warming up on the back burner.

Peaks and Troughs

By saying "no" to disruptive projects, you protect yourself from demanding distraction and can then continue to spend time developing solid new client relationships and deepening existing ones. This builds client loyalty and trust and ensures there is a regular flow of work, which, if you manage it well, will steadily grow at a manageable pace one that is in sync as the company grows.
3. Saying "no" supports the small business model.

Micro-economics. This is simply the basic formula that connects supply, demand, and price. If you continuously increase supply by saying yes to everything, because demand is high, you run the risk of applying a downward pressure on your pricing.

If you say "no" to work that is not cost-effective, you are re-enforcing the statement that your services are "in demand" and your pricing "reflects that demand." You are selling on and applying a real market "value" for the product or services.

The other option is;

  • lowering your price over time because
  • the quality of your work deteriorates because
  • your overloading your workforce /talent (you) because
  • you are desperate to generate new work because
  • you're in a self-inflicted cycle or downturn because
  • other

Turning away work is not an easy decision to make. It can be a very painful decision for a small business to make but a necessary one.

Are you just a gal or guy that can't say "no," even if your business depends on it. Have you better ways of keeping your business focused? Get in touch now!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Risk - Expanding The Frontiers Of Space

When an 84kg lump of metal was shot into space in 1957, few predicted how satellites would revolutionise our world. Since Sputnik entered orbit and its first crackly signal beeps were picked up back on earth, we have come to rely on satellites for what we see and how we communicate - and even for what the weather will be like.

Their ability to warn of impending disasters has saved countless lives. They may even be used to help save the planet. Satellites could be used to generate solar power that could reduce our reliance on harmful fossil fuels, a 2007 study commissioned by the US Department of Defense concluded.

Our insatiable appetite for new technology is driving demand for a new generation of bigger, more complex satellites. But even after 50 years' experience, launching and operating satellites remains a risky business and there are new perils on the horizon.

The new-generation satellites cost as much as $350m - two or three times as much as traditional satellites - and with the Ariane 5 rocket able to deliver two satellites into space in one mission, a problem during launch could be catastrophic and wipe out much of the available insurance capacity.

Once in orbit, if a new 'processed payload' satellite suffered even a relatively minor loss of power, a number of its transponders (which carry the communication signals) may have to be shut down to allow its power-thirsty digital processor to remain running.

This may reduce the satellite's capacity to such an extent that it is rendered largely ineffective, years before the end of its projected lifespan. It may take only a 30% loss in power for it to become an effective insurance write-off, says David Wade, space underwriter at the Atrium Space Insurance Consortium.

Heavy Solar Weather Ahead
Just as property underwriters fret about how changes in sea surface temperatures and wind shear can create more hurricanes, satellite underwriters worry about variations in the sun that can create catastrophic weather in space.

The Sun's intense atmosphere causes solar flares, proton flares and the solar wind, all of which can wreak immense damage on spacecraft and satellites.

Their impact and frequency increase as the sun reaches its peak during an 11-year solar cycle. The next 'solar maximum' is predicted to be in May 2013, according to a recent panel of experts.
Underwriters will consider whether to reduce their aggregate exposures as the solar maximum nears, bringing with it an increased threat of damage to satellites, says Simon Clapham, Head of the Marine Division at Liberty Syndicates.

Lloyd's insurers are prepared for a welter of claims resulting from a large proton flare from the sun that would affect every satellite in orbit, creating a loss of power that would lead to a 5% financial loss on each of the 160 or so insured satellites.

China's Gas Pipeline Reaches deep into Central Asia, bypassing Russia

China has quietly rewritten the geopolitical landscape in Central Asia in recent years, breaking Russia's monopoly over the export of the region's energy resources also coveted by the West, experts say.

The proof came last week when Chinese President Hu Jintao travelled to the region for the inauguration of a natural gas pipeline snaking from Turkmenistan through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan into China's far western Xinjiang region.

"This creates a regional dynamic for China," said Thierry Kellner, a researcher at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies.

"In the 1990s, no one thought that China would become such an important player."

Tom Grieder, an analyst at IHS Global Insight, said in a research note: "The pipeline project is important for China as part of its broader strategy of stepping up energy investments in Central Asia to gain access to resources."

Energy-hungry Beijing's campaign to secure a solid foothold in Central Asia -- a vast resource-rich region nestled between Afghanistan, China, Russia and Iran -- mimic its efforts in Africa, where its presence has exploded overnight.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor and China expert at Hong Kong Baptist University, said Beijing had used "the same methods, but on a more modest scale" in Central Asia that it has employed in Africa.

Those methods include increased trade, investments in energy resources and installations especially Kazakh oil and gas, loans at advantageous rates and a willingness to tackle projects the West has deemed too costly or difficult.

"Chevron also wants a stake in Turkmen natural gas. But the Western firms have only progressed to the negotiations phase," Kellner said.

For Cabestan, "China has opened up Turkmenistan, a closed regime, by managing to shatter the quasi-monopoly of Russia... which does not look too kindly on these developments."

"This is the result of an economic and trade dynamism seen in China, and also its diplomatic skills in handling regimes, some of which are not democratic," he added.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Chinese ISP hosts 1 in 7 Conficker infections - Network World

Chinese ISP hosts 1 in 7 Conficker infections - Network World

Security experts have known for months that some countries have had a harder time battling the Conficker worm than others. But thanks to data released Wednesday by Shadowserver, a volunteer-run organization, they now have a better idea of which Internet Service Providers have the biggest problem.

In terms of the total number of infected computers, China Telecom's Chinanet seems to have been hardest hit by the worm, which began spreading late last year.

The Chinese ISP had more than 1 million infected systems within its massive 94 million IP address network. That amounts to just over 1 percent of the company's network. But while Chinanet has the most total infections -- amounting to about 14 percent of all known copies of the worm -- it doesn't have the highest percentage of infected systems. Other, smaller ISPs show up on Shadowserver's list with infection rates as high as 25 percent.

"There's definitely a challenge at the ISP level with remediation," said Andre DiMino one of Shadowserver's founders.

Conficker got a lot of attention earlier in the year, including a late March segment on the 60 Minutes television program warning of an April 1 upgrade to the worm. Because Conficker is the most widespread botnet ever reported, security experts worry that it could be used to launch an unprecedented denial of service attack.

But, despite its size, the network of hacked computers has been associated with very little malicious activity. That's given computer users a false sense of security, DiMino said.

"The rate of remediation is not as good as we would have liked," he said. "The awareness and the alarm about Conficker kind of faded out after April 1st because nothing really dramatic happened."

Some ISPs, such as U.S.-based Comcast have taken to notifying users when their computers are infected or offering them free security software so they can get cleaned up. Comcast had a 0.05 percent infection rate, according to Shadowserver's numbers. AT&T was measured at 0.02 percent.

H1N1: WHO still looking for their role in Pandemic influenza

Senior World Health Organisation official Keiji Fukuda said Thursday that it was too early to declare the swine flu pandemic over, as it continues at "high levels" in parts of Europe and central Asia.

Although the A(H1N1) flu virus is peaking and even declining in parts of the northern hemisphere, and is hardly present in the south, Fukuda said there was an unproven possibility that there could be another wave later in the winter.

"It really probably remains too early to call the pandemic over," Fukuda said in a weekly telephone news conference.

Fukuda, Special Adviser to the WHO Director-General on Pandemic Influenza, said flu "activity continues at quite high levels in several different countries" notably the Czech Republic, France, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Switzerland.

Fukuda also noted that the signs of a peak and a decline in the caseload in North America and parts of Europe had occurred "extraordinarily early for influenza," with several months of the winter left.

As a result, the WHO could not rule out the possibility of another wave of illness in late winter or early spring.

"We simply are unable to answer this question right now. We continue to assess, right now we cannot predict whether we will see another upsurge in activity in the earlier parts of 2010," Fukuda said.

Thailand records first case of Human- to-Pigs Swine Flu Transmission

Thailand confirmed Thursday its first case of a pig infected with swine flu spread from humans, senior officials said.

Agriculture minister Thira Wongsamut said that one of 80 pigs in a sample group tested for the virus at Kasertsart University farm in the central province of Sara Buri had contracted A(H1N1) influenza.

"It was only in one sample that we found the A(H1N1)," Thira said.

The ministry has quarantined a five kilometre-radius around the farm, where university research is carried out, as a precautionary measure, he said, adding that new health checks would be conducted at the farm every three days.

The ministry's permanent secretary Yukol Limlamthong said that none of the 132 workers at the university farm had contracted swine flu. He could not confirm if a research student had brought the virus in.

"We can not prove that, but the test results show the pig contracted the virus from a human," Yukol said.

Thira said that eating pork did not pose a danger.

"The virus spread from human to pigs, as in several countries. We've had no case of it spreading from pigs to humans," he said.

Since the swine flu outbreak began in April, the ministry said it has tested more than 26,000 pigs for the virus.

It has confirmed 29,741 human cases of the flu and 190 of those were fatal.

The Thai government has a one-million dollar fund set aside to combat swine flu.

Natural human Protein May Help Prevent H1N1 Pandemic Influenza

A strain of natural human proteins have been found to help ward off swine flu and other viruses including West Nile and dengue, in a discovery that could spur more effective treatments, US researchers said Thursday.

In cultured human cells, researchers lead by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) found that these certain proteins have powerful antiviral effects by blocking the replication of viruses.

The findings, reported Thursday in an online article from the journal Cell, "could lead to the development of more effective antiviral drugs, including prophylactic drugs that could be used to slow influenza transmission," the team said.

The influenza virus, along with the other viruses, must take over proteins in cells to sustain itself. In their study, researchers found some 120 genes that are needed by H1N1 -- commonly known as swine flu.

"But in the process of figuring that out, we found this other class of genes that actually have the opposite effect, so that if you get rid of them, influenza replicates much better," according to HHMI team leader Stephen Elledge at the Harvard Medical School.

China's Intransigence Blamed for Breakdown of Copenhagen summit

China's Blocking Tactics Blamed for Breakdown of Copenhagen summit

Leaders have gathered for the final scheduled day of the UN climate summit, amid uncertainty over the shape of any eventual deal.

A draft political agreement drawn up by a small group of countries including the UK, US and Australia was rejected during overnight discussions.China is proving to be intransigent in working towards an agreement.

It appears their intention has been to block progress and disrupt global unity on Climate Change and Global Warming.

Delegates described the situation as "confusing" and "desperate". There is extreme pessimism that an agreement will be reached by the end of today, the last day of the conference.

US President Barack Obama flew in to a very difficult situation. He has berated the nations for being unwilling to reach an agreement and told the conference "not to talk but to act".

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

China defends protectionist high-tech procurement rules

The foreign ministry said the new high-tech policy "encourages all enterprises in China to carry out innovative activity and supports enterprises to increase their investment in research and development".

China on Tuesday defended rules that foreign companies claim lock them out of the multibillion dollar market for selling computers and office equipment to government departments.
Beijing stipulates that sellers of high-tech goods must have them accredited based on "indigenous innovation" -- meaning they must contain Chinese intellectual property -- to be included in a government procurement catalogue.

Accredited products will be favoured, according to the policy, which foreign firms say effectively excludes them from the process.

"The indigenous innovative product accreditation project is in line with ... international rules," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a fax to AFP.

The measure "abides by and accords with relevant WTO (World Trade Organization) rules" and "treats both domestic and foreign invested enterprises equally and without discrimination."

More than 30 industry groups from the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan and South Korea last week lodged a protest with the ministries responsible for the measures, claiming they were "restrictive and discriminatory".

The rules "impose onerous and discriminatory requirements on companies seeking to sell into the Chinese government procurement market and contravene multiple commitments of China's leadership to resist trade and investment protectionism," the groups said in a letter dated December 10.

"The very restrictive and discriminatory programme criteria would make it virtually impossible for any non-Chinese supplier to participate -- even those non-Chinese companies that have made substantial long-term investments in China."

The letter was addressed to the heads of the science and technology ministry, finance ministry and the National Development and Reform Commission, which jointly issued the rule.

A separate letter sent by the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China on Monday called on Beijing to delay the introduction of the rule to allow for "expert dialogue on its implications".

"There is particular concern regarding the lack of transparency in the drafting process of this accreditation system, as well as the impossibly short application period," the letter said.

The deadline for filing an application for accreditation was December 10 -- less than a month after the rule was posted on the science and technology ministry's website.

Government procurement was worth 599.1 billion yuan (87.7 billion dollars) in 2008, up 28.5 percent from the previous year, according to official data.

The dispute comes amid growing concerns about protectionism as the world recovers from its worst economic crisis in decades.

China has accused its trading partners, including the United States, of using protectionist measures against its products.

The foreign ministry said the new high-tech policy "encourages all enterprises in China to carry out innovative activity and supports enterprises to increase their investment in research and development".

"All products that meet the conditions can be accredited. Enterprises of all kinds will be treated equally," said spokeswoman Jiang.

Being Santa at a Childrens' Hospice is the best and worst job ever

A Santa Claus volunteer leans in for a girl who just received a candy cane at a hospice care center. John Scheuch, Santa-America's executive director, says these kids sometimes ask difficult questions.

"I visited a 6-year-old who asked Santa, 'What is it going to be like when I die?' After a gulp and a deep breath I said, 'I don't really know, but I do know you will not be hurting or in pain anymore and that can only be more pleasant.' Then we spoke of other things."

By Christmas Day, a career Santa can name the top 10 toys for girls and boys in a heartbeat. He has sat smiling patiently, swathed in red velvet on his gilded throne, and listened to countless children whisper their innermost desires.A volunteer hospice Santa hears a different sort of wish list. Sometimes, the children he visits don't want to talk. Others ask questions no one feels brave enough to answer.

ON THE WEB: More information at santa-america.org

The non-profit national volunteer service organization known as Santa-America has 175 hospice-trained Santas, scattered over more than 40 states, who visit terminally ill children or youngsters who are grieving because of the loss or impending loss of a parent.

The Santas are an elite and bearded group from all backgrounds: Some are retired, others work at jobs that range from salesmen to psychologists. Before visiting a home or hospital, they memorize names of family members and pets; they undergo a rigorous background check and receive ongoing instruction in grief, bereavement, symptom management and spirituality.

"First and foremost, you have to remember that these are children, and you have to go in treating them like children," says John Scheuch, Santa-America's executive director. "I have visited babies who are only weeks old, and, on Christmas morning, it's clear that some won't survive.

There are others who are realising where they are and what is going to happen and they are wrestling with that.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Germany wants to keep submarine maker in German hands

German Class 212A and 214 submarines were the first in the world to undertake long dives independent of external air sources.

The German government is pushing to prevent foreign investors buying a majority stake in submarine maker Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW), the Spiegel weekly reported on Sunday.

Representatives from the German economy ministry were in talks with two German companies that have expressed an interest in HDW, which is currently owned by steelmaker ThyssenKrupp, Spiegel said, without naming its sources.

Also involved in the talks is Abu Dhabi MAR, which owns interests in other European shipyards and which is eyeing a minority stake in HDW, Spiegel said.

HDW specalises in submarines powered by fuel cells and has supplied navies around the world, including Israel's. Because of the firm's sensitive area of business, a sale of the company would require government approval.

Thomas Kossendey, state secretary in the defence ministry, told an industry conference in September that Berlin wanted to ensure that the design and construction of military vessels "stayed in German hands."

Beware the Greeks: They have no Gifts to Bring to the Party

The future of the planet may hinge on the deliberations under way in Denmark, but the eyes of many Europeans will be fixed on a country rather further to the south. For the future of the eurozone may hinge on the grim developments under way in Greece, a usually delightful country that accounts for less than 3 percent of the European Union's gross domestic product.

Greece is hurting. Its two prize industries are shipping and tourism. Shipping has been badly hit by the fall in world trade, and cargo rates are currently bumping along near the bottom of a 25-year low. Tourism has been hurt by the general recession in Europe but also by Greece's misuse of the euro currency. And years of massaging the economic statistics have battered the country's credibility.

The comfort blanket of the euro tempted recent Greek governments to live and spend far beyond the country's means, while prices for tourists remain high. They are much cheaper in Turkey, its neighbor and rival for the tourist euro, because Turkey was free to devalue its currency.

So Greece this year faces a budget deficit of 12.7 percent, with its debt soaring above 100 percent of GDP and the new center-left government reluctant to slash public spending in the draconian way the Irish did last week. So Greece now has to pay 2.5 percent more interest on its euro-denominated bonds than Germany does, and the downgrade of its debt from AAA- to BBB+ status means that the European Central Bank may be unable to accept them as collateral for loans.

This should be a Greek crisis, but the euro dimension makes it start to look like a European one, because several other eurozone countries are in similar difficulties. If members of the eurozone cannot be bailed out, then the credibility of the euro is in deep trouble. The ECB is hoping that the Greeks take the bitter Irish medicine, or that Greece turns to the IMF (which could to the same thing).

The question the ECB does not want to ask is whether Germany, the backbone economy of the euro, will stand by its partners. Germany's own borrowing is set to double next year to 6 percent of GDP, after its GDP shrank this year by 5 percent. The main reason for the increased deficit is the government is trying to revive the economy with tax cuts and more labor-market subsidies.

"Public finances are in an extremely strained state due to the dramatic weakening of overall economic activity," said a joint statement of finance ministers from the country's 16 states and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

Germany's unemployment has remained low because of a government measure to subsidize short-term working, paying up to 67 percent of an employee's salary to prevent layoffs, even when a company has few customers. This has worked in the short term, but unless German exports revive soon it is likely to prove unsustainable, and if the subsidy stops German unemployment will soar above 10 percent. At that point, it would become politically toxic to talk of bailing out the feckless Greeks.

This brings us to the heart of the matter. Between them, governments and central banks have over the past year pumped about $5 trillion (or 10 percent of global GDP) into fending off another Great Depression. This has supplied a modest recovery, but the private economy has not yet been able to take over the heroic job of sustaining it.

"We have not yet achieved self-reinforcing recovery," former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker warned the Germans in a widely cited interview with Der Spiegel last week. "We are heavily dependent upon government support so far. We are on a government support system, both in the financial markets and in the economy."

The G7 economies are approaching the ugly moment of transition. The massive deficit spending by states and liquidity creation by central banks cannot be long maintained. They are running out of ammunition. Within the next six to 18 months, they will have to rein in the deficit spending and increase interest rates, and hope that the private economy will by then have recovered sufficiently to restore growth. It is very questionable whether the private economy is healthy enough to do this. And in the case of weak economies like Greece, governments will then face an ugly choice between depression and default.

The crisis may come sooner, because of the growing threat of a major currency crisis. Since China will not revalue its currency and alleviate the problem of chronic imbalances, the United States is letting the dollar fall against more flexible currencies. This is pushing the burden of adjustment onto the euro and the yen in a way that is becoming unsustainable for eurozone exporters.

A currency crisis would be disastrous and probably trigger a wave of populist protectionism against Chinese exports. That is the main reason why the "recovery" is so unconvincing and also why gold remains above $1,000 an ounce. The risks are ahead are as daunting in Greece as they are in Denmark.

China: Beijing cuts broadcaster's signal amid censorship and media crackdown

China has blocked the broadcasting signal for a popular television network, a company official said Monday, amid growing media censorship in the country.

Sun TV viewers on the Chinese mainland called the network's Hong Kong office on December 5 to report that they had lost their signal, the spokesman said, declining to give his name or job title.

"Some people in the audience called our broadcasting centre," he told AFP.

"We later confirmed that all the signals on the mainland are blocked, but we don't know the reason."

Chinese talk show celebrity Yang Lan founded Sun TV, which is owned by Hong Kong-listed Sun Television Cybernetworks Enterprise. Its programmes are aired in Hong Kong and throughout Southeast Asia.

It was unclear why China cut the signal, but the network's politically outspoken guests may have angered Beijing.

The move comes after China detained several thousand people in a crack down on internet pornography with authorities offering rewards of up to 10,000 yuan (1,465 dollars) to Internet users who report websites with adult content.

China's Communist Party has a history of blocking online content it deems unhealthy, which includes pornography and sensitive political information.

As of November 30, authorities had shut down over 400 video and audio websites this year for operating without a licence or for containing pornography, copyright-violating content or other "harmful" information.

Popular sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have also been blocked in China as authorities try to tighten the flow of information, especially following unrest in Xinjiang this year and Tibet last year

H1N1: Swine Flu Vaccine for Children Withdrawn

Hundreds of thousands of swine flu shots for children manufactured by French drug company Sanofi Pasteur have been recalled because tests indicate the vaccine doses lost some strength, government health officials said Tuesday.

The recall is for about 800,000 pre-filled syringes intended for young children, ages 6 months to nearly 3 years. The shots were distributed across the country last month and most have already been used, according to the federal government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Doctors were notified of the voluntary recall on Tuesday. Dr. Anne Schuchat, a CDC flu expert, stressed that parents don't need to do anything or to worry. The vaccine is still safe, she said.

The issue is the vaccine's strength. Tests done before the shots were shipped showed that the vaccines were strong enough. But tests done weeks later indicated the strength had fallen slightly below required levels. Why the potency dropped isn't clear.

Children in that age group are supposed to get two doses, spaced about a month apart. Health officials don't think children need to get vaccinated again, even if they got two doses from the same lots, said Schuchat.

Swine flu vaccine has been available since early October, and since then manufacturers have released about 95 million doses for distribution in the United States.

The recalled shots were made by Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of France-based Sanofi-Aventis Group. The company reported the potency findings to the government officials and did a voluntary recall. A Sanofi Pasteur representative could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

Hackers Brew Self-Destruct Code to Counter Police Forensics

Hackers have released an application designed to thwart a Microsoft-packaged forensic toolkit used by law enforcement agencies to examine a suspect’s hard drive during a raid.

The hacker tool, dubbed DECAF, is designed to counteract the Computer Online Forensic Evidence Extractor, aka COFEE. The latter is a suite of 150 bundled, off-the-shelf forensic tools that run from a script. Microsoft combined the programs into a portable tool that can be used by law enforcement agents in the field before they bring a computer back to their forensic lab. The script runs on a USB stick that agents plug into the machine.

The tools scan files and gather information about activities performed on the machine, such as where the user surfed on the internet or what files were downloaded.

Someone submitted the COFEE suite to the whistleblower site Cryptome last month, prompting Microsoft lawyers to issue a take-down notice to the site. The tool was also being distributed through the Bit Torrent file sharing network.

This week two unnamed hackers released DECAF, an application that monitors a computer for any signs that COFEE is operating on the machine.

According to the Register, the program deletes temporary files or processes associated with COFEE, erases all COFEE logs, disables USB drives, and contaminates or spoofs a variety of MAC addresses to muddy forensic tracks.

The hackers say that later releases of the program will allow computer owners to remotely lock down their machine once they detect that it has fallen into law enforcement hands. The hackers, however, have not released source code for the program, which would make it easy for anyone to see if the program contains malware that might also harm a computer or allow the attackers to take control of it.

Update: The developers of DECAF have taken issue with Threat Level referring to them as hackers. “We’re just two developers who support the free flow of information and privacy,” one of them wrote Threat Level in an anonymous e-mail. “You could say we’re just average joes.”

First-born children are 25% less trusting and cooperative

Popular (mis)conceptions say that 'First-born children are more likely to achieve greatness', but recent research claims that if this is true, then it comes at a price. Scientists say that the only-child and the first-born child is more likely to be less trusting, and have a less generous or a less cooperative disposition.

Previous Research
Previous studies would lead us to believe that firstborns are generally smarter than their younger siblings and perhaps more likely to become leaders, while younger brood-members tend to be more rebellious. It would be interesting to know if you have found this to be proven, in the real world.

Recent Research

To see if trust in adults might also be affected by birth order, Alexandre Courtiol at the Institute of Evolutionary Sciences in Montpellier, France, paired 510 students with anonymous partners to play a finance-based game.

It is a standard game used to shows a umber of things:

  • the level of trust a person has in other people,
  • their willingness to take part in collaborative and cooperative behaviour and
  • the level of risk they are willing to take.
It can also be used to try and understand the level of 'greed' a person has but that's a much more intangible trait that needs other coroborating data.

The Rules of the Game
Both players were given 30 monetary units and told that whatever they had left at the end of the game would be converted into real cash. Player A was told to give any sum of money to player B, with the knowledge that this would be tripled for player B's pot. Player B then had the option of giving any sum of money back to player A.

The Results
The selfish decision would have been for neither player to give any money away, but less than 1 in 10 participants played this way. The more money player A gave away, the more trusting they were judged to be and the more money player B tended to return, showing reciprocity.

On average, an only-child or the eldest of a number of sibling, gave 25 per cent less "money" than non-firstborns or only children, whether they were in role A or B. Courtiol interprets this as meaning firstborns were 25 per cent less trusting and reciprocating (Animal Behaviour, DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.09.016).

Monday, December 14, 2009

8 Questions that will increas your blog traffic

8 questions to ask yourself to help identify what is working (or what might work) with your readers and niche:

  • What topics generate most comments on your blog?
  • What topics generate most comments on other blogs in your niche?
  • What other sites do your readers visit a lot? What activities are they doing there?
  • What features are readers asking for?
  • What was your biggest traffic day – what brought it about?
  • Which of your posts seem to get Retweeted most on Twitter and passed around most on other social media sites?
  • Which of your posts are getting linked to most from other blogs/sites?
  • What other sites send you most traffic? How can you build relationships with these sites?

This list could go on and on. It is all about looking for points of life on your site (even small ones) where there’s some kind of energy or positive outcome happening and then repeating them in a slightly different and unique way.

You are looking for opportunities to build on and improve on what you did previously. Good luck!

Picture This! Artwork, Graphics and Visualisation for better data management

"A good sketch is better than a long speech..." -- a quote often attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte
The ability to visualise the implications of data, is as old as humanity itself.

Yet due to the vast warehouses (quantities, sources, and silos) of data being carried around our global economy at an ever increasing rate, the need for superior visualisation is growing dramatically.

Over time we will naturally migrate toward superior visualisations to cope with this oceanic tide of information or be lost in the tidal wave that engulfs us.

Our ability to deal with data, in a non-visual and graphical nature, is self limiting. Whereby the human becomes the squeeze point where data grinds to a complete halt, awaiting further decisive action.

Neanderthal Approach
Since the days of the cave paintings, graphic depiction has always been an integral part of how people think, communicate, and make sense of the world. This modern world is no different, new information systems are at the heart of all management processes and organisational activities.

The good news is that even in a world of information surplus and overspill, we can draw upon deep human habits on how to visualise information to make sense of a dynamic reality and enable understanding and comprehension.

Moore's Law
The quality, timeliness, granularity, and volume of data has increased greatly. Also, with the ever improving assistance of Moore's Law, we have the power to recombine and analyse the vast stream of information at a price point that makes even very advanced visualisation techniques within the reach of any business.

The Power of Three
Working with my clients, I've seen three primary benefits of superior graphic representation:

1. Greater visualisation is more efficient — they let people look at and absorb vast quantities of data quickly.
2. Graphics or visual representations can help an analyst, or a group, achieve more insight into the nature of a problem and discover new understanding.
3. Better visualisation can help create a shared view of a situation and it will establish a shared alignment on needed actions.

Data Combination
In addition to arranging the information to create shared understanding, visualisation gives us the ability to combine data to create a new insight, quickly and clearly

Mapping Tools
The quality of cheap mapping tools and the availability of vast quantities of free or inexpensive data is growing. The planet is becoming "smart" in the sense that we can track, monitor and see much more of both the built and the natural environment.

The Challenge
The challenge is that if management teams do not consciously build in great visualisations, their organisations will waste an inordinate amount of time, sifting through the quagmire of bits, and may not even get to the effective insights they need.

Perhaps most perniciously, people will be too focused on their own part of the puzzle, never getting to the shared and collaborated understanding that allows teams to take the right action in a tight time-frame.

Ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is there a simple map or maps of information that could make my life easier?
2. Do we have the ability to take this data mountain and synthesise it into these new forms?
3. How much time does the organisation waste arguing about the facts instead of deepening understanding or crafting solutions?

CHINA: CNPC-led consortium wins contract for Iraq's Halfaya field

A consortium led by China's CNPC was awarded the contract for Iraq's Halfaya oil field at an auction on Friday, Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani said.

The group also includes Malaysia's Petronas and France's Total. It requested fees of 1.40 dollars per barrel of oil extracted from the field, and projected that it would produce 535,000 barrels per day.

Halfaya, in southern Iraq near the border with Iran, has proven reserves of 4.1 billion barrels of oil. It lies just north of the giant Majnoon field. Dutch oil company, Shell is also bidding for drilling and exploitation rights in the region.

The successful bid beat three other offers. A joint bid between Norway's Statoil and Russia's Lukoil requested 1.53 dollars per barrel and projected production of 600,000 bpd. India's ONGC and India Oil submitted their own bid with Turkey's TPAO, requesting 1.76 dollars per barrel with production of 550,000 bpd.

Separately, a consortium made up of Italy's ENI, South Korea's KoGas, the US's Occidental Petroleum, China's CNOOC and Angola's Sonangol asked for 12.50 dollars per barrel, with projection of 400,000.

China: Gas pipeline from Turkmenistan nearly completed

China said Thursday a natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to its Xinjiang region would be completed this month, as President Hu Jintao prepared for a weekend visit to the central Asian nation.

The pipeline will ship gas over more than 1,800 kilometres (1,120 miles) from Turkmenistan, through neighbouring Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to China, vice foreign minister Wang Guangya told reporters. "The construction started in July 2008 and one of the two lines of the project will be completed in mid-December this year," Wang said at a briefing on Hu's upcoming trip.

According to earlier state press reports, the two-line project will have a total transmission capacity of 30 billion cubic metres (1.1 trillion cubic feet) of gas a year to energy-hungry China. Hu is due to leave for Kazakhstan on Saturday and will head on Sunday to Turkmenistan, where he will attend an inauguration ceremony of the so-called Central Asia-China gas pipeline.

Turkmenistan: Saudi and Israeli partnerships

The drive by foreign companies to grab a piece of the action in gas-rich Turkmenistan is reported to be producing some strange bedfellows. In particular, PetroSaudi, owned by the son of King Abdallah, and Merhav, an Israeli conglomerate run by former Mossad intelligence officer Yosef Maiman.

According to Intelligence Online, a Paris-based Web site that covers global security issues, the companies from these longtime Middle Eastern adversaries are negotiating a partnership "through intermediaries" to explore the Serdar field that straddles the border between Turkmenistan and oil-rich Azerbaijan.

It is reported to contain the equivalent of at least 1 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

Turkmenistan is the world's 10th-largest gas producer. The United States, Europe, China, Russia and Iran are all clamoring for access to its vast gas fields.

These contain an estimated 20 trillion cubic meters of natural gas -- enough to supply Europe for 66 years.

Maiman once worked for the Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence service, and is reputedly linked to a network of companies owned by the agency.

He has been moving into Central Asia for some time, spearheading an Israeli effort to secure influence -- and a significant intelligence presence -- in the energy-rich Caspian Sea basin, the economic center of the five former Soviet republics that make up the Muslim region.

The Merhav Group has been involved in Turkmenistan's natural gas industry for years. In 2004 The Jerusalem Post described Maiman, a familiar figure in the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat, as a "leading figure" in Central Asia's gas sector.

According to some reports, Maiman was made a citizen of Turkmenistan by decree of the country's eccentric and authoritarian president, Saparmurad Niyazov, who died of heart disease Dec. 21, 2006.

According to Intelligence Online, Maiman was behind the appointment of Israel's first ambassador to Turkmenistan, Reuven Dinia, by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently. Dinai is another ex-Mossad officer, who once ran its Moscow station until he was expelled in 1996.

Merhav has reportedly dominated foreign business in Turkmenistan, including brokering energy projects in the country.

Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are closely linked to Israeli commercial interests -- not to mention Israeli intelligence -- and Maiman appears to be well-placed to broker an agreement between them over the disputed Serdar field, which Ashgabat and Baku both claim, and secure a contract.

The German-born entrepreneur, who became an Israeli citizen in 1971 and founded Merhav five years later, also has longstanding business links with Saudi Arabia.

These connections may well expand as Israel and Saudi Arabia both find themselves in confrontation with nuclear-wannabe Iran.

Maiman has traveled to Riyadh several times in recent years on his collection of non-Israeli passports.

PetroSaudi, headed by Turki bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, one of the sons of the Saudi monarch, thus may be a front-runner in Turkmenistan if it cements its partnership with Merhav.

IRAN: Iran and Afghanistan, threaten Gulf security

The Afghan war and the Iran nuclear crisis are among the threats to security in the Gulf region, Kuwaiti foreign minister and deputy prime minister Sheikh Muhammed Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah said Friday.
Sheikh Muhammed was addressing delegations from more than 25 countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council at the opening of the sixth Manama Dialogue security conference in Bahrain.
Threats to GCC security ran from "Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan, go through Iran's confrontation with the international community, to the reality of Palestine and the suffering of the Palestinian people, down the Horn of Africa, to the crisis in Yemen," he said.
In additional and implicit swipe at Iran, he spoke of "when people call for rebellion against the regime, challenging the government and calling for the overthrow of the government in place."

Gulf officials "should recognise the risks of abusing ideologies in the relations between states," he added. Iran has been accused by the West and various Gulf states of interfering in the affairs of its neighbors and attempting to foment instability.
Sheikh Muhammed also discussed what he described as mid-term problems: the threat posed to Gulf countries by international economic downturns, and the risk of relying primarily on oil for revenue. And he added: "We must look closely at the demographic situation of our six GCC countries, and we will note that there are real demographic challenges in the mid- and long-term."
These challenges included the projected 30 percent rise in the population of the GCC countries by 2020; the large percentage of young people; and the large number of foreign workers in the Gulf.

The consequently large remittances being sent out of the Gulf and the growing number of children of foreign workers in GCC countries also posed a problem, he added. "This generation has no other home than the GCC countries -- they were born, have lived and worked here, and they represent a great challenge in terms of absorption into society from a cultural and a social viewpoint," he said.
The Manama Dialogue conference is sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. This year's conference, which lasts through Sunday, will focus on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Iran.

H1N1: Swine flu toll in Gaza reaches 10

Two more people died of swine flu in the besieged Gaza Strip on Sunday, bringing to 10 the total number of Gazans who have been killed by the disease, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

"Two more cases died today, a 25-year-old woman and a 35-year-old man, bringing the total number of deaths from A(H1N1) to 10," said Hassan Khalaf, a ministry spokesman.

He added that another 67 people have been stricken with the disease, including "a number of serious cases."

Gaza, which has been under strict Israeli closure since the Islamist Hamas movement seized power in June 2007, was among the last places in the world to see cases of the virus, the first of which were reported a week ago.

The ministry has demanded 300,000 vaccines for the impoverished territory of 1.5 million people, including some 13,000 vaccines for government and public and private health workers.

Israel has already allowed in 10,000 doses of swine flu vaccine in a bid to prevent the latest outbreak from spreading to the Jewish state, which has lost 67 people to the virus.

Israel said last week it will allow in 30,000 to 40,000 more vaccines supplied by the World Health Organisation, but the transfer has not yet taken place, according to a military spokeswoman.

The Hamas-run government has meanwhile started examining foreigners entering the territory through the Erez crossing with Israel for signs of the disease, including by taking their temperature.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Does Disruptive technology always lead to Disruptive Innovation?

Disruptive technology and disruptive innovation are terms used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, e.g. lower priced, designed for a different set of consumers, new materials or technologies.

Disruptive Innovation
Disruptive innovations can be broadly classified into low-end and new-market disruptive innovations. A new-market disruptive innovation is often aimed at non-consumption (i.e., consumers who would not have used the products already on the market), whereas a lower-end disruptive innovation is aimed at mainstream customers for whom price is more important than quality.

Dusruptive Technology
Disruptive technologies are particularly threatening to the leaders of an existing market, because they are competition coming from an unexpected direction.

A disruptive technology can come to dominate an existing market by either filling a role in a new market that the older technology could not fill (as cheaper, lower capacity but smaller-sized flash memory is doing for personal data storage in the 2000s) or by successively moving up-market through performance improvements until finally displacing the market incumbents (as digital photography has largely replaced film photography).

Sustaining Innovation
In contrast to "disruptive innovation", a "sustaining" innovation does not have a changing or disruptive effect on existing markets but instead it has a developmental, supportive and/or complimentary effect.

Sustaining innovations may be either "discontinuous" (revolutionary) or continuous"
(evolutionary) but in both cases they are based on the original mindset, framework or concept.

Revolutionary Innovation
Revolutionary innovations are not always disruptive or certainly not immediate in their disruptive effect i.e. they have a long term effect not a short term one.

Although the automobile was a revolutionary innovation, it was not a disruptive innovation, because early automobiles were expensive luxury items that did not disrupt the market for horse-drawn vehicles. The market remained intact until the debut of the lower priced Ford Model T in 1908. A similar example would be the rise in technological investment into space tourism.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Social Scientists Build Case for 'Survival of the Kindest'

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are challenging long-held beliefs that human beings are wired to be selfish. In a wide range of studies, social scientists are amassing a growing body of evidence to show we are evolving to become more supportive, compassionate and collaborative in our quest to survive and thrive.

In contrast to "every man for himself" interpretations of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection and the 'Selfish Gene' by Steven Hawkins, Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychologist and author of "Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life," and his fellow social scientists are building the case that humans are successful as a species precisely because of our nurturing, altruistic and compassionate traits. They call it "survival of the kindest."

"Because of our very vulnerable offspring, the fundamental task for human survival and gene replication is to take care of others," said Keltner, co-director of UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center. "Human beings have survived as a species because we have evolved the capacities to care for those in need and to cooperate. We are a social animal and as Darwin long ago surmised, sympathy is our strongest instinct."

Empathy in our genes
Keltner's team is looking into how the human capacity to care and cooperate is wired into particular regions of the brain and nervous system. One recent study found compelling evidence that many of us are genetically predisposed to be empathetic.

The study, led by UC Berkeley graduate student Laura Saslow and Sarina Rodrigues of Oregon State University, found that people with a particular variation of the oxytocin gene receptor are more adept at reading the emotional state of others, and get less stressed out under tense circumstances.

Informally known as the "cuddle hormone," oxytocin is secreted into the bloodstream and the brain, where it promotes social interaction, nurturing and romantic love, among other functions.

"The tendency to be more empathetic may be influenced by a single gene," Rodrigues said.

The more you give, the more respect you get
While studies show that bonding and making social connections can make for a healthier, more meaningful life, the larger question some UC Berkeley researchers are asking is, "How do these traits ensure our survival and raise our status among our peers?"

One answer, according to UC Berkeley social psychologist and sociologist Robb Willer is that the more generous we are, the more respect and influence we wield. In one recent study, Willer and his team gave participants each a modest amount of cash and directed them to play games of varying complexity that would benefit the "public good."

The results, published in the journal American Sociological Review, showed that participants who acted more generously received more gifts, respect and cooperation from their peers and wielded more influence over them.

"The findings suggest that anyone who acts only in his or her narrow self-interest will be shunned, disrespected, even hated," Willer said. "But those who behave generously with others are held in high esteem by their peers and thus rise in status."

"Given how much is to be gained through generosity, social scientists increasingly wonder less why people are ever generous and more why they are ever selfish," he added.

Cultivating the greater good
Such results validate the findings of such "positive psychology" pioneers as Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania whose research in the early 1990s shifted away from mental illness and dysfunction, delving instead into the mysteries of human resilience and optimism.

While much of the positive psychology being studied around the nation is focused on personal fulfillment and happiness, UC Berkeley researchers have narrowed their investigation into how it contributes to the greater societal good.

One outcome is the campus's Greater Good Science Center, a West Coast magnet for research on gratitude, compassion, altruism, awe and positive parenting, whose benefactors include the Metanexus Institute, Tom and Ruth Ann Hornaday and the Quality of Life Foundation.

Christine Carter, executive director of the Greater Good Science Center, is creator of the "Science for Raising Happy Kids" Web site, whose goal, among other things, is to assist in and promote the rearing of "emotionally literate" children.

Carter translates rigorous research into practical parenting advice. She says many parents are turning away from materialistic or competitive activities, and rethinking what will bring their families true happiness and well-being.

"I've found that parents who start consciously cultivating gratitude and generosity in their children quickly see how much happier and more resilient their children become," said Carter, author of "Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents" which will be in bookstores in February 2010. "What is often surprising to parents is how much happier they themselves also become."

The sympathetic touch
As for college-goers, UC Berkeley psychologist Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton has found that cross-racial and cross-ethnic friendships can improve the social and academic experience on campuses.

In one set of findings, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, he found that the cortisol levels of both white and Latino students dropped as they got to know each over a series of one-on-one get-togethers. Cortisol is a hormone triggered by stress and anxiety.

Meanwhile, in their investigation of the neurobiological roots of positive emotions, Keltner and his team are zeroing in on the aforementioned oxytocin as well as the vagus nerve, a uniquely mammalian system that connects to all the body's organs and regulates heart rate and breathing.

Both the vagus nerve and oxytocin play a role in communicating and calming. In one UC Berkeley study, for example, two people separated by a barrier took turns trying to communicate emotions to one another by touching one other through a hole in the barrier.

For the most part, participants were able to successfully communicate sympathy, love and gratitude and even assuage major anxiety.

Researchers were able to see from activity in the threat response region of the brain that many of the female participants grew anxious as they waited to be touched. However, as soon as they felt a sympathetic touch, the vagus nerve was activated and oxytocin was released, calming them immediately.

"Sympathy is indeed wired into our brains and bodies; and it spreads from one person to another through touch," Keltner said.

The same goes for smaller mammals. UC Berkeley psychologist Darlene Francis and Michael Meaney, a professor of biological psychiatry and neurology at McGill University, found that rat pups whose mothers licked, groomed and generally nurtured them showed reduced levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, and had generally more robust immune systems.

Overall, these and other findings at UC Berkeley challenge the assumption that nice guys finish last, and instead support the hypothesis that humans, if adequately nurtured and supported, tend to err on the side of compassion.

"This new science of altruism and the physiological underpinnings of compassion is finally catching up with Darwin's observations nearly 130 years ago, that sympathy is our strongest instinct," Keltner said.

H1N1: 10,000 Deaths in US from Swine Flu Pandemic

Swine flu has already infected 50 million Americans, killing 10,000, most of them children and younger adults, federal officials reported Thursday.

The new estimates suggest that the flu, also known as H1N1, has spread through 15% of the U.S. population since it was first identified in April. As of Nov. 17, 200,000 people have been hospitalised, says Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's about the same number of people hospitalised during the entire flu season, which usually lasts until May.

At least 7,500 adults 18 to 64 and 1,000 children younger than 18 have died of the disease, Frieden said. In a typical flu season, roughly 80 children die.

"Many times more children and younger adults, unfortunately, have been hospitalised or killed by H1N1 influenza than occurs during a usual flu season," Frieden says.

The analysis marks the government's latest assessment of the H1N1 epidemic. The virus has upended expectations of flu by targeting the young rather than the old. In a typical year, 95% of deaths are in people 65 and older; so far, 95% of deaths have been in people younger than 65.

William Schaffner, a flu expert at Vanderbilt University, says the new estimates reinforce the message that "this isn't an infection to be trifled with or blown off."

Although flu seems to be waning — with just 25 states now reporting widespread activity, down from 48 little more than a month ago — the virus remains highly infectious and may come roaring back, Schaffner says.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Chris Brogan Video of Inspirational LeWeb Speech on Value of Social Networks

The New York Times Best Seller with Julien Smith

Click on the book and get connected to Chris Brogan's blog!

EUROPOL: Tax fraud loses EU carbon trading billions Euros

Tax fraudsters have targeted the EU's carbon emissions trading system, pocketing around 5 billion euros (7.4 billion dollars), the Europol police agency said Wednesday.

"The European Union Emission Trading System has been the victim of fraudulent traders in the past 18 months," said the agency in a statement.

"This resulted in losses of approximately five billion euros for several national tax revenues."

The agency, based in The Hague, added that it estimated "in some countries, up to 90 percent of the whole market volume was caused by fraudulent activities."

France, the Netherlands, the UK and Spain had all changed their tax rules on the transactions to prevent further losses, the agency said.

"After these measures were taken, the market volume in the aforementioned countries dropped by up to 90 percent," according to the statement.

According to a Europol official, the alleged fraudulent traders set themselves up in one country and bought carbon polluting allowances from a second country, making the allowances exempt from value-added tax (VAT). They were then allegedly sold on to firms in the country where the trader was based, but with the VAT added on, the official said.

The traders are accused of pocketing the VAT instead of handing it to tax authorities, the official said.

The Emission Trading System was launched in the EU in 2005 in a bid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which many scientists link to global warming.

Under the system, the EU allocates carbon polluting allowances to member states to meet its obligations under the UN's Kyoto Protocol.

The states then assign quotas to those industries that belch most CO2 into the atmosphere.

Companies that emit less than their allowance can sell the difference on the market to companies that exceed their limits, thus providing a financial carrot to everyone to become greener.

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CISCO: Beware Koobface - Cyber crooks tarketing banks-social networks

Koobface is malicious code that steals social networking account credentials, logs into profiles and sends "friends" messages along the lines of wanting to share scintillating online videos.

An annual security report being released Tuesday by technology titan Cisco warns that banks and online social networks are prime targets for increasingly sophisticated cyber crooks.

"Criminals have been taking note of the large crowds in social-networking sites," said Cisco security researcher Scott Olechowski. "They steal them with various techniques."

Tactics used to get into social-networking profiles include hacking password databases at vulnerable online services and then exploiting the fact that many people use one password for multiple accounts.

Cisco estimates that a Koobface computer worm, named as a play on social networking hot spot "Facebook," has infected more than three million computers since it first appeared in 2008.
Links enclosed in the messages lead to bobby-trapped Web pages that trick visitors into infecting their machines with copies of the worm.

Crooks sometimes set up fake profiles and then finagle their ways into people's online social circles and entice them to opening computer files tainted with malicious code.

Money-making tricks can be as simple as hackers using social-networking profiles to pretend to be friends in desperate straits that ask to be wired money to get out of trouble in a far-away places.

Social networks are also targeted by hackers out to control or disrupt political discourse.

Business computers can wind up infected because one of every 50 "clicks" in the workplace is to social-networking websites, according to Cisco.

"The blending of social media for business and pleasure increases the potential for network security troubles, and people, not technology, can often be the source," said Cisco fellow Patrick Peterson.

"Without proper cognizance of security threats, our natural inclination to trust our 'friends' can result in exposing ourselves, home computers and corporate networks to malware."

Cyber criminals can mine profiles for names and email addresses of business executives or accounting department members to "spear phish," target strategically placed workers with scams.

The potential for workplace computers to be infected through a social-networking attack is all the more disturbing given the rise of a computer Trojan named Zeus crafted to digitally loot money from banks.

Once in computers, Zeus can swipe information and alter what is seen in Web browsers so that people tending to online banking see correct balances on screen while accounts are actually being emptied by cyber thieves.

"Zeus is sold on a retail basis by criminals to criminals," Olechowski said, putting the price at 700 dollars.

Gangs have used Zeus to steal "400,000 to 1.5 million dollars a shot," he added. Cisco predicts Zeus will be a growing bane in 2010.

Spam remains a tried-and-true method for tricking people into downloading malware or buying specious products, such as fake medicine.

Cisco's report estimates that the amount of spam worldwide next year will rise 30 to 40 percent above 2009 levels.

While US and European countries shut down spam-spewing networks of "zombie" computers infected with malicious code and commandeered by criminals, more are being created in developing countries, according to the California-based firm.

Brazil this year dethroned the United States as the country producing the most spam, according to Cisco. The amount of spam coming from Vietnam and India has also soared.

"In the World Cup of spam, Brazil beat the US for the first time," Olechowski said. "We are starting to see emerging economies represent the bulk of spam globally."

Cyber criminals are taking advantage of improved broadband Internet and computer access in developing countries where people may still have lessons to learn about Internet security.

Increasing spam in developing countries is a symptom of a greater problem, acccording to Cisco senior security researcher Henry Stern.

"This means that there is a greater rate of compromised machines, which means there will be more banking Trojans and other malware," Stern said.

Cisco created a Global Adversary Resource Market Share (ARMS) Race index, which estimates that between five and 10 percent of the world's personal computers are "compromised" by malicious software.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Germany: Springtime for Hitler comedy, To Be or not?

Should Germans laugh about Adolf Hitler? The Deutsche Theater in Berlin last week gave its own "Yes" answer by staging a theatrical version of "To Be or Not To Be," Ernst Lubitsch's 1942 cult movie that satirizes Germany's takeover of Poland.

The play centers on a group of theater actors in Poland who drop their SS play for Shakespeare's "Hamlet" in order not to provoke Nazi Germany, which nevertheless overruns the country.

In the ensuing months, famed actress Maria Tura and her husband, the egocentric theater star Josef Tura, become entangled in an outrageous spy plot that pulls the ensemble together one last time for a final play to save their lives and their country: Relying on their old SS costumes and their acting qualities, they stage an SS parade and in the end even produce a naked Hitler to intimidate a local Nazi brute, and to fly off into freedom.

The Lubitsch film is now an all-time classic, but it took years until it was really respected. When it was unveiled in 1942, at a time when it felt like Hitler might prevail in Europe, the movie was thrashed.

"To say it is callous and macabre is understating the case," The New York Times scathed, and Life asked how "Hollywood could convert part of a world crisis into such a cops-and-robbers charade."

The Deutsche Theater interpretation, stuffed with Nazi memorabilia (usually illegal to display here in Germany) such as swastikas, Fuhrer paintings and a blow-up Reichsadler, did not raise eyebrows. That had been done by the Mel Brooks-authored musical "The Producers," which opened at the nearby Admiralspalast -- where Hitler once had his own VIP box -- earlier this year to rave reviews and considerable controversy.

The German press had extensively discussed whether Germans could and should laugh at Brooks' play without guilt. In Berlin, this discussion became especially meaning-laden.

The city's buildings still bear the scars of World War II in the form of bullet holes. From here, the real Hitler plotted a war and atrocities that killed 20 million people. The Nazi era still burdens Germans with a sense of collective guilt. While Hitler may be dead, neo-Nazism isn't.

Germany saw an upshot of far-right extremism in the 1990s, with hoards of bald-headed neo-Nazis torching asylum homes and clashing with German police. The democratic reaction was swift: Hundreds of thousands of Germans marched peacefully against xenophobia and neo-Nazism.

Over the past years, a series of plays and films have taken World War II as a subject, with "The Downfall" dramatizing Hitler's last days in the bunker. So the stage seemed set for "The Producers," which was a success. Laughing at Hitler seemed to be a liberating experience for Germans, and they did so many times at the second premiere of "To Be or Not to Be."

It was a pleasure to watch the slapstick talents of Bernd Moss, as Joseph Tura, and of Ingo Huelsmann, as his villain-counterpart Professor Silewski, who is trying to rat the entire Polish resistance only to be denied by the actors. Joerg Gudzuhn gives off a ridiculous Bavarian SS brute, and Juergen Huth a frighteningly real-looking Hitler -- heaven thanks that he loses his pants in the end.

Critics from Berlin-based newspapers thrashed the play because they said it offered nothing substantial beyond the film, and that the many comical scenes didn't reach below the surface. That might be true, but sometimes, it's not necessary to laden a play with extra meaning. Instead, why not take it what can be -- and is two hours of fun.

H1N1: BMJ Medical Experts Debunk Tamiflu effectiveness and usage

The ongoing investigation of antiviral drugs and their unproven effectivenesss continues.

UK medical experts from the British Medical Journal (BMJ) are questioning the effectiveness of antiviral drug Tamiflu commonly used against the swine flu virus spreading across the globe, according to a study reported in Britain Tuesday.

An investigation by the British Medical Journal acknowledges that the drug oseltamivir, which trades as Tamiflu, has "a very modest effect in reducing flu symptoms and infectivity in otherwise healthy adults."

But "researchers say there is insufficient published data to know if oseltamivir reduces complications in otherwise healthy adults," the media groups said in a joint statement.

The use of flu drugs like oseltamivir has increased dramatically since the A(H1N1), or swine flu, pandemic began in April 2009, with government rushing to stockpile treatments while persuading people to have vaccinations.

The global death toll since the virus was uncovered in April approached 8,770 in early December, with confirmed infections in 207 countries, according to World Health Organisation figures.

Claims about the effectiveness of drugs like Tamiflu against flu complications have been a key factor in governments' choosing to spend millions of dollars to hoard them, the British Medical Journal said.

The British government has spent about 500 million pounds (813.9 million dollars) on such drugs, they said.

But research on the drugs by scientists from Australia's Bond University was hampered by a "paucity of good data" available from Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche that produces oseltamivir.

"As a result, they conclude that they have no confidence in claims that oseltamivir reduces the risk of complications of influenza in otherwise healthy adults, and believe it should not be used in routine control of seasonal influenza."

The researchers called on governments to set up studies to monitor the safety of drugs like Tamiflu, which are called neuraminidase inhibitors.

A team from the University of Birmingham concluded meanwhile that oseltamivir may reduce the risk of pneumonia in otherwise healthy people who contract flu.

"However, the absolute benefit is small, and side effects and safety should also be considered," the statement said.

Professor Nick Freemantle from the University of Birmingham said he saw "very little evidence to support the widespread use of oseltamivir in the otherwise healthy population who are developing signs of influenza-like illness."

"We have remarkably few resources in this country to spend on pharmaceuticals on health and it's surprising to see such widespread use of oseltamivir," he said.

British Medical Journal editor-in-chief Fiona Godlee warned that the review left unresolved important questions about effectiveness of the drugs.

"Governments around the world have spent billions of pounds on a drug that the scientific community now finds itself unable to judge," she said.

Roche has estimated sales of 1.6 billion pounds this year alone from the drug, the statement said.

Check out previous blogs on this subject

H1N1: 3 Deaths in Netherlands from Influenza A mutation

A third patient in the Netherlands infected by a mutant strain of the swine flu virus has died, the country's health and environment institute said Tuesday.

The Netherlands has officially reported eight cases of the mutated A(H1N1) virus, including the three fatalities, but claims that the strain is not spreading, the institute said.

"The latest fatality was an adult woman who was already ill," institute spokesman Harold Wychgel said, without giving the date of her death. "There is no cause for panic."

"She had been treated for flu for some time and during treatment built up a resistance to Tamiflu," one of the main anti-flu treatment drugs, he said.

Tamiflu and Relenza have since been revealed to be ineffective in the treatment of the current strains of InfluenzaA.

A total of 42 people have died in the Netherlands after contracting the H1N1 virus, and nearly 2,000 have been hospitalised since April.

France, Spain and Norway have all reported deaths related to the mutated form of the virus.

China: Surge in Luxury cars sales for Audi, BMW & Mercedes

Strong Chinese luxury auto sales have lifted the prospects of German luxury car makers which were left behind in an earlier rush to buy cheaper models with 'cash-for-clunkers' subsidies, analysts say.

Audi, BMW and Daimler, which owns Mercedes-Benz, all reported better sales in November on a 12-month basis, with China clearly the fastest growing market for all three.

"China is outstanding right now," Metzler Bank auto analyst Juergen Pieper reports.

Already the biggest market for Audi's parent group Volkswagen, "within five years it will be the most important country for Daimler and BMW and in the next three or four years for Audi," Nord LB analyst Frank Schwope forecast.

Schemes approved by governments worldwide to boost the auto sector with credits for junking an old car mainly benefitted makers of cheaper autos, including VW which aims to overtake Toyota as the biggest automaker by 2018.

Budget conscious auto buyers shunned the kind of powerful cars that Germany is best known for and luxury auto sales slumped sharply early this year.

November deliveries thus compared favourably with what were already weak sales one year earlier, with Daimler reporting a gain of 16 percent, BMW one of 11.5 percent and Audi one of 8.9 percent.

"Since September, sales have been back on the growth track," BMW sales director Ian Robertson said in a statement. "We intend to continue this trend in December and continue to exploit the increasing demand in China," he added.